In Memoriam: Paula Louise Craig

(1960 - 2022)

It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to Paula Louise Craig. Paula passed away very peacefully on November 14, 2022. 

Paula was a 70s alum and was a wonderful, deeply-loved member of our community. 

On March 27, 1995, Paula married her best friend, Gary Kudrna. They made their home in Ennis, TX and together raised Gary’s sons Ty Kudrna and Chaz Kudrna.  Paula loved being “Mom” and friend to Ty & Chaz and “Bonus Mom” and friend to Gary’s stepdaughter Taneel Pace of Jordan, Utah. She also felt blessed to have a big extended family of beloved nieces, nephews, cousins & in-laws.

Paula worked at every level of the entertainment industry from small, intimate theatrical shows to epic world class multi-media and fireworks extravaganzas like the Power of Houston.  While she loved the unique challenges that came from each production, her very favorite part of her work was meeting new people.  She truly enjoyed the company of new and old friends; and she cherished every friendship made along the way during every chapter of her life from school to Camp Coniston to work.

Our community shared some of their treasured memories with Paula:

“I shared a cabin with Paula MANY years ago. I can still see her beautiful long, dark wavy hair and her practicing her ballet ‘en pointe’. What an incredible life she led. My deepest condolences to her family and friends.”

“I remember her telling a stories about being Snow White at Disney. And also meeting Ace Freely and Gene Simmonds from Kiss. She was one of my favorite all time counselors at Coniston.”

“I have many fond memories of Paula – laughing and singing. Such a great spirit. Peace to her family and friends.”

“One of the dearest, sweetest people from my years at Coniston. Such a wonderful soul. Such a dear friend. RIP, dear Paula.”

Alumni News

Read on to find out what our wonderful Alumni have been up to this past year!!

This summer we were finally able to host our 2000, 2001 and 2002 CITs for their 20 year reunion! We had to postpone these reunions the past two years due to COVID, but we were finally able to host everyone at Camp for this summer for an amazing day of catching up with old friends, exploring Camp’s new facilities and a tasty cook-out! They even reunited with Sue Strebel, who was a nurse when they were at Camp and was still working this summer!

Coniston ambassador, Beth Worthington  planned a weekend reunion with Linda Pinkham Wiewel, Janet Hatfield Legro, Susie Greenwald Ammatelli, Lynn Hunter Horton, Dawn Ferguson Ighodaro and Sherrill Hill at Perkins Pond. The group also visited Camp and toured all the new facility updates.

 

 

Congratulations to Hannah and Michael Slafsky for welcoming their beautiful baby Hartford on September 6th! Warner will be a great big brother!

 

Jake Glenshaw, former Boys Camp Director, has moved to Innsbruck, Austria for year in pursuance of a Fulbright Austria Combined Research Grant. As a part of this program, he will be teaching English, taking grad school courses at the University of Innsbruck on Environmental Management of Mountain Areas, conducting independent research under advisement of Dr. Robert Steiger on climate change’s impact on the ski industry’s adaptability and accessibility, and working with Protect Our Winters Austria as they work to fight for further climate protection.

 

Wilfrid Shon, a former international staff member recently started his own gin business! The gin is called Shroton Fair Gin. After finishing his postgraduate study, Wilfrid returned to his hometown, Dorset Village, and spent nearly a year searching for the perfect recipe. The gin has already won multiple awards including gold in the Taste of the West 2022, and bronze at the London Spirits Awards!

Adaleide Barnes, a 2021 CIT is now on the UK National Taekwondo Team! She has already secured two second-place finishes at the British Taekwondo National Championships and a spot on the GB Taekwondo Development Squad.

Coniston Ambassador, Eben Gannett graduated Granite State College and has become a certified teacher in NH. He is currently a 5th grade teacher at Sant Bani School. Congrats Eben, we know you will be an awesome teacher!

Talia Ungarelli  recently accepted a position as a zookeeper in the Tropical Forest department at the Franklin Park Zoo. Talia spent the last year working for the Gladys Porter Zoo in Texas as a Gorilla and Carnivore Keeper/Trainer.

