The Torchbearer Chronicles
By Sam Hirt
“This is hug time. This is when he comes to get his hug.” Meghan Alexis is nose to nose with her dog, who periodically during our interview does what many small dogs do: gets up close
and personal. And that’s okay, because Meghan Alexis is a close and personal friend to Camp Tecumseh.
Meghan went from a camper in the early to mid 1980s, to a summer staff member, to one of the very first mentors where she helped get over 170 kids to camp, as well as a camper parent.
Although there was no Torchbearer Ceremony when Meghan aged out of her time as a camper, she has certainly exemplified what it means to light the way for others, and her dedication to Camp Tecumseh is nearly unmatched.
AS A CAMPER
Meghan’s camp experience started like most: by word of mouth. Her father heard from a family friend in Champaign, Illinois about this place Camp Tecumseh, and he enrolled his daughters.
Her first summer was 1981 as a 10 year old camper. Camp Tecumseh in the early 1980s was sort of in an in-between era – not primitive, but not nearly as comfortable as today. Meghan remembers metal bunks, cement floors, and walking to the shower house.
In her memory, it was a few summers in when Tecumseh became such a popular summer ticket item. She remembers because she was waitlisted but, lucky for her, she got the call.
“Dick Marsh, who was the director at that time, called my mom about two days before camp started and said, ‘Tell her to pack her bags.’ And I went for two weeks, and that was probably the best summer of my life.”
Being waitlisted for that short period catapulted a love for Camp that never went away.
“I wasn’t in love with it the first three years. But then because I wasn’t able to go, I was like, ‘I want to go so bad.’
AS SUMMER STAFF
For Meghan, working at Camp was a total natural next step after her years as a camper.
“I loved camp so much. It was my everything… My friends and I – my core group of friends that I still talk to, literally everyday – we all knew that’s what we were going to do. We were going to work at camp.”
She worked for five straight summers during her college years. After graduation, she moved briefly to Chicago before traveling to Australia and New Zealand with her sister. She eventually moved back to Champaign where she commuted to Eastern Illinois University for her teaching certification.
And she wasn’t done with Camp. She worked in the summers again in 1999 as the CAC Queen (Creative Arts Center Director), and again in 2000.
It was the relationships and connections that brought her back each summer.
“I’m good friends with some of my campers now. We’ve been adult friends for a long time.”
And those core group of friends she said she talks to every day? They’re spread all over the country in Oregon, Maryland, Texas, Michigan, and Minnesota, which doesn’t prevent them from the closeness they found at Camp. I asked her why she thought those relationships have stayed so strong over all these years.
“It’s the relationship building, and a complete safe space and unconditional acceptance and love.”
Around this time, Meghan got a teaching job in the Lawrence Township schools and has been with that same district for 24 years.
We took a break in our interview to look through a full archive’s worth of photos and artifacts from her time as a camper and summer staff member. Throughout the entire evening, but especially through this scrapbook reminiscing, Meghan’s daughter, Amelia, was close by and often chiming in on details of her mother’s camp stories that she’s heard before.
Parallel to her years in the Lawrence Township schools is her involvement with the Camp Tecumseh Mentorship Program.
AS A MENTOR
Since 2000, Meghan has helped 170 kids experience over 526 weeks of Camp Tecumseh summer camp. In her 24th summer, she will thoughtfully select 40 campers to attend Summer Camp in 2023. But it started small.
She still remembers the first three campers in 2000. One of Meghan’s first campers has now sent three of her children to camp with Meghan’s mentorship.
She doesn’t just find a kid and send them on their way. She keeps tabs, and lists, and knows how old they all are and if they’re still eligible to attend Camp.
“I have a list of all my kids. What grade they’re in now. What their birthday is. And I know who’s coming up on CILTS or aging out.”
She’s sort of always scouting. Her school is first through sixth grade, and she usually looks for kids who are on the older side, who are more set up for success once they arrive at Camp.
“I send kids to camp who, given the opportunity, will flourish.”
Of course, it’s not always easy. Camp is not a familiar idea for many people who have never really been exposed to it.
“The hardest part is convincing the family who has no knowledge of what camp is like, and no experience in sending their child away.”
For Meghan, the impact of the camp experience is worth the leg work it takes to be a mentor.
“I stalk the website for photos. I can’t wait to see them and then ask them about it.”
Meghan’s longevity and continued participation in Camp Tecumseh is unique. But what doesn’t seem to be unique is this love she harbors for this place. That is the thread that so many are tethered to as well.
Meghan has even reconnected to her own counselors. “Because of you, I’m still connected to Camp.” And surely there are a number of people who have been under her mentorship, or former campers who feel the same about her.
I always ask people I interview the same final question: why does a camp experience matter? Meghan ended our conversation with a thought that I think will resonate with a lot of people.
“For me, it matters because it shaped my entire everything.”