Ye Old Menogyn Guides
Part 1: Reflections on Phil Brain by Arm Paulson
During Phil Brain’s 50+ year career on the professional staff of the Minneapolis YMCA, he transformed the Association with his leadership, wisdom, commitment and dedication to excellence. At Menogyn early in his career, he engineered the camp’s development as its director from 1949 to 1956. At the same time he served as the Executive of the new Westlake Branch YMCA. Following this he served the Y as the Metropolitan staff Executive for Finance and Administration. Later he pioneered a new position for Financial Development (major gift fund raising) that enabled the Y to build several new suburban YMCAs, two major inner city branches and improve its camps. His leadership mentored many Y professional staff and young men. He was also a war hero. I was privileged to work with Phil on the Minneapolis YMCA staff for eight years and now to write this beginning statement about him. He was one of my mentors.


Phil first attended Menogyn in 1934 as a camper because of the guidance of Lindy Cedarblade, the Y youth worker at Roosevelt high school where Phil was a student. Lindy was one of Phil’s mentors. Later Phil served on the Menogyn staff as a guide and bus driver during the summers of 1937, 38 and 39 and then became the Menogyn director in 1940 when his mentor and the camp director, Bill Ritzke, was injured at camp.

In March of 1941, Phil joined the army and was stationed in the Philippines on the Bataan Peninsula. After the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 that started WWII, the Japanese Imperial forces invaded the Philippines in early January 1942. After four months of bitter fighting, the courageous but outnumbered US forces surrendered because of a lack of supplies, medicine and ammunition. Most of the soldiers were suffering from malnutrition due to living on half rations for four months, battle injuries and sickness and disease that could not be treated because of a lack of medical supplies.

The horrors of the Bataan Death March began in April 1942 and Phil was one of the 75,000 American and Philipino soldiers that began the 60 mile walk to the prison camps. It’s an event that will ever live in infamy as an historic example of unbelievable, barbarous atrocities. Over 20,000 men died on this horrendous one week march. Men were brutally beaten, shot for no reason, raped, starved, bayoneted, clubbed, tortured, degraded and dehumanized. They were killed or maimed for fun. Those who fell behind were brutalized and executed.

Phil witnessed men being broken from beatings and being beheaded or tortured to death. Men who protested in any form were instantly killed. Everything was systemically done to ruthlessly take away their hope and dignity. Those who helped others were often killed or tortured on the whims of their captors. There was no respect for human life. Men became walking zombies. Understandably, they shut down emotionally just to stay alive. They had to live in a mental state removed from the realities of the Death March. The March was a brutal killing field.

Phil survived the death march and a prison ship, sent to Japan packed with prisoners, that killed hundreds due to lack of food, water and medical treatment. Then he spent three torturous years working in a salt mine in Japan. Phil credits the lessons that he learned at Menogyn and on the wilderness canoe trails for keeping him alive: take care for others; do all that you are capable of doing; don’t use others; take care of your feet; keep your head covered; always march near the front of a column and in the middle so you’re not always having to catch up (as in on a canoe trip where the last canoe is always trying to catch up rather than set the pace); never give up hoping; look for the spot of blue (as on a portage); keep going even when dead tired; don’t hoard but share and help your brothers who can’t walk or want to give up; work together so as to not get isolated and gain spiritual and emotional strength from sensing God’s presence in creation.

Phil described that seeing the stars or a sunset gave him spiritual strength in this unending horror. Phil described planning, in his imagination, a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner for his family, in such detail, that it would take many hours to complete. Thus he could avoid the horrors of his daily reality and concentrate on good things filled with people that he loved. The key thoughts that kept people alive in the holocaust death camps and in prison camps were imagining in their thoughts, that they were vitally important to someone. Surviving for these loved ones gave a significant purpose and strength to one’s life and thus a reason to stay alive. This purpose fueled the flame of hope and the will to survive in the midst of unspeakable horrors. Others, without this sense of purpose to drive them to stay alive, gave up and died. Death was not far away each day on the Death March.

Phil returned to America emaciated, sick, and suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome and malaria. He was but a shell of the athletic, strong, 6’4’’ man he had been. He also returned with a purpose to “build” young men. He joined the Minneapolis YMCA staff and began his personal healing by influencing young men in the southwest area high schools in his Hi Y programs. The healing process was difficult and slow but Phil persevered with great resolve and courage and thus influenced hundreds of young men.