Arts and Crafts Director,
Barb Hawley is teaching classic camp arts and crafts classes in her home-state, Kentucky! Projects include yarn creations, shrink plastic art, holiday ornament making, painting, and of course tie-dye!

Liv Rasmussen graduated from Suffolk University with a B.A. in Advertising and Minor in Graphic Design. She recently started as the Content Specialist with Fuseideas!

Cassie Short Cassie Short got engaged to Bobby McLaughlin. They will be getting married in June 2022!

Congratulations, Guiseppi Marzelli, on his marriage
to Kaley Hansen! They were married in October last year. “Hands down the best day of my life (and really the best weekend) marrying my best friend surrounded by all our family and friends”.

We wish you a future of happiness!

Congratulations to Ben Kamisar on his marriage to Shelby this April! The wedding was quite the Coniston reunion with Coniston alumni: Jen Evans, Emily Bensen, Michelle (Tarkulich) Faithfull, Kyle Olson, Katie Comstock, and Matt Comstock attending!

Congratulations to Coniston alumna, Ashley, who got married to Bill Jantzen last year! We hope you have had a great first year of marriage together.

Summer Office Assistant, Sophie Burleigh, has just accepted a job as an Office Manager/PA for a wine investment company in London! Good luck with your new London life Sophie!

Cassie (Short) McLaughlin, a 2008 CIT and 2014/2015 CIT Director got married on June 19th! Congratulations Cassie!! We wish you both a happy future together.

Coniston alumna, Lizbie Harbison Weeks recently got married! Congratulations Lizbie!

Former camper and staff member, Caitlin Elgert and her husband Dan, welcomed
a daughter (and future camper), Lucy in April 2022. Congratulations! She is beautiful.

1980’s alumnae, Kelly Williamson Polanco, MBA, MS has started a new job as Vice President, Head of People & Culture at Aktis Oncology. In the past, Kelly worked for Bristol Myers Squibb, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. While at BMS, Kelly spent eight years living in Argentina, supporting South America, Middle East, Africa, and parts of Europe.

Emily Kohlberg-Field Producer at ABC News Studios-Coniston: 2010-2017

How old were you when you started Camp?

I was 13.

How were you introduced to Coniston?

Lots of kids from the town I’m from (Arlington, MA) started going to Coniston around the time I was in middle school, and word spread!

Did you attend college, and if so, what did you study?

I went to Villanova University, and studied Communications with minors in Peace & Justice and Global Health.

What is your current job? 

I’m a Field Producer at ABC News Studios. Studios is the Longform division of ABC News, and my team produces documentaries and news-adjacent series and specials for both Hulu and the ABC network. My job is to go out into the field and produce shoots: I conduct interviews, collect b-roll, manage camera crews, scout locations, handle on-set logistics & more.

How has your career journey evolved?
 
I went into my senior year of college with NO idea what I wanted to do when I graduated. I took a class senior year called Social Justice Documentary Filmmaking, and my class essentially functioned as a production company, traveling to Ethiopia to shoot a doc. We developed, shot, edited and premiered the doc over my senior year, and I pretty quickly realized that nonfiction production was something I could really see myself building a career around. The summer after I graduated, I moved to New York City and was lucky enough to find a job at ABC as an executive assistant in the Longform group. I was able to get assigned to some shows in production pretty quickly, and went from being a production assistant to a production coordinator to an associate producer to what I do now – field producer.
 
What moment in your career are you most proud of?
 
I worked on a pretty groundbreaking (and now Emmy-winning!) show for ABC called Soul of a Nation, looking holistically at the Black experience in America over the course of six themed episodes. I was the series coordinator, which meant that I worked on a sub-team that planned and executed all of the shoots for the series (over 150 shoots in 5 months), and I spent a lot of time traveling & in the field, which definitely laid the groundwork for my current job. Soul was a moonshot venture, and it was challenging (making TV in the height of a pandemic!!!), but also truly rewarding and I was so, so proud to be a member of that team of passionate and crazy strong storytellers. It’s on Hulu if you wanna watch!!
 
Did Coniston influence your ability to create this journey?
 
YES. I’ve joked with both coworkers and camp friends that being a television producer is like being a camp counselor on steroids.
 
Are there any skills or traits you gained at Coniston that you use in your professional life?
 

