Skip to content

We’re Back! And Adventure Awaits

June 13, 2017

Summer’s here and you know what that means: Farmers Union Camp is starting soon. Yesterday, actually. And I’m back, blogging live from Heartbutte. Quick intro, in case it’s your first time here, it’s been too long, or you just never really knew who wrote these things. My name is Lauren Vetter, and I’m a third year summer staffer for North Dakota Farmers Union. This will be my second year as director of camps at our Wesley Acres site. I grew up in the camping program, going to camp since 3rd grade. My sisters, cousins, parents, aunts and uncles, and even grandparents went to camp once upon a time as well. I grew up in Fargo, ND, and currently live in Grand Forks where I attend the University of North Dakota (go Hawks) for Communications and Nonprofit Administration. I’ll be a senior in the fall.

The last week and a half summer staff has been out at Heartbutte getting ready for camp. We have been getting to know each other, work together as a team, and create friendships that will last a lifetime. Along with that we’ve been preparing the camp site, planning project and theme nights, and teaching the first years the ropes. We’ve got a great staff this year, with Adam and Lucas back as directors, Macey, Rachel, Bailey and Mikey returning to be our assistant directors, Alex and Abby directing the SYAC, Carter, Lexie, and David are back on staff, and our new staffers Heather, Emily, Mikaylah, Preston, Tanner, Daniel, and Lorenzo. Jay and Evelyn are back in the kitchen, and Kaycee is back to be caretaker with her new assistant Tim.

We’ve gotten a lot of things done but it hasn’t all been hard work. One tradition we have here at camp is that the graduating campers get to throw magic dust into the campfire. We get this dust from Heartbutte, a local landmark that gave our campsite its name. We’ve been using an old stash for a while, and last year we used it up. That only meant one thing: we had to climb Heartbutte. So on a sunny Monday morning we hopped in our cars and headed over, set with fanny packs of sunscreen, bags for the dust, and plenty of water.

It’s a steeper climb than you think, but according to Carter who filmed it, it took us about 12 minutes. Once we were up there we took a few minutes to enjoy the view, and then took some pictures. After that the directors did what we came there to do: collect the dust. Don’t worry campers, we got plenty for the whole summer.

I am so excited for this summer. I’ll be working our first junior camp at Heartbutte, as well as all the junior camps at Wesley, and senior camps 2, 4, and 5. Stay tuned for more stories from camp, and I can’t wait to see you all here. Adventure awaits 🙂

Countdown to Summer Has Begun

February 1, 2017

Most people like summer- warm weather, sunny days, no school. But I don’t know ANYONE who loves summer as much as my coworkers and I do. Think I’m wrong? I literally dream about summer- being back out at camp, early morning flag, swimming in the lake, dancing all night. I constantly think about summer and plan for it, and I start a countdown for summer literally the second it ends the year prior. I’m not alone-most of my conversations with my best friend, Bailey, who was on staff with me last summer, consist of reminiscing about camp, planning for the coming summer, or talking about our mutual camp friends.

I think the reason I look forward to camp so much is the people. While Lake Tschida and Wesley Acres are on the top of my “happy place” list, I wouldn’t go out of my way to be there without the rest of my NDFU friends. If you’ve ever gone to camp, you may notice the counselors seem pretty close- that’s not just for show, we truly are. I know more about most of my coworkers from the past few summers than I’d really care to admit, but that makes for the best kind of friendships. They’ve seen me at my best (you never look better than at banquet on the last night of camp, where you finally do your hair and makeup after a week of barely looking in the mirror), and they’ve seen me at my worst (let’s just say getting woken up at 3am for a tornado warning wasn’t my best moment). Summer staff is so close that even my friends who never went to camp know we all get each other better than they will ever understand.

The friends I’ve made on staff have been a huge blessing in my life. They’re always there for me when I miss camp and need someone who gets my inside jokes, when I’m frustrated and need someone to vent to who won’t judge, and when I need an adventure buddy. No one else quite understands the true awkwardness that is seeing a camper in public and not being able to remember his or her name, or how excited I get when I find out the theme nights for the summer. Chris never judges me when I show up at his house looking like a mess (he’s seen worse), Kyle somehow tolerates me even when I’m annoying myself, and Amanda is always there when I need someone to talk to.