Incredibly he never allowed himself to hate the Japanese as a race and thus allow anger and rage to destroy his life. Spiritually, he knew better. Thus he was better able to heal mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Phil never spoke about his experiences as a prisoner of war and survivor of the Bataan Death March except to his loving wife Delores whom he married in 1949. In the mid 1960’s he finally felt ready to tell his story for the first time to the Downtown Minneapolis Rotary Club. When he was done, there wasn’t a dry eye in the gathering of over 100 business leaders. He touched their souls with his story of horror, atrocities, anguish, fear, death, degradation, courage, and a wfile:///C:/Users/Donald/Desktop/Desktop Files/yeoldguidesofmenogyn-020710/buttonA.jpgill to live that consumed his life for four years. He said that his belief in God’s presence in his life gave him strength and daily hope. He later told his story to several of his former guides while on a reunion canoe trip in 1972. They were Jim Riley, Roger Strand, Coley Carlson, Norm Dahl, Norm’s son, Bud Bonn and Phil - See the story written by Jim Riley)


Phil saved Menogyn with his leadership after the war. Menogyn had virtually closed down during WWII because it was used on a very limited basis. We were at war. There was gas and food rationing and train travel was restricted. Thus people didn’t travel and money was short. At the end of the war, veterans returned and families sought to return to normal.

As Phil worked with young men in the high school Hi Y programs, he also led trips to Menogyn. In 1946 he led one of the first trips to Menogyn after the war with seven high school young men. (See John Johnson’s story, “Clearing the Site”). He also led trips to Menogyn in 1947 and 1948 to work on the new site for the camp while Charlie Boostrom and his crew were busy building the log buildings of the new camp. In 1949 Phil became Menogyn’s first director at the new site. It was

Phil’s challenge to build a new program, promote it, motivate YMCA Youth Directors to use Menogyn as a part of their Hi Y programs and to provide strong direction, management and administration. Without Phil’s wisdom, incisive leadership, management abilities and understanding of the unique role of Menogyn and the wilderness in shaping young men, the camp would have not recoveredfrom the war years. He saved Menogyn. 

Phil, in his wisdom, worked closely with key lay leaders who worked on the Menogyn Committee. These lay leaders were “movers and shakers” in Minneapolis who had thepower and money to plan and build a new camp on the site they had purchased in 1934. After the war they moved strongly to strengthen Menogyn’s future. Arnett Leslie, Charles Cole, Dr. Paul Carson and Oz Black single handedly ensured that the new camp was built. They were strongly “hands on” in the planning, developing and funding of the new camp. They worked with Phil, Bill Ritzke and Al Johnson, all former directors, to develop the plans.

It was also Phil’s task make the camp functional during its first years on the new site.It’s an amazing story of what he accomplished with very little money in order to make the camp operational. Boats, motors and the “monster” (for transporting campers to and from this roadless camp) needed to be acquired. An ice house needed to be built to store ice, cut in the winter, for refrigeration in the kitchen ice boxes during the summer. The water system needed to be installed with gas driven pumps to draw water from the lake and into a pipe system. Propane gas kitchen stoves and hot water heaters plus sinks and ice boxes needed to be purchased and installed. Pots/pans, dishes, tables and chairs, silverware, bunk beds, furniture, and mattresses needed to be acquired for the kitchen, boathouse, bunkhouses and director’s cabin.

A piano was brought over on the “monster” for singing in the Lodge. Food needed to be purchased for “the trail” and the kitchen. Many canoes, paddles, packs, tents, and other trail equipment needed to be purchased. A new “kit” building was purchased and transported on the “monster” across the lake and built to house the guiding staff. “Hernandoz” still exists to this day. With little money to accomplish all of this, the Menogyn Committee members and Phil solicited donations of equipment and funds to acquire the necessary equipment and supplies. All of this “start up” organization required immense organizational ability, leadership and wisdom. Phil had them.

Menogyn, under Phil, was a constant work in progress. A log Finn bath was built by the staff in 1949. Docks were built in the harbor outside the boathouse, at the Finn bath and for the director’s cabin (DC). A root cellar was dug out of a hill for refrigeration in the summer and for storage of wet food during the winter. As a camper in 1951, I remember using a pick and shovel in digging the hole for the Root Cellar. A well was dug. Canoe racks were built. The new Boat House was made into a “trail room center”.

And small staffs of six to ten young men were carefully selected and hired from Minneapolis area colleges and universities. They were young men who had been active in the Minneapolis Hi Y program. Phil’s staffs were all deeply involved in building projects when not “on the trail”. So were the campers. It created ownership and pride in Menogyn. Phil re-established the values and philosophy of Menogyn by building on the philosophy and values of founder “Dad” Tripp and Phil’s mentor Bill Ritzke. He taught all of his staffs how to function as guides in the wilderness and about the purpose and mission of the YMCA. It was to be a camp with a unique, worthy purpose based on Christian and wilderness values.

In addition to directing Menogyn, Phil also was promoted to become the Executive Director of the new West Lake Branch YMCA serving the western suburbs of Minneapolis. He held these dual executive positions until 1957. Both grew under his skilled leadership.


