Inside the main office of the Willow Grove Day Camp, three women proudly pass around well-kept black-and-white photos.
In the photos, youth and camp directors were dressed in Willow Grove Day Camp uniforms and posed for a traditional summer camp portrait.
“They’re photos of us as little girls,” Nan Sternberg Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal, along with Janet “Corkey” Goodman Gilmore and Melanie Sherry Berman were showing photos of themselves at the Willow Grove Day Camp in 1955 - the year the camp was founded.
The three women, now in their late 60s, paid a visit to share precious memories of their youth during Willow Grove Day Camp’s annual open house, May 20.
“Mom always said it was acres of diamonds,” Larry Zeitz, Willow Grove Day Camp director, said.
According to Zeitz, his father Harry teamed up with fellow West Chester University physical education major, Marv Domsky, to help start the business. It was Domsky who first rented the two acres that started the day camp, located at 3400 Davisville Road in Willow Grove.
Zeitz said that the property at the time belonged to a farmer by the name of Joe Lichtenstein; a portion of which he used as a summer resort for visitors of the nearby Willow Grove Park attractions.
In 1955, Domsky asked his college friend to help out with the inaugural summer camp activities.
The following year, according to Larry Zeitz, Harry Zeitz married Larry’s mother, Gloria, and was presented with two options for a wedding dowry: a down payment on a house or the ability to help purchase the rented land from farmer Lichtenstein.
That year, Harry Zeitz became business partners and lifelong friends with Domsky.
‘More to do … More to be’
For those travelling along Davisville Road, perhaps en route to the Willow Grove Mall, they may only see the large Willow Grove Day Camp sign, flanked by thick forest and old farmhouses. However, entering the camp and heading farther down the long driveway, it becomes apparent: Willow Grove Day Camp is expansive.
“You’ll never know it just going by,” Scott Chester, camp aquatics director, said. “The whole thing about this place is, there’s so much to do.”
Chester, who attended Willow Grove Day Camp as a youth, said that the Zeitz Family helped purchase by piecemeal the remaining portions of the Lichtenstein farm over the years.
Today, Willow Grove Day Camp features over 40-acres of land. Each acre is packed with both traditional and progressive summer-camp activities, making Willow Grove Day Camp one of the largest Independent Day Camps in the Eastern Montgomery County region.
It is also the reason for the camp’s motto, “More to do … More to be.”
Chester, who was on-hand providing golf-cart tours to open house visitors, said that the Willow Grove Day Camp accepts campers ages 3 – 15, who participate in age-appropriate activities.
Traditional activities include:
While more progressive activities include:
- Golf instruction range
- Self Defense
- TV studio
- Ga Ga
“When you think of summer camp, you think swimming and Ga Ga,” Chester said.
According to Chester, “Ga Ga” is a variation dodgeball. It’s also a Willow Grove Day Camp favorite.
Chester said campers navigate through the day in periods. Each period represents a particular activity. While campers can choose the activities of their interest, all campers have one period for lunch and one for snack, which are cooked on premises and with nutrition in mind. Campers also have two periods of swimming with instruction in the camp’s five pools, four of which are heated.
“I love camp and I think about it every day,” Ali Isaacman, a 10-year Willow Grove Day Camp attendee, said. “I think about it all year. I even have a countdown on my computer.”
Over the years, the camp has updated facilities to include modern bunk and rest rooms, as well as include new modern camp activities, such as a computer lab.
Chester, a teacher during the school year, said that many of the camp directors and activity leaders are also professional teachers, and all are skilled instructors in their particular camp activity.
While the 3 – 4-year-old campers participate in “The Willows” section of the camp (located closest toward Davisville Road), older campers have access to the rest of the camp.
The oldest among the campers, ages 13 -15, also have the option of becoming a “Counselor in Training” or CIT.
Steven Miller, 14, will be a CIT this summer season. He has been coming to the camp since he was 4-years-old, and also looks forward to attending every year.
“I enjoy all the activities, and spending time with the campers and my friends” Steven said. “You wouldn’t know what it looks like driving by for the first time, so people really need to tour the camp and find out about the activities.”
“You can fall in love quickly with the camp,” Barri Sopinsky said. “And, it can happen in one day.”
Sopinsky of Lower Moreland has a 7-year-old daughter, who’s in her fifth season at the camp. Sopinsky, as well as her then future husband, also attended Willow Grove Day Camp as a youth.
She said that many former campers still hold strong ties to the camp. Recently, Sopinsky has helped organize a Willow Grove Day Camp reunion party for those who attended in her day.
“The memories I have as a child here have never left,” Sopinsky said with a smile.
An average of 500 campers attend each year, with approximately 200 staff, which include a mix of adult camp directors and CITs, according to Harry Zeitz.
Harry Zietz, now in his early 80s, is better known to campers as, “Uncle Howie.” While his son Larry is in control of most of the summer camp operations, Harry Zeitz still makes an effort to greet each camper as they drive in every morning, including everyone that attended the May 20 open house.
“I get to share my grand pop with hundreds of people,” Anjelica Zeitz, Larry Zeitz’s daughter, said. “Everybody loves him.”
Anjelica, who also attended the camp as a youth, now works as the camp’s creative arts director.
“I wouldn’t have any idea how else to spend the summer, “Anjelica Zeitz said. “It’s good here.”
Willow Grove Day Camp is an accredited member of the American Camp Association. For more information, visit, www.wgcamp.com or call 215-659-4393.