Camp Ondessonk ( www.Ondessonk.com ), in Southern Illinois, functions all summer long as a youth camp, but in the other three seasons, it welcomes "grown up" campers, who come to participate in the numerous types of programming that is offered. I was there to attend a week-long Road Scholar ( www.roadscholar.org ) hiking program. I "survived" a week-long Road Scholar hiking program in Sedona, Arizona, in the spring, so I was ready for a similar challenge of exploring an area of the USA that was unfamiliar to me, yet only a five hour drive away!
After I traveled down the heavily wooded driveway at the entrance, the road opened up into a spacious area surrounded by beautiful green pastures, complete with grazing horses!
The first building I came to was labeled as the St. Noel Center. This was where the rooms were located for the Road Scholar program. The front of the building had a large wooden deck in front, with ramps available for rolling suitcases from the parking lot. This photo of the back of the building shows the decks that were adjacent to the bedrooms in the lodge.
My room had a welcome sign, with my name on it, and was MUCH more spacious that the rooms had been for the Road Scholar program in Sedona! In fact, it was more like a suite! The large front room could have slept ten people, and also included table, chairs, benches, and a closet. The room where I slept had a queen sized bed, night stand with lamp, table with chairs, elevated deck, and private restroom! There was also a "peep hole" in the door, so I could see what was in the hallway outside my room. Another plus was that free "wifi" was available in my room, so I could check on the outside world (if I so desired), via the Internet.
In contrast to the St. Noel lodging, the summer campers have a choice of tree houses or cabins. This photo shows some of the tree houses, which are accessed by a labyrinth of connecting catwalks. The treehouse units feature A-frame roofs, three closed sides, and are very rustic (i.e., they do not have electricity or water).
During summer camp, the units are like a family for the entire week, and attend activities together, compete in camp games, and build a sense of community. Since The Learning Channel on television has been having a show on treehouses this year, they need to make a visit to Camp Ondessonk, to see how well these units have withstood the test of time! (Camp Ondessonk started in 1959).
The various groupings of treehouse units each have their own fire circle, benches, picnic table, outhouse, and shower house. Our host told us that anyone of us who wanted to, were welcome to try an overnight in one of the treehouses, but none of the fourteen participants took him up on his generous offer of an "overnight in the outdoors" invitation!
The guy walking backwards in this photo, is Brian Croft, who is the Director for the Road Scholar programs at Camp Ondessonk. On the very first day, he led us in a hike around the property. The reason he is walking backwards (which we found out later), was so that he could access our level of physical fitness before we got out on the actual trails. His theory was that if any of us could not navigate this initial walk around the property, then we would definitely encounter problems in the week ahead!
This carved wooden sign along the way gives the story of how the camp got its name. "Ondessonk" is a Huron (Native American) word meaning "Bird of Prey". The name was given to a Catholic Jesuit priest that came to North America from France in the early 17th century, to bring the gospel to the Huron people. He wore a dark-colored robe and hood---which reminded the Indians of a bird---whenever he would flap his arms. Unfortunately, he was martyred during his missionary work, and so the camp was named to honor his memory. Likewise, many of the landmarks around the camp are named after Catholic missionary martyrs from the same time period.
This is the swimming area that is bustling with youngsters splashing about in the summertime. A zip line starts high above the adjacent tree line, and comes to a watery end in this same area. Once again, the Director invited us to try out the cold waters, by zipping down the line or the slide, and once again, there were no "takers"! I like ziplines, but not ones that land in chilly water in October!
Camp Ondessonk also has a very nice climbing tower, which is used at the camp to help youngsters "learn life-lessons, while ascending new heights." Their specialized Rock Camp includes detailed instruction in climbing technique, basic knots, and safety systems. When my son was becoming involved in rock climbing several years ago, I was happy to pay for a climbing course he took at Mt. Rainier in Washington. The more you know when you participate in a sport, the better off you are! ( That was also the time when I first became aware of an organization that I continue to support called, Solid Rock Climbers for Christ --- www.srcfc.org ).
This lake serves as the separation boundary between the girls camp, and the boys camp, whenever coed summer sessions are scheduled. Counselors tell stories about "scary night creatures" that haunt the swinging bridge, that connects the two sides (which presumably will keep the separation of sexes, in tact, until dawn!)
The lake also has docks, set up for teaching kayaking and canoeing to the campers. Again, our Director invited us to go paddling, but we just didn't have time, with all the hiking we were doing every day!
The man shown walking across the swinging bridge in this photo, went back later and rode his mountain bike across it--- all the while shooting video of his ride! He showed it to us later, when we had gathered for supper, so that we could "oohh" and "aahh" over his adventure! ( There are numerous trails within the camp property that can be used by mountain bikers participating in scheduled events during the year ).
The bottom floor of the St. Noel center had this gathering place in front of the fire place, where the Road Scholars and staff, would meet, before breakfast, and again before supper, so as to get acquainted, rehash the day's activities, plus "frame" the activities for the day ahead.
It was nice to have white tablecloths, cloth napkins, and real china/silverware for all of our breakfast and supper meals in the St. Noel Center! I was also glad that Brian led the group in a "Moment of Silence" before our meals in the St. Noel Center. As a Registered Dietitian ( and a Christian ), I was intrigued to learn that a former U.S. Surgeon General, in his book about America's obesity problem, sighted studies that showed folks made healthier meal-time choices when meals were preceded by a "Moment of Silence". The results were the same, regardless of the religious belief of the study group participants. Once again, it shows the wisdom of Jesus, as he set the example of giving thanks to God, before a meal!
And the meals were delicious! One of my favorite meals was Prime Rib night! Plus, there was always ample salad to go with each meal, which merits a high score in my book!
Desserts were different for each night, but my favorite was "make your own ice cream" sundae, which included edible waffle bowls, and a variety of toppings!
This stone marker reminds those who see it, that Camp Ondessonk is a place where God's creation sings to the soul. Their Mission Statement says they desire to provide an environment that inspires physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual growth for individuals and groups through the appreciation and stewardship of nature. These four areas---physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual---are the same four areas, symbolized in the number "4" in the healthy living program I participate in, called "First Place 4 Health" ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ). It is a good example of the Bible verse from Luke 2:52 that says "And Jesus grew in wisdom, and in stature, and in favor with God and man."
As the sun set on my first day at Camp Ondessonk, you can be sure that God's creation was singing to my soul! It was a day with "MILES OF SMILES"!! Tricia