In Memoriam: Ellen Lensing

Ellen Lensing


It is with great sadness we report the passing of Rockbrook Alumna Ellen Lensing.  Ellen passed away on June 22 at the age of 92.  Phyllis Shaw sent us a beautiful email that captures the spirit of Ellen:

“I am very sorry to report the passing of Ellen Lensing, age 92, last night June 22.  Her passing is truly the end of an era for my generation of Rockbrookers.  None of us feels old enough to be the front line!

Ellen worked with Jerky in the office and was a counselor on senior line.  I have known her since I was 16 years old.  She lived a remarkable life of teaching (she had a PhD in business), mentoring, serving others, traveling all over the world, camping, hiking, etc.  Finally at age 89, she decided not to get ON her roof to clean her gutters!

Her health declined in very recent years prior to her moving to Milwaukee to live with her sister two years ago.  She was a remarkable embodiment of the Spirit of Rockbrook.  We will miss her dearly and remember her always.”

Confident Sense of Adventure

Camp counselor with girl camper

During one of the many tours of Rockbrook we’ve been giving lately, a parent asked an excellent question. “What do you look for when hiring counselors?” It’s really an important thing to ask, and it’s something we think about a lot, all year round, in fact. We know that our counselors are certainly role models for the campers, but also friends, teammates, sisters and moms to the girls as well. The first thing we look for in a counselor is simply an enthusiastic, energetic, friendly young (high school graduate or older) woman who loves children. The best counselors are naturally “kid people.” They have an innate ability to connect with children, to listen to them, and communicate with them authentically.  This allows them to become really good friends and to forge great trusting relationships with the campers.  Of course, this makes camp fun and rewarding for everyone, camper and counselor alike. Even more specifically, another trait we look for in counselors, among many others, is a confident sense of adventure. This describes someone who isn’t scared to branch out and try new things, who is generally up beat and positive even when faced with the unknown or when something isn’t going exactly right (Raining? “No big deal! Let’s sing some rain songs…!”) Having a confident sense of adventure means being resilient, flexible, creative and improvisational. See how those are great qualities, and something that makes a wonderful role model for girls? There really is a lot of that going around at RBC.

Tying the knots for a bracelet
bracelet being tied to camper's toe
pottery thrown on the wheel

This year we are having the jewelry making activity meet on the porch of the hillside stone lodge. This porch, which is made of rough-sawed, oak planks, overlooks the lake and at the right spot, has a view of the mountains in the distance. There are a few rocking chairs out there and a big table with benches for the girls to use as they tie friendship bracelets, twist wire, string beads and weave necklaces. It’s a beautiful setting to spend time learning new friendship bracelet techniques (like that toe-tie!), and naturally just talking and laughing about nothing in particular. 🙂

If you’ve ever tried to throw a pot on the wheel, you know that it’s not easy. It takes great patience to learn because there are so many ways a spinning ball of clay can crumple, wobble or even fly off the wheel. Everything can be going great, perfectly centered, and then suddenly your nice bowl collapses and it’s back to square one. All of this makes it such a victory, a moment of pride, when a camper successfully throws something on the wheel, especially the first time.

Posing on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Hi-Ups took an exciting trip into the Pisgah Forest this afternoon, stopping first at Looking Glass Falls. This is one of the most well-known waterfalls in this area, partly because it’s about 60-feet tall, but also because it’s easily seen from the main road. We came ready to swim, so after walking down to base, all of us swam through the pool and the spray just past where the water was crashing down. A few of the girls ventured closer to let some of the water smack them on the back, but it looked a little intense, if not painful, so there weren’t many takers. The cold mountain water and the roar of the falls was enough for most of us. Back in the buses, it was then just a short trip further to reach the Pounding Mill overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of our favorite stopping spots up there. It’s 4700 feet up (Rockbrook’s elevation is about 2350 ft) and provides a grand view of Looking Glass Rock below, a popular rock climbing destination.  By the time we arrived it was getting near dinner time and there was a stop at Dolly’s in the plan as well, so today we came just for the view and a quick group picture.  It’s always nice to get a little altitude!