Now there’s a point to all this bragging about how awesome my friends and summers are: if you’re a college-aged person who has no idea what to do with their summer, join me at camp. You’ll make the best memories of your life in the best place on earth with the best people you’ll ever meet, all while gaining valuable experience that will help you in your future career. You’ll learn about teamwork, problem solving, leadership, and time-management.

I’ve never had a more rewarding job. Our campers are the best. Even the ones who misbehave will make their way into your heart. My room is decorated with things the kids give me-cards, drawings, stickers, pictures, etc. When I’m having a bad day, I read some of the things kids wrote me and suddenly I feel like I’m the best person ever. If nothing else, campers make up for at least half of my likes on Instagram (do it for the ‘gram?). They also leave cute comments on how much they miss me and can’t wait for camp. Honestly, what other job can give you that kind of unconditional love? We have the rest of our lives to be adults and work in the “real world”- spend your summer like a kid, playing in the sun and making friends that last a lifetime. You don’t need to have gone to camp in the past to apply for staff. Kids not your thing? Apply for a job in the kitchen or as caretaker! Check it out here, and send in your application today!

Camp wouldn’t be possible without summer staff. However, there is one other thing we need-campers! If you’re on the fence about signing up for camp, do it! I promise you won’t regret it. Perhaps you think you’re too old for that, you’re going to be a senior in high school, you’re busy! Take a week out of your summer and give camp a try – you might just meet your best friends, your future spouse, decide your college major, or realize you want to be on summer staff next summer.

Maybe you’re a parent and you’re worried to send your child to an overnight camp for the first time. I promise you, we will take good care of your child. All of the counselors are trained to deal with anything that could possibly happen. I’ve dealt with a broken arm, kids fighting, kids with disabilities, allergies, and lots and lots of homesickness. I treat every camper like a little sibling, and there’s nothing l love more than seeing my campers the next year. Camp changes lives; it changed mine. Help us continue the biggest camping program in North Dakota by sending your kids, grandkids, friends, and cousins. Sign up for camp here!

Already signed up? Invite 100 of your closest friends (plus you get cool prizes for referring people:Check out the Camper Incentive Program on this page here for specifics.

I can’t wait to see what this summer has in store. I can’t wait to meet with the staff to plan camp, and I’m so excited to be back at my favorite place. I’ll see you there!

 

This is the End, For Now

August 31, 2016

Exit 110. You take a left, and drive 3 miles over some train tracks until the intersection. You take a right and roll into Glen Ullin. Keep driving straight. You’ll hit a stop sign towards the end of town. Take a left, and keep going for 22 miles. The road turns and there are some hills. You’ll pass Heart Butte on your right, and go over the dam. About a mile past the dam you’ll see a sign for Farmers Union Youth Camp, and you’ll take a right. You don’t go very long on gravel before taking another right, the first one you can, again, at the sign. You’ll drive about three miles now, go down a hill, pass the cattle guard, and the road will curve right at the third NDFU sign. Follow that road and you’ll see the fourth sign and go left, and soon you’ll see the campsite and pass the fifth and final sign, welcoming you to my favorite place on earth, Heart Butte Farmers Union Camp. That butte you saw on the drive in? You can see it across the lake from our campfire site, the beach, and the cliff.

To the average person, the campsite might not look like much. There are five buildings in total, the dorm, main building, staff house, co-op store, and the garage. The merry-go-round and swings have probably been there since we bought the campsite. Our basketball court could use an upgrade and our mini golf course has seen better days. Alumni may notice some upgrades though, like our new picnic tables, our nice sand volleyball court, the rock wall, new floor in the main building, and the bathroom addition added to the dorms about 5 years ago.

But the campsite is so much more than just the buildings and features that you see when driving in and walking around. To me, camp isn’t a place – it’s a feeling. The feeling of excitement I get pulling into Glen Ullin. The huge smile on my face I get when I drive by Heart Butte. It’s so hard not to speed on the highway to camp because you just want to get there so bad. Every time I get to camp, a peaceful yet excited feeling washes over me. Honestly, it’s hard to explain unless you’ve been on summer staff. The best way I can describe is it that camp is safe. It’s a place you can be yourself, be with the people you love, be at the place you love.

At the end of my second summer on staff, I came back out with Bailey, Rachel, Kaycee, and our boss Bri to clean up the campsite. I won’t go into detail on the horror that was the boys’ bathroom (the girls’ wasn’t the cleanest thing I’ve seen either). The dorms were empty, ready for some new flooring and the rest of the new bunks next summer. Although it was a dirty job, we had fun getting the campsite cleaned up and ready for winter. Anything can be fun with the right people, but it was kind of weird to be out there without the rest of summer staff and without the campers. It felt like being home, but not all of the family was there.

