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One Photo; One Story: Summer School Bus

His face is dirty from an all-out ruckus of a day. Summer of 1979, CYO day-camp he was running, playing, swimming and having a blast. That was until he thought the school bus was leaving without me. It’s my little brother David, he was four at the time. I was a seventeen-year-old camp counselor for the CYO Day-Camp.

I had left the bus for a moment to give the camp director the final count before departing for home. Poor kid was completely terrified. He let out a panicked cry as my partner on Bus #1 was moving the bus for a smooth exit from the FRG Sports Complex onto Ramapo Valley Road in Oakland, NJ.

I hopped on and scooped him up as the camp director snapped the photo. I calmed him down as the 50 or so kids settled in for the long ride. “Mommy said you’re supposed to take care of me” he cried. He was cross with me as we rode home.

I loved my summers as a camp counselor. Those four summers of my life helped me, a shy awkward teenager, gain the confidence to attempt a radio career a few years later.

We celebrated summer. Our bus would pick up kids from all over Essex County, New Jersey. We picked up kids from the Central and South Wards of Newark, Belleville, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Montclair, Upper Montclair, Caldwell, Livingston and other towns from the Archdiocese of Newark. The kids were all equal once they came aboard bus #1. They were just kids needing to get out of the house and the city for some summer fun. All you needed were swim trunks, a camp shirt, shorts and sneakers to fit in. The camp provided lunch and hopefully good clean summer fun.

We sang the camp song, Skin-na-marink A Dink, Ole’ McDonald and a dozen others as we wound the bus through the towns. The bus trip at times would be a two-hour journey. By the time we reached camp the kids were ready to have a blast. Swimming, running, playing sports, art and crafts and the occasional field trip. I always thought of it as the summer every kid deserved.

My fellow counselors were young and willing to give all they had for these kids to have a safe and fun summer.

For a brief time, I thought of becoming a teacher because of my experience with the children. Most of the counselors became great teachers and school administrators. I went off to college and discovered radio.

There were a few challenging times as our bus made the daily journey, we lost a tire once on the ramp of route 280 and had to keep the kids occupied while a mechanic came to help us. One kid couldn’t wait for the bus to stop one day and leaped onto the street as it was moving and ended up in the hospital. Another climbed the roof of the day camp barn and wouldn’t come down.

For the most part we grew together and hopefully provided them a wonderful experience.

When I look at that photo of me and David, I see my little brother and remember those precious summer days. I hope the kids in our care remember those days well. Perhaps they became life-long friends. They were from all walks of life, together we shared a few wonderful summers learning and discovering who we could become.

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