“Fake it til you make it” is the number one mantra I use when I’m in the field. When I have multiple 16-hour shoot days in a row, I find myself having to dig deep for energy and slap a smile on my face until I trick myself into believing it… just like fourth session. Also, this sounds crazy but I have to use my “counselor voice” on set constantly (let me tell ya it really feels different when you’re in the real world and not corralling middler girls).

Are there any specific memories from your time at Coniston that are still impactful to you?
 

Yes!! I’m still very (very) close with lots of people from Coniston. I think all the time about my summers at camp and I’m so lucky that there’s such a strong NYC contingent. One memory I’ll call out is the last period of the last day of fourth session my last summer as a counselor. A snapping turtle and the thickest most massive leech I have ever seen showed up to gfro within 30 seconds of each other and the campers went nuts. I think about that every single day. It’s a great metaphor for producing tv actually.

Girls Camp Director – Meg Davis’ Favorite Summer Memories

Our 2022 Girls Camp Director, Meg Davis, reflected on her favorite memories of the summer.

Summer 2022 was one of the best summers I have ever had at camp. I loved having a more influential role in both staff and camper’s experiences all summer and it was incredibly rewarding to watch everyone fall more and more in love with camp every day.

This summer gave me a unique opportunity to see parts of camp I had never experienced before and think of things in a different frame of mind. Some of my happiest memories from this summer were planning activities to help staff bond, giving vespers, playing in the camper staff soccer games, cheering people on in the triathlon, sitting on program porch or main lawn and watching everyone in program areas, and watching the CITs and international staff run into the lake.

And when I wasn’t always having the usual camp fun, I also genuinely loved being someone others came to for advice, providing support to campers, and critically thinking about how to best solve problems in order to improve the overall Coniston experience. Summer 2022 will forever go down as one of my favorite summers at Coniston and I feel so lucky to have had such wonderful staff and campers to make incredible memories with!

In Memoriam: Jessie Milne Freeman

(1978 - 2022)

It’s with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to Jessie Milne Freeman. Jessie was a camper in the 90s and then went on to become a beloved staff member. Jessie continued her work with children at Sunapee elementary school, and most recently at James House, in the preschool of KRSD.

Many people have since donated to YMCA Camp Coniston in her memory. We were truly honored to have Jessie be a part of our community and we will miss her dearly.

“Naming Camp Coniston as one of Jessie’s suggestions for gifts in her memory was an apt memorial for our daughter, who died in June at the age of 43. Camp is the opportunity for kids to discover that they can conquer their fears while sharing outdoor fun with others. Coniston does this masterfully. 

Jessie was a fourth child and only girl who followed her older brothers to Camp Coniston as a camper. She loved swimming, dancing, riding and singing at Camp, but even more so, she bonded with her fellow (cabin 8) campers as sisters.

When she returned a decade later as a counselor of riding, Jessie loved her job, helping kids learn to have fun and be safe with large animals. She was a cautious instructor who encouraged the riders in her care to consider the horse or pony as their partner in learning. The experience colored her life’s journey toward teaching, the study of human development, and motherhood. She often spoke of her campers’ successes and felt honored to be connected to Coniston in two ways.

After her initial diagnosis of melanoma 16 years ago, Jessie attended two retreats for cancer patients and survivors herd at the Kripalu Yoga Center. A favorite counselor there was Dr Joan Borysenko of Harvard, who credited overnight camp “under the pine grove” as one of her most important formative experiences. As she studied and taught, Jessie followed Dr Borysenko’s writing and research on the mind-body connection, gently guiding children through challenges at school and her son at home.

It is her family’s hope that Coniston will continue to give kids and young adults camaraderie and a strong start to productive, nurturing lives.”

– Dale Milne, Jessie’s father

Reflections From a CIT Parent

Coniston magic explained though a thank you note from a Camp parent

“Every summer after we pick up our boys from camp we intend to write to you and tell you with our whole heart how incredible their time at camp is year after year. Somehow summer turns to fall and the whole cycle begins and then we are again reminded of the incredible gift that is Coniston. After this summer we were reflecting and honestly feel like of all the things we have done for our boys, sending them to Camp Coniston is literally the best thing we have done for them. We felt it was important that we finally let you know that, and that we are so incredibly grateful for the opportunities Conisiton provides for them. So THANK YOU for giving our boys this experience that has helped them become caring, engaged, reflective, inquisitive, risk taking boys.  

