Splash: Visiting Tichora Conservancy, but remembering Camp Grow

HANNAH TETZLAFF, SEVENTH from left, and Timi Robida, sixth from left, are surrounded by campers, staff and fellow volunteers they got know during the summer of 2013. Image captured from Camp Grow Ministries video

by Hannah Tetzlaff

Ten years ago, a young awkward teenager was enjoying an afternoon camping with her family when her parents informed her she would be attending a Christian summer camp called Camp Grow.

Her parents knew the camp director at the time and thought it was a great opportunity for their daughter to grow and enjoy a new experience for a week.

However, the girl was scared because she would be spending a week away from family in a place she had never been before with people she didn’t really know.

Since misery loves company, the young girl called a friend and begged her to also attend the camp. Thankfully she and her parents said “yes,” turning one week of summer into the best time she had and the beginning of a long friendship.

Now years later after returning to the camp every summer as campers, volunteers and then staff, the girls ventured once more to the place that drew them together as friends.

But it was no longer Camp Grow.

After American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago decided to sell the camp, it reached out to Green Lake Conservancy Partnership, comprised of the Green Lake Conservancy and the Green Lake Sanitary District.

The camp was prime property consisting of 40 acres of woods and wetlands, nestled between two lakes, with 800 feet of water frontage on Big Green Lake and 1,500 feet on Spring Lake. The partnership worked with the Green Lake community, which donated about $2.1 million, and purchased the camp as a conservancy property last summer.

When my friend, Timi Robida, and I visited the property now known as Tichora Conservancy a few weekends ago, it was to reminisce about our time there and for us to close the chapter on Camp Grow together.

When we arrived, we immediately were struck with how different the property looked as some buildings had disappeared and others were in the process of being torn down and removed.

For me, it was hard seeing Brimgrow Lodge, the main office lodge and housing for the staff, gutted.  Peering from the outside, I still recognized a few of the rooms I stayed in as a staff member in the kitchen. And as I looked, I remembered the conversations I had with past roommates, the games we all played in the main lobby on the weekends and the summer when Timi and I realized that though we were great friends, we were terrible roommates.

WHEN HANNAH TETZLAFF and Timi Robida visited Tichora Conservancy, formerly Camp Grow, they noticed some of the rooms where they stayed as staff members for a summer were gutted as the building is in the process of being removed from the property. Hannah Tetzlaff  photo

Timi and I then ventured on to the smelly red building known as “The Store,” where kids would come running, buying candy, soda and camp paraphernalia.

Whenever there was “store time” kids had a blast, however, we staff were barely left standing at the end of it, rushing to and fro filling their orders inside a tiny, hot building.

We tried reenacting the experience; it wasn’t the same without the mob of excited children.

Timi and I then meandered our way to the place where we spent most of our time as staff members: the dining hall and kitchen.

Gone were the aged-wooden walls of the dining hall and its scraped hardwood floors. Gone were the kitchen appliances and most of the kitchen’s ceiling.

In their place were debris and memories.

Memories such as the time when some of our kitchen staff found another staff member in the walk-in cooler crouching in the dark, hugging a tub of cookie dough with one arm while scooping out dollops with the other.

The head kitchen director had made the dough to bake cookies for the entire staff, not to have one individual eating it raw by the spoonful.

At the time, I thought I was witnessing “The Lord of the Rings” Gollum with “his precious;” it took me awhile to realize that was not the case.

But of all the memories Timi had to remind me of, she chose the most embarrassing one of me.

One hot, summer afternoon, I found out the hard way that walk-in coolers were not sound proof no matter how thick and dense the door.

I was in the cooler, taking stock of the vegetables for the salad bar when it hit me: “this is the perfect time to start singing as loud as possible operatic-style.” It really wasn’t the perfect time, but it sounded like a good idea and I pursued it whole-heartedly, singing “Phantom of the Opera.”

Little did I know that my friend and our co-workers could hear me in the kitchen.

Timi explained, “Noah [a fellow co-worker] just looked at me and whispered ‘What is she doing?’”

She told him “I think she thinks it’s sound-proof.” She knew me so well.

When I finished my arias and decided we did in fact have enough vegetables for the salad bar, I opened the cooler to leave only to see a handful of faces staring at me with shock and confusion.

“So, you, ah, heard me, didn’t you?” I asked. They all laughed and nodded, and I turned around and went back into the cooler, trying to cool down my flame-red cheeks. Sadly, there was no cookie dough in the cooler to keep me company.

Though much of the property held many similar memories for Timi and me, which would take a novel and maybe a sequel to tell, we were both sad but at peace.

I told Timi, as we picked our way through tall grass, that I was sad Camp Grow was gone but happy that it would still be open to the public to visit and be enjoyed for generations to come.

“Don’t cry that it’s over but smile that it happened,” Timi said.

She and I agreed that it was great the land would return to its natural state and wouldn’t be turned into developed land for condos or someone’s private mansion.

As we drove away with the property fading away in the rear-view mirror, I came to the understanding that though this was my last goodbye for Camp Grow, it wouldn’t be my last visit to Tichora Conservancy, as I imagined returning years down the road with kids and grandkids, regaling them with the memories I had made in that little slice of heaven.