Ye Old Menogyn Guides
Menogyn Stories by Don Olson,  Camp and Kitchen
Assistant (1953); Guide (1954-1956)
(1)  "Thoughts about Phil"

A truly remarkable man. Some leaders attempt to create effective leadership by raising their voice and volume. Not with Phil. You knew there was a serious message being delivered when the voice lowered and words came slower. This was true "learning time" and it paid to pay attention. We all had some idea of what "Pops" had experienced but rarely ever talked about. His written memoirs all came well after his years of being Menogyn's Camp Director. But just our name for him is telling, respectful, comfortable, easy, and very deserving.

He was always steady, always ahead of you in thoughts, so quick witted with ever well timed dry humor. I have no recollection of any guide being taken aside for a private tutoring session — if there was a message to impart he found a way of sharing in a positive way with all guides present how things should be. Phil had contracted Malaria during his imprisonment in a Japanese prison camp for three years during the Second World War (1941- 45). As we know, once in the body it never really leaves.

We could always tell when it was trying to make a re-appearance by some sweat appearing below his nose and above his upper lip — not much but just enough to convey that this was not a good day. Although he never said so, I'm sure the freedom, openness and beauty of our beloved canoe country was a daily healing seminar for Phil. With so few words he made me a much better person.

(2)  "Baby in Camp"

These were the formative years for Camp Director Phil and Delores. Delores added a special quality and dignity to camp. Soon there was a new member of the family with the name of Beth. It was an honored assignment to be provided with the opportunity to baby sit Beth at the Directors Cabin so Delores could get some out-of-camp time in Grand Marais.

(3)  "Hernandos"

I well recall the creation of Hernando's and believe it was our Guide Group that gave it the name after the song, "Hernando's Hideaway" — good choice based it being tucked away from the rest of the camp — when the camp was much smaller. My recollection is that it was a 'kit building' with the parts coming down the lake on the "Monster".

It was a big deal for us guides to have quality, isolated bunk space and the big table along the front wall facing the lake for desk work. Recalling the names of guides at that time would include: Coley Carlson, Chuck Johnson, Bud Bonn, Ade Peyrat, Dave Fackler, Ron Johnson, Roger Strand, and Norm Dahl with my apologies for no doubt overlooking other guides with my deteriorating memory. Not so many years ago these guides got Phil and took a Memory Trip together going over to Rose Lake. I was not able to be a part of that trip but have good pictures that Coley Carlson sent me.

POSTSCRIPT: The story of this trip, written by Jim Riley, chronicles the experience that some of Phil Brain's guides had with him to Rose Lake and a trip down memory lane. I know from talking to Phil after the trip that it was very memorable for him and for all the guides that he loved so much.

(4)  "Guide Break-in Trip"

The practice in those days, perhaps still in effect, was for the Guide Crew of each year to arrive early and take a 10 to 12 day extended, difficult trip to put our skills back in place and transfer good guiding skills from the more experienced guides to the new guides. We took this trip without Phil. My most memorable trip had us headed out thru Arrow Lake into Canada to include Little Gull Lake, Joe Lake, Flatrock Lake, Marks Lake, and the Weikwabinaw River returning via Granite R., Gunflint L., Rose Lake and home. At that time we knew of no other group that had pushed thru this country. Our hope was that the water level would be high enough to navigate what showed on the maps as connecting streams.

Now for the story: North woods legend had it that if you found a Moose in open water, meaning the hoofs were not touching the bottom, you could ride the Moose. I know — how stupid is that — but rough, tough, guides could do anything — this would just be another great adventure to share with campers. So sure enough in one of the lakes we found a moose in open water. We used our canoes to edge up close, having a canoe on each side to help direct the moose. This guidance effort, along with courage development build-up took some time — but we still had the moose in open water.

Then to our surprise she (it was a cow) suddenly flipped up and stopped all movement. We assumed this was a diversion tactic of feinting death hoping we would move along. Well the sad part of this story is it was the real thing. Our antics had resulted in her demise. We have heard stories of the deer family being run down to their demise with weak cardio vascular systems. Perhaps we had found the oldest cow in the neighborhood to display our stupidity.