Summertime Sleeping Out

Girls going backpacking at summer camp

Backpacking and camping have been an almost nightly trip this week. Michelle our fabulous hiking guide, who is a Wilderness First Aid Responder and who has been a Rockbrook girl for thirteen years (she started at 7 years old), has been leading these trips. She’s been taking our Juniors in cabin groups, 2 at a time, out to the outpost campsite here on the camp property. After a short hike through the woods towards Rockbrook Falls, there’s a small trail that leads to a clearing below Dunn’s Rock where we have two tent platforms and a fire ring. The girls have a campfire, sing songs, tell stories, and enjoy making s’mores. All the girls from each Junior cabin plus their counselors go on these trips, and when it’s time for bed, everyone sleeps together, “slumber party style,” on the platforms. Out in the woods, armed with their flashlights against the sounds of the night and filled with nervous excitement, it can take a while for everyone to fall asleep.  But that’s part of the fun!  Michelle also took a Middler backpacking trip out into Pisgah Thursday night.  With their tents, sleeping bags and food (s’mores again!) stuffed into backpacks, they hiked about 2 miles into the forest to one of our secret campsites.  These trips are great outdoor adventure opportunities to get to know each other.  Telling stories around the campfire and just sharing the experience overall, the whole group grows closer.

Making a tie dye t-shirt
Stop action photography activity at camp

This has also been a week of tie dying in the “Hodge Podge” activity. There’s a lot of variety here as each camper twists and folds her shirt in a unique pattern and then adds different color dyes. After letting them rest over night, it’s exciting to untie the shirts and see how they turned out— vibrant spirals, bullseyes and stripes.

In the photography activity, Jane has been teaching the campers about stop motion techniques.  Working in groups of 2 or 3 campers, and using Play-Doh, the girls animated short sequences of photos which when strung together create motion videos.  This takes not only creativity, but real planning, a steady camera, and plenty of patience to accomplish.

girls rock climbing at Looking Glass

A group of girls went rock climbing today with Maddie and were lucky to set up 3 different routes on Looking Glass Rock out in Pisgah.  Again, excellent weather, dry and clear, made the equally excellent rock even more enjoyable for everyone.  A packed lunch, complete with muffins, went along to keep up their energy, and when you check out the photo gallery, you’ll see just how well and how high these girls climbed. There are some amazing rock climbing girls around here.

Back at camp, everyone else got to dig into some of Rick’s homemade chili complete with all the fixin’s: diced tomatoes, cheese, sour cream, Frito’s corn chips, and our super stocked salad bars. There was some debate about whether the vegetarian or the meat version was better, but that was never really settled!

camp teatherball tournament at twilight

After dinner during the “Twilight” block of free time, a couple of counselors organized an open tetherball tournament for anyone interested in playing. It was the “triple T” (Twilight Tetherball Tournament). Should we add “terrific” in there? 🙂 Paired up by age group, the girls took turns playing each other as the rest of the crowd cheered them on. Quite strategically, the counselors chose players to make sure that the brackets kept everyone involved, not so much to determine who “won,” but to see the girls enjoying the games. With the late evening sun setting across the valley, it was a beautiful summertime moment.

Doubling Friends

Making true friends at camp

One of the great things about coming to a sleepaway summer camp is the way the environment, the setting, and the culture of the place, all encourage kids to make friends. We’re really seeing this these days at Rockbrook, as obvious groups of laughing girls seem to always be together, to be signing up for activities together, and grabbing muffins together at “muffin break.” We’ve talked about the importance of camp friends before, but it’s so obvious to notice in action. These girls are sharing so many wonderful experiences, meeting so many nice people who are relaxed and open, and exploring the outdoors together, it’s just an ideal setting to forge meaningful relationships. Away from the more rigid expectations of school and their school peers, and immersed in a place like this where you can be your true self, camp is a magical place where girls easily make true friends.

