Ye Old Menogyn Guides
Camp Menogyn Stories  by John Skaggs, Guide 1965, Voyageur Guide 1966
(1)  "Coming of Age - one Phone Call Away"

Leaving home, going to Carleton College was supposed to make me a man but it remained an elusive goal of how more and more thinking as a philosophy major would realize that goal. I learned to become a man one spring afternoon of my sophomore year in a telephone call to Armond Paulson, then the director at Menogyn.

I roomed that year with Bill "Buzz" Sawyer, my best friend at Carleton. We had both worked at YMCA camps the summer before, me at the Elgin, Illinois camp and Bill as a guide at camp of my dreams, Menogyn. I thought I was not ready yet to work in such a demanding and responsible position as a guide so I opted to spend a year working with younger kids, taking out much shorter trips in the Wisconsin countryside.

Coming back to college that fall I had stories to tell, but I was absolutely enthralled with the stories Buzz had to tell about being on the Menogyn staff. Stories about an awesome rugged wilderness, demanding skill and finesse to navigate through it, about belonging to a staff that had a real esprit de corps, a tradition that started in 1922 with Dad Tripp, and a passion for doing something creative and new with each trip like paddling back into camp beating the drums at the end of a trip.

He talked about Goggin never letting a camper pass him on a portage (and the one camper who chased him across a long portage, never falling back), about picking blueberries for a pie made with dough rolled out with a soup can (yes it was legal) on an aluminum canoe, storms across Gunflint where you could paddle for long minutes and barely make any headway going around the hook halfway down the lake, and chasing bears around the trail lodge so they ran into overturned canoes set up as a booby trap.

Yes, everyone scattered when they heard the crash, then the roar of the bear. You might wonder where the camp director was with all of this going on. Arm was definitely there, the glue that held all this spirit, creativity and energy together. Leadership styles, group dynamics, trust, tradition, and spiritual growth were all part of Arm's message to the staff, giving them the tools to do a challenging job leading campers through a wilderness.

I was especially drawn to the stories about how much Arm trusted the judgment of the guides and would back them up, knowing they were very competent and capable. I knew that Christian fellowship was woven into the very fabric of the camp and was at the essence of its reason for being. So Buzz and talked for hours, days and months about Menogyn and I could hardly wait to apply for the next summer.

Come Spring when it was time to fill out summer job applications, there was no procrastinating for me. I was so eager I added a long two page addendum to the question about my religious beliefs, thinking that it would show how eager I was to go the extra mile. Truth be told I was animus about leading campers in Christian fellowship, so I focused on what I did not believe in religious matters. Saying what I did believe was much harder and I left that out of my addendum. I wanted Arm to read between the lines. I was afraid I would not be able to pray well enough with the campers and my secret hope was to avoid that requirement.

Two weeks later the reply from Menogyn came in the mail. I opened the letter with shaking hands, anticipating an offer of a job. I was devastated to read that all the positions had been filled with more qualified applicants. When I told Buzz, he was both puzzled and sympathetic, and offered a suggestion that I follow up on the letters invitation to call if I had questions. I did call the next day, with a shaky voice, trembling as I held the telephone. Arm graciously confirmed that other staff positions were filled in front of me. I knew I still really wanted to be on the staff so I asked what I could do that year to better prepare myself for a guide position the next year.

A pregnant pause followed, and then Arm started to explain the problem was the addendum to the question about religion. His uncertainty about how I would do the spiritual part of leadership had led him to consult with his colleagues about me as a Menogyn guide. The consensus was that I was not a good fit. Arm started to ask me about what I meant with various parts of the statement, questioning me in much more detail. I knew I was on the spot, that I could not disavow what I had written, and would have to say what I did believe. I haltingly picked my way through,searching for what made sense, listening intently to every question from Arm. I had never had such a direct dialogue with an adult before and I felt the power of it. Finally there was a long pause; I waited sensing the shift coming. Then Arm offered me a job as a guide that summer, saying his questions had been answered.

I was elated, so happy I would be able to join this elite group of men I so admired. At a deeper level there was a quiet acceptance, a sense that this was meant to be and that I had dodged a bullet that could have taken me from my mission in life. I knew that Arm had earned an enormous amount of respect from me and I was totally committed to make good on his willingness to trust me. Years later I know that it did happen that summer.