In a time when being a teenager is even more challenging in every aspect, we feel that the camp experience is more important than ever. It is an escape from technology, a chance to make authentic caring friendships with new people, and an opportunity to try new things and take risks. Our oldest son, who is now a sophomore in college, told us after his last camper year that he was going to try to be his camp self in life more. And our youngest, who loves to meet everyone and connect with as many people as he can, just transitioned to boarding school and said that it was so easy because “I learned how to do all of that at camp mom.” 

This year we are the most grateful for our son’s experience as a CIT, which he said was the “best month of his life.” It was a really challenging year for all of us, and to be honest getting that CIT application done was really difficult for him during that time but we also knew it could be one of the best things for him. We are so grateful that the camp gave him that opportunity and it was all that we hoped and more. He already had a lot of help and was doing much better, but Camp reminded him how to connect fully with people, how to open himself up, how to do hard things and also just what value he can bring to a group and to situations. We just read his college essay and he wrote about being a CIT and the incredibly transformative experience it was. His CIT directors were both amazing mentors to him and he has approached the end of high school/start of college with a fresh outlook and new goals and interest as a result. We could not be happier and more grateful for this. 

We know through all of your outreaches, letters and other communication that you know how special camp is. But truly, it has been life changing for our kids. We want you to know how incredibly appreciative we are, and that you are changing lives.”

Ale Campomanes-Cabin Counselor-Vespers

So.. I know that not many people know this but last year I came to work here as the laundry person, which don’t get me wrong, it was SO fun, but, I wasn’t actually “following a dream”. I was kind of staying in my comfort zone, knowing that I wasn’t going to need to talk to that many people, or challenge myself that much. 

So, at the end of the summer, even though it was an amazing time, I came back to Mexico with the feeling that I could have done something else, something NEW, something DIFFERENT..

So, after I thought about it for a while this past year, I realized that the reason I didn’t apply for a bigger responsibility such as taking care of a bunch of teenagers (which I love by the way) that wouldn’t speak the same language as me, was that I was afraid of not being good enough.

And I think we have all had that same feeling in multiple scenarios of life right?

Such as applying to a certain school, trying a new sport, even talking to new people.

So, a few months after, I asked  myself: why not? What could stop me? My English? My skills? I had the time, I knew the people that could help me, and the MOST important, I really wanted to do it.

After studying a lot and asking people, I knew I could I finally make it all the way here. After almost 4 sessions that have helped me grow so much on different aspects of my life, or at least that’s what I like to think. I realized that I’m actually capable of doing ANYTHING I want.

This experience has helped me to improve a second language, learn from different cultures (such as the English, Irish, South African, New Zealand and American) listen to different perspectives and get to know new people 🙂

So I really encourage you to always, ALWAYS believe in yourselves, to try new things, to talk to new people because you never know what you can learn from them. To wear crazy clothes (or crazy pants). Just if you really REALLY want something, GO FOR IT. As one of my favorites writers, Walt Disney, would say: “If you can dream it, then you can do it”.

So  go and try a new thing everyday but enjoy the journey, because you never know what the future is going to have prepared for you. It could be being a cabin counselor and having one of the best summers of your life, or who knows? Maybe writing a famous book, being on your favorite movie, if it feels right for your heart, don’t let it go..

You are the owner of your life, so make sure that you are making the greatest show. ♥️

Kelly Williamson Polanco-Head of People and Culture for Aktis Oncology-Coniston: 1980s

How old were you when you started Camp?

I was 12!

How were you introduced to Coniston?

Together with my best friend.

Did you attend college, and if so, what did you study?

MS in Organizational Dynamics and MBA in International Business.

What is your current job? 

I am the Head of People and Culture for a small biotech. This role incorporates all aspects of HR. My favorite part of my role is coaching new managers.

How has your career journey evolved?
 
My career has taken many twists and turns. I started out in Operations and then took a step backwards to move into Human Resources. I made sure to experience all aspects of Human Resources including an expatriate assignment in Argentina. The culmination of these opportunities has lead me to my dream job.
 