Campers attend yoga class
kid makes ceramics project at summer camp
Camp kid rock climbing

This morning we were treated to amazing mountain weather with a little fog and low 60s when we woke up and then bright sunshine throughout the day. It made our morning activities in camp and our out of camp trips (a waterfall hike and a rock climb) just perfect. The girls were finishing up their first set of activities today, so it was great fun to dig deeper into camp. Shooting a real gun, making a cool new pottery mug, learning a few yoga poses, and climbing up a 100ft tall rock. Pause for muffin break… today “Oatmeal Cinnamon Raisin.” Then, we’re off for more adventure, sports, arts and horseback riding, sprinkled with a good dose imagination.

Kid at camp shooting a rifle

The afternoon, it being Wednesday, brought “Cabin Day,” a time each week when we stick together as a cabin group for activities instead of breaking up and following our individual activity schedules. Groups of girls were playing games on the hill, taking hikes to Castle Rock, swimming at the lake, making baskets and others enjoying smoothies in the dining hall… all great ways to build cabin camaraderie. Later in the afternoon, the entire Senior line took a trip into Pisgah to visit Sliding Rock. We waited until later so the crowds would be gone and we could have the rock for ourselves, which turned out to be a good idea since we had 85 people in our group! Most of the girls slid down 4 or 5 times, until we all got hungry enough for a picnic supper (some of Rick’s homemade salads— potato, egg, chicken and pimento cheese —on croissants, fruit and Alison’s lemon bars.  It felt so good to be out in the forest together enjoying each others company and good food after the big (and chilly!) adventure of Sliding Rock.  And to top it all off, we just had to stop at Dolly’s for a cone of their fantastic ice cream, the Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion being a favorite flavor.  An awesome trip.

Don’t Forget to Write!

Girls receiving mail at summer camp

Receiving mail at camp is a huge deal to the campers. Everyday, someone from our office drives to the Brevard P.O. and wheels out a shopping cart full of cards and letters addressed to the girls at RBC. Even with our “no package” policy, there are usually a couple of hundred pieces per day! Then during lunch, we sort the mail and deliver it to the campers’ mailboxes so it will be ready once they’re dismissed from lunch. It’s always so exciting to check your box and see something there. Part of this excitement, I think, has something to do with the simple (mostly) technology-free living we enjoy at camp. Being away from screens and the external stimulation they provide, camp is more immediately interactive. It emphasizes real relationships and sensuous experiences, but is also completely “here and now” and relies very little on the outside world. Receiving mail reminds us of what’s going on outside in the “real world.” It provides some reassurance that everything is fine back home and it’s OK being at camp. Mail shows us that the folks back home are just as excited we are about us having this much fun at camp. Oh, and can you see why a real, hand-written letter is vastly superior to a “quick email?” Mail can really mean a lot!

Girls weaving baskets by the creek
Yoga Camp
girls eating muffins at summer camp

Today was a perfect summer day (warm, dry and sunny) for a perfect camp day (packed with action, plenty of giggles, and bright-eyed surprises). Clyde, Kristen and Abby took a group of Middlers out kayaking on the French Broad River. Jeff and Leslie took a big group of Juniors hiking to John Rock in the Pisgah National Forest. Thalia offered one of her very popular yoga classes to the seniors. Everyone paused for a cinnamon streusel muffin. And then it was back to weaving baskets in the creek near Curosty, working on backhands on the tennis courts, flips in gymnastics, and climbing to the top of Castle Rock. There always seems to be time to squeeze in a quick game of tetherball too. During the free swim time before dinner, the new water slide was running nonstop.

Tonight’s evening program marked the return of Auction, a special all-camp event we haven’t had in a few years. This session we went traditional and decided to make it a “Western” themed event. This meant all the girls came dressed in their best western garb… cowboy hats, boots, overalls, hair bows, bandanas and plenty of plaid. Each cabin sat together in the dining hall and was given a handful of RBC bucks to make bids on mystery prizes. Jerry, our Director Emeritus, ran the event as the auctioneer. Some of the prizes were sweet, like a cake or ice cream treat, while others were a little less exciting, like a tray of veggies or new toothbrushes. There’s plenty of suspense once a cabin won a bid, and just as much laughter and cheers when the prize was revealed. It’s funny how there were enough prizes for every cabin to win both a yummy and a silly prize… 😉  Good fun.

