Focus on History: Adirondack boys camp was popular
Camp Agaming in the Adirondacks played a special role in the upbringing of boys who went on to be the men of the “greatest generation.”
The Fulton County YMCA on Harrison Street in Johnstown still calls its summer day program Camp Agaming in tribute to the residential summer camp of days gone by.
Said to be an Indian word for “along the shore,” Agaming (pronounced agh-uh-ming) was located on the north shore of Lake Pleasant near the inlet stream from Sacandaga Lake and the village of Lake Pleasant.
The Gloversville YMCA owned the property and started the camp in cooperation with the Amsterdam YMCA in the 1920s. There were also Lutheran and Jewish summer camps nearby.
Attendance at Camp Agaming dwindled during and after World War II. The property was sold in 1965, and camp buildings were converted into private residences.
In the 1930s, a fair number of campers were on scholarship and did kitchen work in addition to participating in activities. Some came from the Capital Region or downstate, but most were from Fulton and Montgomery counties. During the school year, the YMCA held bean suppers in Amsterdam to promote the next season.
“Agaming, Agaming, we get up when the birdies sing,” began the camp song. “Where the green grass grows and it never snows at Agaming.” Today’s day campers still sing a similar tune.
At camp, the boys learned archery, played softball and basketball and went fishing and swimming. A skinny dip in the lake before breakfast was routine. Occasionally campers played softball against other camps. Skits were put on during nightly campfires.
One 1938 camp counselor, Isadore Demsky, became an actor, Kirk Douglas. Other counselors were William Blase, who went on to be an Amsterdam physician, and Bob Quiri, who was one of the principals of Ruby & Quiri home decorating.
Camp directors included “Skipper” Jackson from the Gloversville YMCA, excellent at table tennis; Walter Van Hine from the Amsterdam YMCA, an accomplished tennis player; and Don Hale from Gloversville, a skilled fisherman.
There were one-day and overnight hiking and canoe outings, with a three-day trip to climb Mount Marcy, the state’s highest peak. To get to Mount Marcy, campers rode in the camp truck or authentic “woody,” a Ford station wagon with wooden sides.
Important stage of life
“It was just about the last stage of your life before you noticed the absence of girls,” said John “Bud” Rees in a 2002 interview. Rees served on the ground crew for a squadron of P-38 fighters in the South Pacific during World War II.
“I remember one of the campers, David Wells, who died in the war,” Rees said. “He was a nice young man. It seemed that those who died in the war were the nicest.”
Camp counselor Demsky/Douglas made an impression on Rees, “He had muscles growing out of his muscles. He was very popular with the younger folks, but most all the counselors were.”
Demsky/Douglas had charge of the waterfront, according to Rees, “I can remember seeing him in the back of a canoe. He looked like a much healthier Charles Atlas.”
Rees grew up in Chicago but spent summers with his Amsterdam grandparents, the Brannocks. He retired from an English professorship at Kansas State University.
Bob Dunning, who followed in his father’s footsteps to become an Amsterdam dentist, attended Camp Agaming for parts of three summers in the late 1930s.
“It was near enough so that it wasn’t hard to get there,” Dunning said. “Everyone knew someone who was also going there. It was a good way to learn to swim.”
Dunning served in the Navy in World War II.