MY TOMAHAWK STORY
By Steve Flood
More than a year ago, Jim Frost asked me to write my Tomahawk story. While thinking about it and whether it would be interesting enough for the news letter, I realized that it is more about other people and the powerful effect our beloved camp has had on thousands of people. Once I realized that it is not about me, it became easier to write. I hope you enjoy it.
Without my dad and my brother, Ben Flood Sr. and Ben Flood Jr., I would probably have no Tomahawk story. My dad and John Sweasy, Sr. founded Troop 238 at Randolph Heights Elementary School in approximately 1946. Ben Sr. was also Indianhead Council Highland District Representative for about 20 years. Around 1950, my brother went to River Camp ( Fred C. Anderson ) with Troop 238 and stayed on as a staff member. He worked at Camp Neibel the next 2 summers and was asked to spend the summer of 1952 at the newly acquired Long Lake Camp ( Tomahawk ). His job was to help the loggers and Camp Ranger with locating and clearing the best sites for roads, buildings, camp sites and beaches. He lived in an old cottage called the Fisher Cabin which was located about 200 yards north of Main Beach ( Chippewa Beach ). For much of the summer, there were no roads so he parked his car at the end of the lake nearest the current main entrance and took his runabout, which he made, to the cabin. The boat had a Chris Craft outboard that ran circles around the few boats that were on the lake in those days. During that summer, when my parents and I would visit, he would pick us up at the end of the lake and take us to the Fisher Cabin by boat. I was 5 years old the first time I set foot on Tomahawk and it was love at first sight. The next summer, Ben went back to Neibel and Fish Foster became the first actual camp staff member during the first year with campers ( 1953 ). Ben returned to Tomahawk the next year and stayed for 3 more summers. When we visited those summers, I was treated like a king by the likes of Dave Franks, Pat McCardle, Ed Sitzer, and many others. Ben’s best friend, Dave Fihn, would let me swim at Chippewa beach and take me for rides in Ben’s boat.
In 1958, I became a camper with Troop 238 at site 5 and the next 3 summers at Site 5a. During these summers, I remember many exceptional staff members, including, Gary Norman, John Schneeweis, Dave Graham, Joe Kaufert, Hugh Gwin, Pat McCardle, Bob Albright, Dale Anderson, Dave Beardsley, Don Kelsey, Steve Melander, Steve and Jim King, the Albrechts, Rolly Bowler, Larry Moser, Bill Dorgan, the Creagers, Gordy Lothson and Greg Travis. Pat McCardle and Dale Anderson were hilarious campfire entertainers. My last summer as a camper, I spent full days at Main Beach earning my Scout Lifeguard and Rowing Merit badge. Gary Norman and Snow-white (Schneeweis) were my instructors. Gary told me to apply at the Scout Office over the winter and he would see that I worked on his beach the next summer. True to his word, I became a CIT on South Camp Beach in 1962.
1962 was a magical summer with every day being a new adventure. I loved working with the scouts, their leaders and families on Family Island. St. Paul Mayor to be, Charlie McCarty was by far the most colorful scout master. Mostly, I loved working with the staff which was a combination of the people mentioned above and many new people. To mention a few, Jim Frost, Daryl Neise, Joe Diehl, Joe Capistrant, Greg Moser, Carol Kelsey, Ma Klevin, Fern Martinson, Paul Edgington, Duane and Chuck Tooley, Bob Ellison, Al Thurow, Jerry Smith, George Hansen, Jerry McNellis, Dick Sweet, Jim Douglas, Dave Nachtscheim, Dick Carol, the Jorgansons, Paul Riece and Jerry McKay.
I will never forget the chicken barbecues before the OA ceremonies, being Kichikinette in the 2nd ceremony and trying to find the kids we left in the woods the night before, the party we had for the local girls, and standing knee deep in mud installing the Beaver Point pier. Besides learning how to run a waterfront from the best in the business, I spent 2 weeks working in the Ad Building filling in for Jeff Proud who was badly burned when a cloud of blazing white gas enveloped his head instead of the OA council fire. They made us go back to the car battery after that incident. Those admin staff were a different breed of cat.
Sadly, that summer ended in tragedy when our staff cabin exploded, killing 2 of our friends and injuring 6 of us.
The most shocking part about the next summer was that my parents let me return. I was the only one out of 8 returning to Sioux Beach which made for a challenging summer.
The new staff members were an interesting bunch - John Davis, Bob LaFavor, Mike Baker, Chuck Perkins, Dennis Hitchcock, Bob Kelsey, Carl Melius, Alex Smith and many others.
My favorite memories of my 4 summers include the 9 to 12 hour days teaching water safety, dancing in the OA ceremonies, raiding the kitchen, attending troop campfires, the aroma of the wilderness, the terrifying runs down the fire road in the 6X6, midnight paddles across Long Lake, listening to the singing and guitar playing of Don Kelsey and Greg Travis, and days filled with laughter and camaraderie with people who were becoming life-long friends.
My wife, Kathy and I have had the good fortune of attending many staff reunions over the years to stay in touch with many of these great friends. It has been great seeing my brother’s friends, my friends and meeting the wives. Because of the 50th, we have kept in contact with Dave and Shirley Fihn who met while Shirley was a camp nurse. Of course, Carol and Don Kelsey met the same way. I met Jim Frost in 1962 and Chuck Perkins in 1963 and they have remained 2 of my closest friends ever since. I have also enjoyed meeting Mark McCabe and his excellent staff who have done a great job of carrying on our tradition.
This story is dedicated to the memory of Ben Flood Sr., Ben Flood Jr., Al Thurow, Gerry Smith, John Schneeweis, Fern Martinson, Bob Ellison, Dick Fihn and Gordy Lothson.