It is not a good story with a good ending — but I do think it imparted a strong learning message to all of us. This trip also resulted in some fast river running that was not managed well. We flipped a canoe, it was caught against a rock with the open seat side facing upstream and it quickly filled with water. That resulted in buckling the canoe — splitting the side - with a resulting leaking canoe. Duck Tape and no packs rendered it usable so we brought it all the way back to camp. It was repairable and returned to use. I also remember this trip out of the necessity to carve myself a paddle having lost mine in rapids and we were not carrying a spare.

(5)  "The Monster"

Aptly named. It was capable of carrying monster loads. An unbelievable sight when fully loaded. Pulled by an oversized row boat with a 25 hp Johnson motor. It truly was our Camp 18 Wheeler. One of the finest attributes of Menogyn is the fact you cannot drive into Camp. It sets the stage, provides a strong visual reminder that you are about to enter a different world — a special place. And it never provides any disappointment to that vision.

The "Monster" was a special contribution from our World War II efforts in quickly building bridges across the rivers of Europe. It was built strong and well. On weekends it was abused relentlessly and always survived to see another weekend. It didn't move fast so that ride from the W. Bearskin landing to Camp was surely about 40 minutes — good for decompressing the stuff that all campers bring with them from the city. AND most importantly the time it took to go down the lake, with departing campers, and bring in the "new" group afforded all of the camp staff some real quality quiet time. For those two plus hours it was a very different camp — yes we missed the noise of lot's of people having a great experience — but it was a nice quiet.

(6)  "Well Digging"

We needed a new water supply so the BIG summer project was to dig the new well. It was located at the foot of the hill below the kitchen/dinning hall, close to the root cellar in the side of the hill. Our well consultant and supervisor was Charlie Boonstrom who had built Menogyn with his skilled axe work. Charlie was special. A man of few words, incredibly strong, and very knowledgeable about all northwoods subjects. However, he felt that you could not dig a well without chewing his favorite, Old Standard chewing tobacco. So we stuffed a big chew in our mouth, picked up the pick and shovel and went to work — for a while. I did not survive the chew — must have swallowed when I should have spit. Charlie loved it. We did get the well dug and it is still producing to this day.

(7)  "Menogyn in the Winter"

During my Menogyn years there were no winter programs. The Camp stood empty during all those winter months. I don't recall the details of how this came about but I wanted to get to camp in the winter actually it was late winter early spring. I made the inquiry as to permission and was granted access to use the Director's Cabin — it had a stove for heat and cooking.

How good is that to let a college kid go up and use this beautiful cabin. So my football buddies and good friends from Macalester College made the journey. We had a fabulous time and have a home made movie to prove it. We put a hole thru the ice for our drinking water and caught some really good sized lake trout. Just another wonderful Menogyn Experience. In recent years I went thru the listing of Guides, Pictures and brief Bio. It was interesting to see that Macalester had the largest representation of Guides for that year.

(8)  "Camp Cook"

One of our Camp Cooks was ‘JW Brown". JW was black and from the south. I don't recall the details of how Phil located and persuaded JW to join us for the summer as the cook. I also don't recall the facts as to why JW decided to leave us about midway into the summer. Maybe too much isolation. Anyway we were suddenly without a cook. The solution was Stay Canakes and I became his first assistant. I loved Stay. He was the Golden Greek. We were both football players and I looked up to him — he was playing for the professional Winnipeg Bombers after an excellent football career at the University of Minnesota. We had a great time together and turned out some decent meals — those metal trays came back empty. It was one more Menogyn experience that has served me well in my 50 years of marriage.

(9)  "Billy Needham"

For me a part of the Guide Experience was the respect and admiration I had for those who made these northwoods their permanent homes and had developed the ability to use all the available resources to their advantage. I loved my visits with Billy and his very cute little house tucked between Hungry Jack and W. Bearskin with the connecting creek by the house. Billy had mastered the art of taking the Diamond Willow tree and turning it into wonderful furniture. He was an artist and had his framed work on the walls. I believe he also did a lot with birch bark and worked that into his art work. Another one of those bachelor characters that had found happiness in the North Country. He had certainly mastered the art of living alone and talking to himself on those long cold winter months.