After we finally finished cleaning, mowing the lawn, and getting everything ready up for winter, I went around to each building to lock the doors. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little choked up walking around the campsite for the last time this summer. Instead of seeing things at camp, I started seeing memories. That spot by the patio where Mikey ate it chasing Adam playing ditch during LTC. The patio itself is where Kaycee, Forrest, and I took our first picture together years ago, in which Forrest is wearing a cheerleader costume and bunny ears. The cliff that I have watched countless sunrises on, including one with just Rachel the morning of the day Carter left, because he overslept it and missed it. The posts we stand on to watch the buses roll in. The flag pole that Lucas almost climbed to the top of once. The merry-go-round I spent two days painting last summer just for the paint to come off because it wasn’t outdoor paint. The main building, where in an attempt to get Chris back for putting us in the garbage can, Alex accidentally threw a bucket of water on me instead of him. And the staff house, where we discovered Mikey is really good at telling scary stories. The campfire is where Bailey and I sat a year prior and talked about how we couldn’t wait for this summer to be on staff together. The girls’ staff room, where I bonded with Alex and Abby at the first senior camp of the summer, especially when Alex had to help me get my banquet dress off. The grass next to the basketball court is where Lexie and I started to become best friends last summer when we both took a nap there. The mini golf course is where Kaycee caught a frog six years ago at camp and I encouraged her to scare our SYAC with it, which is when we became best friends. And the beach, where Bailey and I surfed on the lily pad one particularly windy and wavy weekend.

As I rounded the corner of the boys’ dorm to check that the final door was locked, I found a camper’s nametag on the ground. I picked it up and realized it was a kid I didn’t know from a camp I didn’t work. Some kid who probably had the time of his life and maybe met his new best friends. A kid who could someday be in my shoes, working at the best place in the world.

Thousands of campers have had the privilege of going to North Dakota Farmers Union Camp over the years. Thousands of lives have been changed, thousands of friendships made, thousands of leaders formed. And as I left camp for the last time and saw the “See ya next year!” sign, I didn’t cry. Because I know it isn’t the end of my journey with Farmers Union. What I did think about as I drove away is how thankful I am for Farmers Union. It has given me the best friends, the best job, and the best memories in the world. So see ya next year -Lauren

Campers vs. Counselors: No Mercy

August 19, 2016

Our motto as counselors is “camp is for the campers.” We do most things for them, in order to give them the best possible experience. However, there is one activity at camp that we make it about us a little, and that is the sports tournaments at senior camp. We show no mercy, we are not the kind of counselors that will just let the kids win because they are kids. No, we go hard and so do the campers. At each camp we have the classics: boys and girls basketball, volleyball, and softball. We have recently been doing a lot of Gaga tournaments as well, which is a more intense version of dodgeball played in a pit. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_J_pxB-4wOY ) Some other tournaments we’ve tried are a 100m dash, mini golf, and frolf. It all depends on what the campers want and will sign up for. The camper teams play each other in a bracket until there is a champion team from the campers. This winning team then gets to take on Summer Staff, known as the FUSS team (Farmers Union Summer Staff).

At Senior Retreat, our last camp of the summer, we had girls basketball, boys basketball, volleyball, softball, gaga, soccer, and a pentathlon, which consisted of javelin, shotput, long jump, swimming, and a foot race. We started off with soccer seeing as there was only one camper team to take on staff, which had 3 state champions and a couple of girls who are going to college to play soccer. I’m too embarrassed to tell you the score of that game.

Next we had gaga, which was won by our FUSS team. Lucas is a gaga ninja, so I was not surprised by that win. After dominating gaga we took on the winning camper team for girls basketball, and we were able to pull out a win there as well. Hitting the winning shot was a highlight for me after going completely winless last summer. Unfortunately, boys basketball wasn’t as successful. After our 4-year FUSS winning streak was broken at the first senior camp of the summer, the boys were again unable to beat the campers, defeated by a winning dunk from Tanner, one of our SYAC.