Are there any skills or traits you gained at Coniston that you use in your professional life?
 

Coniston gave me many opportunities to step up and be a leader among my peers as well as a team player. These are lessons you value for life.

The ability to take feedback and turn it into positive steps forward is a continuous skill that is reinforced at Coniston. It is a nurturing environment to learn new things, fail at times, and then pick yourself up and try again.

Are there any specific memories from your time at Coniston that are still impactful to you?
 

My time as a CIT was invaluable. I still cherish the friendships that continue to today along with leadership lessons.

Program Director Hayley Horton’s Pitcher Plant Research

We recently interviewed one of our 2022 Program Directors, Hayley Horton, who has been undertaking Biological research this summer in Camp Coniston’s very own bog. 

What’s your name, age, hometown, and what did you do at camp this summer?

Hi Coniston, my name is Hayley. I am 20 years old, this my 12th year at Coniston. I am from Chelmsford Massachusetts, and this past summer I was full-time Program Director and part-time bog researcher. 

What did your research entail?

The research I was working on this past summer was in collaboration with a professor at the University of Vermont, which I attend during the school year, specifically working with pitcher plants; they are one of two carnivorous plants found in the bog. What we were aiming to do is get preliminary data on how different antibiotics affect microbial communities within pitcher plants. 

Pitcher plants provide a very interesting mode of research; within the pitchers themselves are their own ecosystems that can be manipulated much easier than a full forest or full ocean when trying to manipulate with something like antibiotics. 

Coniston was one of three sites where research was being done this summer, and I was working with one of three different antibiotics that were being tested. We are hoping this data will lead to the discovery of which antibiotic should be used for a larger trial. Currently we are looking at the data to see the degree to which the microbial communities were knocked down, which microbes were affected and which were still present. 

As for the procedure I was actually conducting over the summer, every third morning for three weeks, I would go out into the bog and dose twenty plants (ten control and ten experimental) with either de-ionised water for the control plants, or with the antibiotic solution for the experimental plants. 

At the beginning and end of the experiment I took morphological measurements, basically physical measurements of the plant, measuring the entire circumference of the plant, from top to bottom and measuring pitcher opening. I also took fluid parameters to see the amount of dissolved oxygen, the temperature, and different traits of the liquid within the pitcher. At the end of the trial we wrapped up by taking that morphological and fluid data again, while also collecting fluid from each pitcher to be analysed in the lab. 

Where did your passion for Biology begin? 

I am currently a Biological Science major at the University of Vermont, and I can really trace that passion for Biology back to my time at Camp. I had always been interested in science at school, but found that at camp I had the space to really be inquisitive and connect closely with nature in a way that education doesn’t often provide. 

Through the Ecology programme area, I was encouraged and excited to be inquisitive and free to question and interact with the nature around me without any looming pressure of grades or deadlines. That really connected me to the field, and has led to where I am today. 

How has Coniston influenced your interest in this area? 

Specifically in the research I have been assisting with, Camp was a huge help in getting my foot in the door. This past year I took a class called ‘Ecology and Evolution’ with the professor I have been working with, and he talked about his past research, a lot of which was done with pitcher plants. Right off the bat, I was very interested given my connection with Camp and my interest in pitcher plants through the bog and through Ecology. 

When I was drafting my email to his asking if I could help with his research, I spoke about how I had learned a lot through this camp and grown a really hearty interest in the system that he was working with. I expressed that I had that hands-on knowledge that maybe other undergraduates wouldn’t have walking into his lab. I was really excited about the prospect of turning this childhood interest of mine into a college prospect. 

What were the most interesting discoveries you made whilst conducting your research this summer? 

The research has already yielded so many interesting discoveries, and will continue to as we analyze the data further, but I would like to focus on two interesting discoveries in particular:

Firstly, I was very interested to find just how alive the inner system of the pitcher plant was. I had never had the opportunity to remove the fluid from a pitcher and actually see what was going on inside; there was so much life which was really cool to see. This very acidic environment that basically acts as digestional fluid still had mosquito larva and flesh flies inside. On top of that, there’s an entire microbial community that is too microscopic to even see, but I knew I would be able to view the data once it had been sequenced. 

One of the more touching discoveries was seeing how excited campers got when seeing this research being done. I was not on Ecology staff this year, but I would hear about the bog walks they would do, and sometimes campers would seek me out after to ask me about my research. 2 campers in Session 1 were really interested to hear about every part of the process, and were so passionate in a way that I recognised in my younger self. It was so cool and very impactful for me to see the research I was doing ignite curiosity with these campers. 

What future plans do you have for this research? 

As for the future of this research, I am taking undergraduate research credits, and assisting with the analysis, planning and write-up for next steps of this project. We are hoping that the data will be solid and that we are able to propose and conduct a full-scale experiment to dig deeper with what we have already found. I, personally, am hoping to pursue an accelerated masters at UVM using this project as my thesis. 

How would you describe your overall experience of being a Coniston staff member this summer? 

Being on Coniston staff this summer was incredible. I felt very fortunate that I didn’t have to compromise both my future aspirations for my career and my current aspirations for camp. I was provided with the opportunity to do both at once. I feel so grateful that the staff and the campers at Camp welcomed my project with such open arms; the Camp director John Tilley was especially excited at the prospect of me doing this research and was so consistently interested in what I was doing, asking some really insightful questions. He was so excited to see what it provided for me as well as what it provided for the campers. 

As for my main job on Camp this summer, I was Program Director, who plans the evening programs and helps a lot with the camper scheduling, making sure the day-to-day fun at camp runs smoothly, including the wonderful programme areas such as Ecology. I loved my job this summer, and how much it allowed me to interact with the staff and how they were each running their own aspects of camp, making sure their little corners of the world ran smoothly, while also being able to plan these big evening events and see how much fun the entire camp had with an idea that Carolyn (my fellow Program Director) spent a lot of time planning. 

I feel so grateful to be both a research assistant this summer and spend the time in the bog, whilst also learning so much through my job as Program Director. There is a lot of overlap in these two jobs; I learned how to work with other people, I learned how to admit that I didn’t know how to do something, how to search for help in those areas. In so many ways these roles bolstered each other, allowing me to have a truly incredible summer. 

If you had a message for budding scientists who are thinking about coming to Coniston, what would it be?

If I could relay any message to budding young scientists who are thinking about coming to Coniston, I would first of all say do it! There are so many great opportunities to become independent, inquisitive, and confident person, all these things that will help you in any career. I would also encourage them to consider where they might find inspiration and opportunities for knowledge in potentially unexpected places. 

You may not think that coming to camp will lead to a scientific career; we focus a lot on fun and friendships and trying new things, which a lot of the time doesn’t seem to naturally pair with science’s pursuit of knowledge and procedure. However, in my experience the fun that I had at camp led me to want to continue having fun and learning through that fun. The friends I made at camp helped me to understand what I wanted out of life and my career, helping me every step of the way when it seemed scary to put myself out there. Trying new things is the root of science, and the root of becoming a person who is comfortable asking questions. Maybe you don’t see learning how to shoot an arrow as the same thing as being able to come up with a new scientific hypothesis, but it all feeds into building a well-rounded person that is capable of doing what the world of science requires in a way that feels fun and rewarding. 

I would encourage anyone to not just consider the traditional paths that might make preliminary sense in becoming a scientist. I didn’t have to attend a Math or Science Camp to get where I am today. I was able to use my experiences at Camp Coniston to find meaning in what I learned, and express that meaning to people who could provide me with opportunities. I am so excited for each and every camper to know that whatever you are interested in, be that the Sciences or Humanities, there is a lot of potential with coming to Camp and I wish them all the very best in their learning. 

Camp Winning Spirit celebrates 25+ years

This summer we celebrated 25+ years of Camp Winning Spirit!

Our annual Labor Day Weekend event, partnered with New Hampshire Childhood Cancer Lifeline, welcomed 28 families who have been affected by cancer. The weekend was full of classic Winning Spirit activities like kickball, pirate night, s’mores and campfire skits! 

On the Sunday, we invited Winning Spirit alumni families and staff to join us for a day of celebration. The day ended with a beautiful firework show to commemorate 25 + years of this special weekend and to honor all of the families that have attended.