Phil was beloved by his staff for his leadership, wisdom and very dry wit. Although his health did not allow him to go “on the trail” to train his guides, his presence was felt in the lives of the staff. His guidance gave direction and steadiness to the program and in the personal development of his staff people. His staffs knew him as a person of faith, ethics, Christian values and as a wise, insightful leader. Many affectionately called him “Pops”.

Phil’s wit and wisdom brought him great respect from his staffs. He was usually several steps ahead of others in his planning and thinking. He understood young men and where they were coming from. He cared deeply about them. He quietly guided their development as persons and as competent leaders. When he spoke, always quietly and with deep insight, his young men listened because they respected him. They came to know that the lower and more quietly he spoke, the more profound he would be.

He helped them to become all that they could be. Their stories about Phil credit him for making a huge difference in their lives. Coley Carlson, one of Phil’s guides, recently summed up the feelings of so many on Phil’s staffs with these words, “Menogyn looms so very large in our lives!” Phil caused this to happen because he wisely gave them space to learn, grow and develop and he always gave them his trust and respect. They knew that he cared for them by the way he treated them.

Phil’s sense of humor and very dry wit, engaged men and women into relationship. He was funny but you had to listen to the nuances of his dry humor. There is the illustrative story of Phil’s insight into how men operate and his dry wit. One morning on his way to the dining hall for breakfast, Phil stopped outside Hernandoz, the guide’s cabin filled with sleepy guides barely starting to wake up, and yelled, “All right, just face it” and then he proceeded to the Dining Hall. The guys got up laughing. He understood them. He did because he had been there himself as a young man. By understanding them as young men, he endeared himself to them. They loved him for it and for his steady leadership, affirmation of them and for his guidance in their lives.


During the over 50 years that Phil served the Minneapolis YMCA, he became an important mentor to many young and not so young YMCA professional directors as well as to his Menogyn staffs. He was respected and beloved for his quiet counsel, guidance, vision, intelligence, and steady leadership. He also had a well developed “crap detector” so he wasn’t easily fooled. He used his insights into people to guide and develop them. He saw the best in people and focused on their potentials as his life intersected with theirs.

Many of the men that worked for him as professionals in the YMCA went on to become executives and to serve with excellence and distinction, like their mentor Phil Brain. After directing Menogyn and the Westlake Branch, Phil joined the Metropolitan Staff in 1957 to become the executive of Administration, Finance and Properties. His calm, skilled leadership in budget development and management and his ability to expand the Sustaining Membership program for raising annual operating funds for program support and development in the branches, significantly strengthened and expanded the YMCA’s youth programs and community influence in Minneapolis.

In the mid 1970s, Phil continued his leadership in the YMCA by developing a new position for financial development to raise major funding for the Y. Under his guidance, a multi million dollar capital campaign was successfully completed that enabled the creation of several new full service YMCA branches in the growing suburbs and two large inner city branches to serve the needs of families and youth. The campaign also enabled the nationally acclaimed camping program to expand and improve its camp facilities.

Then, after in depth conversations while on a canoe trip with an old friend and former YMCA director, John McBean, who had become a nationally acclaimed Financial Development Consultant, Phil began an organized effort to secure Planned and Deferred gifts for the YMCA through trusts, wills and other estate gifts. His efforts secured over seventy five million dollars ($75,000,000) for the YMCA. Other deferred gifts, secured through Phil’s leadership, are still coming in. Phil was a visionary and didn’t major in minors. His legacy and dedication live on.


Phil and Delores were married in 1949 and were newly weds during Phil’s first year as Menogyn’s director on the new site. Together they set the tone and standards for the new camp operation. Each did their unique part in creating a camp environment where staff and campers would grow in body, mind and spirit. And over the eight years that they were at Menogyn, they were partners and a great team. Both were beloved by the staff.

Delores was a rock of hope and strength as she supported Phil through the unique stresses of leading and directing a wilderness canoe camp. She nursed him back to health after his horrendous war experiences and she raised their two young girls, Beth and at camp during the summer. She is a beautiful woman both inside and out. Delores was beloved by the staff for her humor, class, understanding, kindness, compassion, insightfulness and strength. They all speak of her to this day in the soft, hushed tones of respect and admiration.


Phil Brain left a huge legacy with the YMCA of Minneapolis with his skilled leadership. He was a servant leader dedicated to the Y and to the many men that he led and mentored. His early leadership at Menogyn gave substance, vision and purpose to the camp. His staffs are forever grateful for his presence in their lives. He left a real legacy to them and to the YMCA of Minneapolis that he served so ably for over 50 years.


The following stories and remembrances of Phil by his staffs recall the transforming presence that he had in their lives. He was a giant and a dedicated servant. The Spirit of Menogyn will always be indebted to this exceptional leader, Phil Brain Jr.