July 13, 2019 — Girl Scout overnight camps began this week at Camp Cleawox in Florence, which celebrated its 90th birthday on June 29. More than 140 people registered to spend the day adventuring in the camp, enjoying birthday cake and reminiscing about the history of Cleawox.
Camp Cleawox is the smallest of three overnight camps in the Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington (GSOSW) council. At just 63 acres, the camp is focused on Lake Cleawox, the Oregon dunes and the Pacific Ocean. More importantly, it is a place for girls to gather with other scouts in the Great Outdoors for one to two weeks at a time.
Camp Cleawox Director Pam Mealy has been coming to overnight camps since 2001. Each year, her favorite moment is seeing the camp lodge for the first time.
“I think, ‘Ah, I’m going to be here for the summer.’ It’s my home-away-from-home feeling,” Mealy said.
Cleawox has been that “home away from home” for generations of Girl Scouts since it was founded in the 1920s. Many of the original buildings were constructed by the Civilian Conserva-tion Corps in the 1930s, including the lodge, which was replaced by the current building in 1996.
The camp’s history is preserved in the memories of members of the Order of the Silver Tre-foil (OST), a group of men and women who have each been part of the Girl Scouts for more than 25 years.
Member Patti Luse, a Girl Scout for 65 years, serves as the historian of Camp Cleawox.
“I’m not the oldest camper here,” she said right away. “The oldest camper is Katie Lytle, and she was here in the 1940s. I was here in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and the camp director in the late ‘60s. Then I worked at the Girl Scout office until I retired in 2004. I worked for 30 years for the Girl Scouts.”
Luse and Lytle talked about the camp back in the days when the camp was inaccessible and the forest came right up to the three-sided Adirondack cabins.
“When I went to camp, we thought this was an island,” Luse said. “They would bus us from McArthur Court in Eugene and we’d go Highway 36, which had so many hairpin turns that al-most everybody on the bus had to have a sack — except I don’t know if they had invented sacks by then — and then they took us to Honeyman State Park. We unloaded the buses, they sepa-rated us into units and then we got on barges to go over to the island. It never occurred to us.”
Lake Cleawox has now been largely enveloped in the sand dunes, but back then, barge rides used to be a big part of the activities.
“You’d get on the barge and sing all the wonderful camp songs. I’m sure it went half a mile up the arm of the lake that used to be there,” Luse said.
She had no idea at the time how staff would get supplies to the camp, and said at least four years went by before she realized there must be road access.
“We just didn’t venture out,” she said.
The myth of being an island was encouraged until the early 1960s, after which Girl Scouts were bused into the camp.
Lytle attended Camp Cleawox in 1944 and ‘45.
“Because of the war, they didn’t have camp from 1941 to ‘43. They were afraid of the Jap-anese invasion,” she said.
Although she was at the camps in 1945, she was not there on Aug. 15 when the Allied Forces accepted the surrender of Japan.
“One of our OST people was here as a counselor in 1945 when V-J Day occurred,” Lytle said. “They were over here, and I don’t know if they had a telephone or not, but they could hear all the noise coming from Florence. They crossed the lake and got into town to find out what was going on. I want to say she swam, but they probably took one of the rowboats.”
OST members have also included counselors who were around when the Siuslaw River Bridge was under construction.
Lytle described the placement of the original lodge — which did not have glass windows, only screens — and pointed to where the Columbus Day Storm of 1962 thinned the trees all over camp.
“Camp was a full two weeks for my sister and I,” Lytle said. “We were fortunate enough that our folks could afford to do that. As I remember, it was like $8 a week.”
Seventy-five years later, and accounting for inflation, prices in 2019 are 1,355.07 percent higher than average prices throughout 1944. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer price index suggests that would have been about $116.41 in today’s money.
One-week stays at Camp Cleawox now cost between $465 and $675.
The barge Luse remembers wasn’t in use yet in the ‘40s. For Lytle, the Girl Scouts rowed boats filled with their gear to get to camp.
“And no life jackets!” she said.
When they arrived at camp, the scouts went to their unit, where there was a pile of straw. Each scout filled large denim bags, called “ticks,” with straw. These served as the mattresses for the wooden slats of the bunks. The scouts dumped out the straw at the end of camp and left the straw for the next set of campers.
“One of the nice things about being here as a camper was that you were with girls who were Girl Scouts but who were your age that you would never have met otherwise,” Lytle said. “That was really nice, and you got to be friends with them and look for them the next year.”
Lytle went to St. Mary School, a Catholic school in Eugene that is now called O’Hara Catho-lic School.
“We did not have a lot of contact with other girls our age in the community, unless you happened to live in a neighborhood,” she said.
Luce said the girls in Eugene often were separated in that way; “It was fun to all get to-gether each summer,” she said.
Lytle looked over the albums and memorabilia of Camp Cleawox history, showing a vintage picture of two girls in their bathing suits — “My, how those have changed!” she exclaimed. — One was Lytle and the other is a woman Lytle still talks with.
“I had lunch with her last week. We’ve stayed in contact all these years since our 50th high school reunion in 1999. We have met on the third Friday of the month ever since,” she said.
Lytle has also stayed active in the Girl Scouts.
“I have been here a lot,” she said. “I helped start the Hooky Weekend, I’ve been a troop leader and brought my troops here, I’ve come with adult groups. I’ve been on the Camp Proper-ties Committee, I’ve helped clear trails and paint Hooslies (the camp’s outhouse toilets) and stayed involved. It’s where my friends are, other than at church.”
She’s also involved in the OST, which originated in Eugene in the late 1970s and has since expanded to 40 chapters across the nation. The group meets once a month and uses member-ship dues to provide scholarships to adult volunteers who are going on opportunities with their troops. One scholarship helped a troop from Junction City visit England in June.
OST also worked to help Cleawox celebrate its 65th and 75th anniversaries, and was a big part in the June 29 festivities.
“We try to support the GSOSW council,” Luse said. “This camp here is very important to us. … I hope when I’m 86 I’m still around, because I want to come to the 100th!”
To honor Camp Cleawox’s 90th birthday, OST members led the assembled Girl Scouts and families in a song circle. The attendees formed a friendship circle, holding hands with one an-other, right over left.
“Even some of the older campers may not know it, but this kind of tells what Camp Cleawox is all about,” Luse said.
The song went:
“C is for the claims of those who found her
L is for the love we’ll always hold
E is for the evergreens around her
A is for adventures yet untold
W is for the water shining clearly
O is for the old times now at rest
X just marks the spot we love so dearly
Camp Cleawox — we know you’re the best!”
Afterwards, camp counselors served cake while people continued talking, greeting old friends and learning about Camp Cleawox’s history.
“The other thing is we’d have watermelon polo,” Luse said. “You’d grease a watermelon with Crisco and put it in the swimming area and have two teams. The first team that could get it on the opposite dock, like when you play soccer, won. I thought that was fun.”
While some things have changed, tradition is still around for the Girl Scouts who make their summer homes at Camp Cleawox.
“They have campfires, they have s’mores, they make memories. This is a wonderful place to make memories,” Luse said.
Mealy agreed. “Lots and lots of memories”
Read about Camp Cleawox and its current opportunities for Girl Scouts in the Wednesday, July 17, edition of the Siuslaw News.