(10)  "Women Campers"

At the start of my Menogyn years there was no such thing was women on Menogyn Canoe trips. I know this policy began changing during my guiding years. There was a Wisconsin YMCA that always brought groups to camp —my recollection is that they were the first group to bring in a coed group. But more importantly I should share that my spouse, her sister and all of their friends, classmates from West High School in Mpls. were one of the very first all women groups.

Their guides were (took two to manage these girls on the assumption they wouldn't be strong and fit enough to carry canoes and packs across the portages — WRONG) Chuck Nelson and Coley Carlson. They went south (imagine starting out on the portage from Hungry Jack to Popular (no assistance from cars or trucks) and went as far as Davis Lake for their layover day. Like all groups they came back to Camp knowing each other like they had never known before with loves and hugs in all directions. It certainly convinced me I was on the right track in selecting Betty as my wife — validated with the celebration of our 50th anniversary this June.

(11)  "Entering Canada"

As we entered Canada in the South and North Lake chain we had a great ritual at the US and Canadian boundary marker. It was a round concrete base with a large brass post in the middle bearing the United States on one side and Canada on the other. The ritual was keeping your knees on the top of the base while twisting around the post and kissing the "a" in Canada and the "s" in States. It was awkward, somewhat challenging and good ritualistic fun. Can you imagine that Passports are now required if campers enter Canada. Wow. I wonder if this ritual is still pursued?

(12)  "Squaw Hops"

We all remember the campers who continually reminded us that camp food was nothing like their favorite hamburger joint — or what Mom put on the table. It may have been symptomatic of not having worked hard enough that day thus the hunger pains had not set in. Anyway there was a remedy. My favorite take for implementing this remedy was Winchell Lake. It was long, skinny and impossible to get lost on. About the third day into the trip when meal complaining had reached a peak, I suggested that for those who had been smart enough to bring along some $$$ they would be rewarded when we got to \Winchell by paddling down to the "Lodge" and get some candy, soft drinks and if lucky a Hamburger.

Of course we always set up camp at the east end. When tents were in place I declared that for those who still had some paddling energy left they could head off for the lodge. When the 'go getters' were out of hearing range I advised those who had stayed back to build a good fire on the edge of the water as a beacon for the lodge takers to see when they returned in about two or three hours. Mad would be an understatement of how they greeted us upon return. I think one of those experiences resulted in me being tossed into the lake — probably just deserved. I think Phil Brain must have been aware of this prank but I don't ever recall him coming down on me or other guides that such practices were irresponsible and should be discontinued.

(13)  "Meal Prayers"

With our family dinners I almost always provide the grace. By nature I am not a demonstrative person. I say this by way of indicating that if anyone else at dinner would like to day grace I would defer. But Menogyn instilled within me this comfort zone and ability. Thus far our grandchildren have not had active Church experiences but I am hopeful that this one more Menogyn attribute will carry forward within them — and be validated by their Menogyn camping experiences.

(14)  "City Slickers"

As guides we knew there would be one member of each group that tried to outsmart the issues of "teamwork" that so embodied what the Menogyn experience was all about. The usual pathway was how to avoid work. The keen observers quickly figured out that the heaviest pack would soon be the lightest pack that being the food pack. So they claimed it as their pack for the trip.

I so well remember one of these characters. He thought he was so smart but yet so dependent on the "guide" to bring him back to civilization. Near the end of the trip with a food pack now down to minimum weight. I convinced him that in order to safely cook the next day's meal we must have some rocks for the cook fire. I filled his pack with a substantial load — heavier than most of the other packs.

It was a long day, fortunately amply filled with full rod portages. He did his job and delivered the rocks that night to our chosen camp site. Needless to say he was a bit dismayed when he found a quality camp fire place and I tossed the rocks into the lake. I believe he learned something and I know his fellow campers endorsed the "message".