Auction game dressed in western garb

Good Goofy Fun

Camp girls painting ceramics pieces

Going around camp today, visiting the different activity areas, you could tell that the girls have really settled in and begun to make camp “a place of their own.” That’s a phrase from the Rockbrook Camp mission statement. It’s an attempt to summarize one of the real values of a camp experience for young girls, and it’s part of the magic of why campers love their camp. The ingredients are simple: really good people who are eager to make friends, broad opportunities to be creative, sporty, and adventurous, and a caring environment where everyone can relax and be themselves. Combine these with the girls making their own activity selections, having plenty of free time to enjoy the wonderful natural beauty of Rockbrook, and simply enjoying time with their friends, and we have something special, something very different from home and school (where parents and teachers call most of the shots), and something truly their own. This is their camp and they love it.

Funny girls skit during evening program

Of course, at camp a big group of girls can get pretty goofy and really let their silly side come out. Singing crazy songs outrageously loud in the dining hall, dressing up in a costumes for dinner, and making up skits with cabin mates are quite ordinarily part of the fun around here. This photo of an evening program cabin skit shows a little of that. Each cabin group is given a topic and challenged to come up with a group skit that they’ll perform for the rest of the age group in their lodge. It can involve singing, dancing, acting and audience participation, but whatever it is, the funnier it is, the better. A lot of the fun is working together to create the skit, as well as performing it for your friends.

This afternoon we had our Wednesday “Cabin Day.” This is a special day when after a morning of regular activity time (where the girls follow their individual activity selections), each cabin group sticks together for some special group event. Today, cabin groups were hiking to Rockbrook Falls and Castle Rock, building campfires to make S’mores, playing games in the gym and on the landsports field, cooling of by playing in the creek, and even making smoothies with the help of the kitchen. The mini session senior cabins took a trip to Sliding Rock, had a picnic and capped everything off with a stop at Dolly’s for a sweet treat. Dinner was some of Rick’s homemade fried chicken and warm yeast rolls.  Good stuff.  On cabin day, there’s always a lot going on!

Oh! I forgot to mention the muffins today… White Chocolate Raspberry. They were awesome!

Goofy camp girls having fun at Dolly's

Wonder, Creativity and Adventure

Whitewater Rafting Fun for Kids

Camp was full of wonder, creativity and adventure today, with so much going on. A big group of seniors and middlers headed over to the Nantahala River for a whitewater rafting trip. We packed up our gear, a great picnic lunch, and pulled the buses out of camp after breakfast. It was about a 2 hour drive, but with a quick bathroom/stretch/snack break, we arrived at the edge of the river in time for lunch. We really lathered on the sunscreen because it was a bright sunny day— perfectly warm to balance the cold river water. Clyde, the Rockbrook Adventure Director, and his crew met us at the top of the river with the RBC rafts blown up and ready to go. Every girl is outfitted with a life jacket (PFD), helmet and paddle before dividing up into groups of 5 for each raft. Then it’s 9 miles of rapids going down the river with the finale being the class III Nantahala Falls. True adventure!

Child glazing camp pottery mug
child horseback riding
girl climbing summer camp

Meanwhile in camp, the girls taking pottery were hard at work on their face mugs.  These are fun creative projects that start with slabs of clay they shape into a cylinder.  Then after attaching a handle, each mug gains character with an individualized face… eyes, nose, mouth, even teeth and eyebrows sometimes.  The final step for the girls is to paint on several colors of glaze before the pottery instructors fire the pieces in the kilns.