We weren’t going to give up yet though, and David was giving Tanner a run for his money in the pentathlon (which I was taking one for the team and losing by a long shot). Volleyball time rolled around and we were hoping for a win, but lost again in game three. We went into softball feeling confident, but somehow ended up losing that as well. Forrest, who was in charge of the sports tournaments, seemed to forget about finishing the pentathlon, and I was not going to be the one to remind him. We’ll call that one a tie.

Sports tournaments are always fun for campers and counselors alike, and even if you aren’t the sporty type, it’s fun to watch, especially when a counselor provides commentary. Although this summer our FUSS results were disappointing, we all agreed we’d get them next year. (I’m also not above recruiting, so if you are gifted in any of the above sports, please apply for staff next summer).

We rolled some highlights of the sports at the talent show, including one of our campers falling on her butt, some soccer action, javelin throwing, and of course, the dunk. So campers, get practicing for sports tournaments, because next year FUSS will be back and ready to redeem ourselves!   -Lauren

Wesley or Heartbutte?

August 1, 2016

When faced with the decision between junior directing at Heartbutte or at Wesley Acres, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Lucas told me he’d be happy at either, which means he couldn’t make the decision for me. Part of me really wanted to be at Heartbutte- it’s such a special place, and it’s exclusively ours. Many of my friends would be there for most of the summer. But something in me was pulling me towards Wesley Acres. Not only had I spent most of my summer there the year before on staff, but it is also where I went as a camper. In the end, Wesley won, mainly because I wanted to see my campers from the year before.

My time directing at Wesley had its ups and downs. It’s hard to be away from Heartbutte, not only because all of our supplies are kept there but also because it feels like home. Wesley and their staff are great, but it’s kinda like being a visitor in someone else’s home when we are there. I missed Heartbutte a lot during my time at Wesley.

However, I do not regret my decision to be out at Wesley. That place was a huge part of my childhood, and it’s really awesome that I could add to the Farmer’s Union legacy there. I’ve touched on how great it was to see old campers in previous blogs, so I won’t go into detail on that, but it really was amazing to see how much they grew in a year and yet how much they were the same.

Our junior camps are divided by counties, however kids can always go to another county’s camp. When I was a camper I didn’t attend my county’s camp, rather I went with Logan, Emmons, and McIntosh counties with my cousins who grew up in Linton and Napoleon. This year those counties came to Wesley 5, our final camp out there and the last camp I directed for the summer. So not only is that camp special for me due to that, but my little sister also came this year. I have been trying to convince my sisters to go to camp for years, and worked hard to convince my mom to sign them up. Having my youngest sister Claire there was more fun than I could imagine. I don’t get a lot of time at home in the summer due to a busy camp schedule, so it meant a lot to me to get to spend that time with her and share something so near to my heart with her. She loved her week there and can’t wait to come back next year.

I was unsure how I would feel when my final camp as director was over. It had been a great week, even though it started off with me tripping up the stairs during my intro on the first day. After all the 6th graders and other staff shared their favorite memories at campfire it was my turn to share. I don’t remember exactly what I shared, but here is my best summary of my favorite camp memory:

North Dakota Farmer’s Union Camp is a really special place. I have gone every year since third grade, and every year it gets better. I started off just like many of the campers who were at camp 5, at Wesley Acres. I didn’t go with my county so I could go with my cousins, and I cannot begin to describe how special those memories are to me. Wesley Acres is where my cousins turned into my friends, and they continue to be some of my closest friends to this day. But the real reason I value my junior camp memories so much is that one of my cousins is no longer with me. It’s sometimes hard to be back there and remember all the fun times we had together there, but I know he would be so proud of me if he knew I was spending my summer helping other kids make those precious memories. This is why I always encourage campers to really appreciate their time at camp and the people they are with, because they will never be with those exact people ever again. Every camp is different and every camp is awesome due to the unique group at each one. I always encourage those who are graduating from junior camp to go to senior camp, because believe it or not it can get better and it does. Senior camp is where I met literally all of my best friends. My best friend (who I met at camp) sometimes jokes that I only hang out with camp people…but I cannot disagree.

I don’t know where I would be without the people I’ve met through Farmer’s Union. Not only has it given me my best friends, but it has also given me incredible opportunities, like trips to Colorado, Minneapolis, and Duluth, and the best job in the world. So keep going to camp if you’re a camper. Keep sending your kids if you’re a parent. And encourage others to go too. Because you never know how much those memories will mean to you someday, and you never know when the kid standing next to you at flag will become your best friend.

