“We started it but what we started, the parents built up,” said Werner, “and you know which parents I mean – the female ones. Such women as Mrs. Edward J. Walsh, Mrs. Philip Bond Fouke, Mrs. William Julius Polk, who turned the third floor of her home into a clubroom – were among our hard workers. In 90 days we had 90 members. The club just snowballed.
“In the beginning, we ran a round robin using the homes as meeting places with the mothers serving cocoa and cookies at the end of the day. We’d meet Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons and all day Saturday. We had no money. We had to wait until fees came in to buy things.”
When the program got on its feet financially, they began discussing the purchase of property. Some of the mothers wanted a handsome estate just east of a country club.
“Young as I was, I knew we wanted a camp, not a country club,” Werner related. “We found a rough site on Warson road. We held a meeting and I told them why we preferred this cheap place with board cabins left over from a rock quarry. We wanted the children to have the experience of creating their own quarters, building tree houses. The mothers accepted it, but we always had the controversy between fancy surroundings and roughing it.”
The club had some of the niceties of a country club but for the most part, activities were improvised and imaginative. Werner still laughs as he recalls one boy, an athlete, who was almost in tears at his first sight of Sebago.
“Why you haven’t even got a baseball diamond,” he protested. “I’m going to tell my aunt you misrepresented.”
It was the policy of Sebago to let youngsters sound off and Werner heard him out. He explained they didn’t have a baseball diamond because most of the kids were too busy doing things like building tree houses. But, he said, since barbell was important to him, he’s recruit a team and they’d fix up a place. They did so. Several weeks went by. One day Werner hunted the boy up and asked if he could come play ball.
“Gosh, do you need me?” the boy asked. “I’m pretty busy right now, building a tree house.”
“We had the most dammed creeks in the country,” Mrs. Werner remembers. “Every year the youngsters would build dams in them and there was always one whose mother didn’t want him to get his feet wet and we’d dry him up just before the bus got there and somehow he’d manage to get back in the creek.”
The creeks were named Trouble Creek and Dirty Elephant Creek and they combined to make Gypsy Creek. Trouble got is name because children who caused trouble were sent there to watch the water until they felt sociable. It was the camp’s only punishment.
Dirty Elephant got its name from a classic anecdote about the boy who told his mother the supervisor called him a “dirty elephant.” The mother indignantly called on the principal who called in the supervisor who looked mystified until she remembered what she’d really called the boy – “a disturbing element.”
The busses that went to Sebago had names – Battle Ship, Puddle Jumper, Peanut Roaster – and when they were retired, there was always a ceremony. There was a wooden Indian named Omi Omi, a rifle range, and a long long slide.
There were gardens and animals and swimming and ceremonial fires and games like wild man barbecue where they dressed as cannibals and “roasted” each other over the fire. Once the game became too realistic when one of the boys was dropped; his grease paint saved him.