Down at the equestrian center, Cara and Audry along with the other horseback riding instructors are keeping the campers happy with the Rockbrook horses.  If you haven’t seen them in the photo gallery, they are a great looking bunch, from our smallest Welsh Ponies up to our 17.1 hand thoroughbred gelding Gordon.  There are lessons going on all day down there, from first time riders to girls learning to jump.  It’s always amazing to see the look of wonder on the girls faces as they learn to ride comfortably these great horses.

On the other side of camp, the alpine tower was crawling with campers, quite literally!  Every age group, from the youngest Juniors to the oldest Seniors, can sign up to climb this 50ft high ropes course tower.  It provides all levels of climbing challenges, and the staff members are great at starting girls out with the best route to match their ability.  There are easier ways to get to the top, and really tough obstacles for the more experienced climber.

Dressed up little girls at camp


Dinner tonight was a big surprise for the campers; it was “Restaurant Night,” but also with a dress up theme, the game of “Clue.” All the girls dressed up as players of the game in some “mysterious costume” they created, and the counselors dressed up as characters from “Clue” like Mrs. White, Professor Plum, and Ms. Peacock. The staff served the campers a wonderful meal of roasted chicken, pasta, salad and fresh fruit, but afterwords the game began. Each cabin was given an initial clue that when solved sent them to another part of the camp to meet one of the game’s characters and to receive a new clue. Each station/character also required the whole cabin group to perform some kind of challenge before receiving their next clue, challenges like singing a particular song, untying a human knot, or everyone telling a joke. Ultimately, once a cabin solved all the clues/riddles they were led back to the dining hall for prizes and treats. Wow, what a game! Everyone loved the action, the costumes, the imagination and cabin group cooperation it required, not to mention how much fun it was.

First Day of Activities

Today all of the activities at camp took off! The camp bell woke us all up to a wonderful cool, foggy morning. After breakfast, the different “Lines” (age groups) headed to their lodges for their morning assembly, a time for a couple of energizing songs, maybe a skit, announcements, and a just chance to regroup before the day gets really moving.

Counselor and Camper Weaving

Then each girl, armed with her own unique set of four activities that she selected yesterday evening, set off to the different activity areas throughout the camp. Around 10 o’clock, girls were climbing, swimming, shooting, riding and creating. There were hikes to Castle Rock, archery and riflery instruction, looms clicking and clacking, introductions to new favorite ponies, and games in the gym to name a few. Everywhere, you could hear girls chattering away, making friends, and laughing. It’s completely action packed and neat to see.

The big event, however, was the first free swim time right before lunch. This is when we opened the new water slide at the lake for the very first time. The staff enjoyed it last week a couple of times, but we have kept it a surprise for the campers until they arrived. It’s down on the far end of the lake. The girls first walk across the new dock, cross over the creek that feeds the lake (with a great view of the waterfall), and then climb a series of steps and platforms to the top of the 30-foot tower.

Camp Water Slide Tower
Waterslide Bridge Dock
Sliding Camper Fun

The slide itself is made of a soft vinyl material that’s nice and slippery when we run a little water down it. There’s a staff member at the top of the tower to help, but when ready, the girls launch themselves and zip down 50 feet before splashing into the lake. It’s then a short swim back to the exit ladders, and they’re off to do it again. Super fun stuff!

After dinner tonight, we offered an optional activity during what we call our “Twilight” time. The Rockbrook schedule has several blocks of free time built into the day (the two free swim times, for example), and this is another one. Twilight is free time when girls can hang out on the hill, enjoy one of the many porch rockers around camp, or get involved in whatever spontaneous activity is announced. Tonight we pulled out the slip and slide! It’s been so warm and dry these last few days, a lot of girls got excited. We rolled out a long sheet of plastic, got the water hose going and added a couple of drops of soap— instant cool summer fun, and just another way to enjoy being at camp.

The first whitewater rafting trips are going out tomorrow and we’ll be unveiling a surprise dinner. Stay tuned. We try to right a blog post every day, so if you haven’t subscribed to the blog, here’s the information about how to do that.

Camp Girls Cracking Up