Campfire Skits and Stories

July 26, 2016

When asked what their favorite part of camp is, many campers and counselors alike would answer that it’s the campfire. Although it’s hard for me to pick a favorite part, it is one of the best parts of the week. The counselors lead the camp in songs to start, such as Rachel’s favorite “Boom Chicka Boom,” and Lexie’s “Boom Shake It Out.”

We then transition into skits, such as Echo, where we yell someone’s name and our “echo” yells back something funny about that person.

Another classic is our snakebite skit, where the counselors find out that the only way we can save the other counselor is to suck out the poison…from the snakebite on their butt. Their response: I’m sorry, but you’re going to die.

Our classic skit is the Hunchback. The story goes, “for many years, the hunchback has been ringing the buzzer at the top of the bell tower out at camp, but he’s getting old and placed an ad in the Union Farmer for a replacement. One counselor plays the Hunchback and the other counselor plays the person interviewing for the job of the buzzer ringer. The counselor playing the Hunchback has a pillow in the back their shirt and walks like the character The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The two counselors climb the stairs to the top of the bell tower (so basically they walk in circles around the fire), exchanging puns and insults. Some classic jokes are that the hunchback is named Ben Dover, with his wife Ilean Dover and their kids Trip Dover, Fell Dover, Rolled Dover, etc. He likes to eat LEAN meat and MOUNDS bars, listens to “My Humps” and “Friends in Low Places.” When they finally make it to the top, the hunchback shows the applicant the delicate process of ringing the bell. The counselor playing the Hunchback explains that you grab the bell by the haunches (hunches?), pull it all the way back (normally into someone’s lap), let go and jump out of the way! The applicant then grabs the pretend large bell by the hunches (HAUNCHES!), pulls it all the way back, lets go, and ooops! The applicant flies out the window, which is a space at the campfire located right behind all the campers on the benches. The hunchback, too busy watching the bell, doesn’t notice at first. Another counselor joins the skit and runs in, finding the interviewee unconscious on the ground. The hunchback magically notices an elevator coming down from the “bell tower”, comes down, and after exchanging a few words with the other counselor, is asked if they recognize the applicant. Then comes the long-awaited punch line: “No, I don’t, but their face sure rings a bell!”

We then sing “Up Above My Head,” my personal favorite song to lead at camp, which is slower and more serious. After that, we have the magic dust that we get from the top of Heart Butte. When it is thrown in the fire, it makes the fire glow. All the kids graduating from junior or senior camp get to share their favorite memory and throw the dust in the fire. I didn’t get to do this my senior year because I left for my sister’s wedding, but at senior camp it is often a tearful speech. At junior camp, I remember saying my favorite memory was pranking the boys with water balloons. After that, we have goodnight circle.

Campfire is really a great part of camp and something everyone, staff and campers both, remember for years. And as I’m about to go to my last campfire of the year as a director at Wesley 5, I’m excited yet sad, but I know no matter what we will all have a great time. -Lauren

Please & Thank You Goes a Long Way

July 18, 2016

I was just about to leave the dining hall during Wesley 3 when Brenda, one of the directors at Wesley Acres, came up to me. “I’m going to stage a loud conversation with you in front of your campers,” she said. “HEY LAUREN!” “Yeah?” I replied, wondering what the heck these kids could have done wrong. They had been angels all week, but I figured this was going to be her nice way of telling the kids to be cleaner, not do this, etc. Instead she goes, “We host a lot of camps here each summer, from all age groups. However, this group has been the most polite group of kids we’ve ever had. They all say please and thank you when getting food!” I can honestly say I haven’t been that proud since Amanda and I sold 212 tattoos in one co-op store break the summer before. But then again, I wasn’t surprised.

LaMoure, Dickey, and Ramsey counties are home to some of the nicest kids I’ve ever met. We had such a fun week with the campers that once again, we were truly sad to see them leave. We are so lucky at Farmer’s Union to have such a fun group literally every week. The kids at Wesley 3 listened so well, it was like a dream come true. The girls in my and Bailey’s cabin were so much fun. My favorite was all the thank you notes the girls wrote me. “Thank you for waking us up.” “Thank you for the boy advice.” (Bailey and I were told to start a show on YouTube with boy advice). “I hope the kids listen to you at the next camp.” (Same.)

Overall, it was another awesome week in the books. I was sad to see them go, but as always, I’m excited to see what the rest of the summer has in store, because it only gets better. -Lauren

%d bloggers like this: