Kitter & Gordie Spater—Entrepreneurs—Coniston: 1978-1994

How old were you when you started Camp?
We both started when we were 8 years old.

How were you introduced to Camp?
Our neighbors from Chester VT, the Masses (Amy, Andy, and Cathy) all went to Camp Coniston. Our parents owned a business in town and worked 6 days a week, in the 80s there weren’t a lot of supervised activities for kids to do in the summer, so camp was an awesome option.

Did you attend college, and if so, what did you study?
BA – University of Vermont – Studio Art and Anthropology and MID – Pratt Institute (Masters of Industrial Design)

Gordie: Studied Economics and Political Science at the University of Vermont and then went on to specialize in business with an MBA.

What is your current job? 
In 2003 we started a pet products company together called Kurgo Dog Gear. Kurgo was focused on creating gear that makes it easier for dogs and their owners to get outside and enjoy adventures together. We created car products for dogs (seat covers, safety harnesses, etc.) and a full range of outdoor gear like backpacks, running harnesses and lifejackets for the dog. Kitter’s primary responsibility is user-based research, product design, manufacturing and marketing. Gordie oversees the business operations which includes managing their team in Salisbury, MA and selling to our customers such as Petco and Petsmart. 

How has your career journey evolved?
itter: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a Lego designer and run my own company. Although I have had a number of varied jobs – I’ve been a ski instructor, prep cook, a graphic designer, and started a few companies –  I have always come back to the essence of this childhood dream of being engaged in design, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Gordie: I started my career in NYC doing advertising. It was during a work weekend at Coniston that I determined I needed to move out of New York. I moved to Sunday River as the Marketing Director and then to Boston to business school. Since I graduated I have helped to found three companies.

Did Coniston influence your ability to create this journey?
Kitter: As with many of us, my first job was a counselor at Coniston. The early experience provided me with a solid understanding that a job can be tough, fun and fulfilling all at the same time. This early experience has guided me in making a company that had purpose for the people working there.

Gordie: Coniston gave me the confidence at a young age to be myself and try new things. Camp Coniston was one of the most formative experiences of my life.  

Are there any skills or traits you gained at Coniston that you use in your professional life?
Kitter: Leadership, creativity, adaptability, pivot, make it fun. It was always been part of my camp experience to make sure that the campers and staff had a good experience. This has stuck with me whenever making a product, working with clients, managing people and making sure the end consumer is happy with their purchase.

Gordie: I am pretty good at meeting new people and getting along with them. Seems cabin life is a perfect training ground for my job at Kurgo

Is there a specific moment or example from your career that you used these skills or traits?
Gordie: When we started Kurgo I literally had to go door to door selling our products and dealing with all the different types of customers I ran into. Meeting cabinmates on the first day of the session was pretty good training for those early days at Kurgo.

Are there any specific memories from your time at Coniston that are still impactful to you?
Kitter: One of the lifeguard training tests was to hold a brick over your head and out of the water for 2 minutes. At that age I was a sinker and couldn’t for the life of me tread water for two minutes with a brick over my head. I learned that sometimes you need to adapt and pivot, I held my breath for two minutes instead of treading water. Oh, I also met my wife, Erica at Coniston.

Gordie: I loved Dirty Night, it was a license to laugh a lot and play in the mud.

Guiseppi Marzelli & Alan Finlay—Entrepreneurs—Coniston: 1997-2006

Guiseppi and Alan believe that building a great network filled with good people is vitally important to growing ideas. Growing up in the family of a local business owner, Guiseppi directly saw the impact of technology and its role in commerce. While large corporations had the resources to learn to navigate new technologies, small and local businesses struggled to bridge the gap. Guiseppi and Alan teamed up to found Boomtown, turning their camp dreams of entrepreneurship into reality. Guiseppi points out that “reflecting back on the journey, it is crucial that it is understood that I could not have done this without Alan.” Today, Boomtown has 80 full time employees and 2,000 active technicians around the United States.

“Coniston personally taught me how to better understand everyone’s individual talent, creativity and personality. Not every person is the same and some people are extremely different than others, but when you’re off the grid and only have the same resources, you learn to be patient with each other and better understand the meaning of community. Coniston truly helped in the initial stages of building a company by being more thoughtful of other’s thoughts and ideas. If you look past others because they don’t have the same ideology, you will quickly find yourself siloed from the rest of society. It’s important to know your integrity is the same and without many resources you can still accomplish many things as a team.”

I know this will sound hard to believe, but there were times running the psych ER at Bellevue where I felt that lightness and ease and unity that I associate with Camp. One night, I had a bunch of patients singing “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” with the patients making up the verses. At one point, we were all singing, He’s got the Bellevue Hospital in his hands” and I really felt it. I believed it. I believe in the power of people coming together as one, in song, in nature, under “God” whatever we perceive that to mean. Camp gave me optimism. It made me believe in Oneness, and that is a great gift.”

Julie Holland—Psychiatrist & Author—Coniston: 1975-1984

Julie graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a major in The Biological Basis of Behavior, a combination of neuropsychology and psychopharmacology. While starting her own private practice in psychiatry, Julie worked at Bellevue Hospital. She is married with two children and is a published author, a noted lecturer, and a frequent guest expert. 

“My father-in-law used to call me “omni-capable.” I credited Camp with that. Every summer, learning different skills, whether archery, riflery, guitar playing, canoeing, or lifesaving. That kind of comfort with novelty, and most importantly, learning how to learn, is what I use in my professional life. Camp taught me how to do this with openness and compassion. Coniston helped me get in touch with my own talent for empathy, and that is a skill I use daily in my professional life.

I know this will sound hard to believe, but there were times running the psych ER at Bellevue where I felt that lightness and ease and unity that I associate with Camp. One night, I had a bunch of patients singing “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” with the patients making up the verses. At one point, we were all singing, He’s got the Bellevue Hospital in his hands” and I really felt it. I believed it. I believe in the power of people coming together as one, in song, in nature, under “God” whatever we perceive that to mean. Camp gave me optimism. It made me believe in Oneness, and that is a great gift.”

Rua Kelly—Trial Attorney—Coniston: 1984-1988

Rua was introduced to Coniston at 13. She spent the next four “life-changing” summers at Camp. Today, Rua is a dedicated mom and senior trial counsel with the Securities & Exchange Commission in Boston, working on investigating the many forms of financial fraud.

Rua recently reflected on how Camp influenced her life—“As a CIT and a counselor, I learned so much about leadership and decision-making.  When an 8-year old girl is homesick and crying inconsolably, you don’t have a manual to tell you what to say or do. You are constantly having to rise to the challenge.  I never felt like I was good at anything, or could make a difference in people’s lives, until I came to Camp.  My ability to succeed really came from Coniston.

Leadership, building teams, empathy, not judging people based on stereotypes – those are all skills and traits (gained from Camp) that I use in my job, especially when I have had to appear before juries in court, and make arguments that persuade people from all walks of life.  But the most important place I have used those skills is as a parent.  I learned how to really listen, how to empathize, and how to help people who are feeling vulnerable find their way when things are hard.”

David Koch—Chief Commercial Officer—Coniston: 1977-1982

After Coniston, David studied Mechanical Engineering while in the ROTC at MIT and was a Naval Aviator and Flight Instructor. After receiving his MBA, David moved into the corporate world and is currently the CCO for FI.SPAN, a company he helped found. 

 “… I was probably the youngest CIT and a young kid when I was exposed to Camp, and I consider myself lucky to have experienced it at a time when I could learn from those experiences and nurture them. In high school I wasn’t doing all the leadership things, so Coniston and the CIT program gave me the ability to launch some of my talents and use them. That gave me the confidence to continue on…”

“Each piece of your life builds on the other. For me, it was Camp that had a big impact on the things I was able to do in my later years of high school and that translated to what I brought to MIT. I don’t think that without that confidence I would have been successful in ROTC and the military. It’s also possible that people would suggest camp is nothing like the military, but I would suggest camp and the military are not so different and that a lot of things I learned at camp were directly attributable, to and directly helpful to succeeding in ROTC and the military. I’m not sure I thought that at the time, but looking back I think that’s absolutely true. I think Camp indirectly, [and even] much more directly, helped [me] in the military. The military piece that translates to later in my career is leadership. I left behind the technical skills of the military because I don’t fly anymore but the leadership piece carries over.”

Noah Kahan—Singer/Songwriter—Coniston: 2005-2012

At eight years old and having never been away from home for long, Noah was terrified to come to Camp. However, after his first summer, Camp became a huge part of his life—seeing old friends and the beautiful lake—“summer became synonymous with Coniston.”

After receiving a recording contract his senior year in high school, Noah pursued a career as a musician; he is enjoying a life which is a whirlwind of performing live on programs like Late Night with Stephen Colbert and Late Night with Seth Meyers, recording songs, and creating music around the world. 

“I would say that I use the social skills I learned at Coniston all the time. Meeting new people and cooperating in a group setting is difficult, and it’s something that Coniston taught me to do year after year. I believe those social skills have propelled me through the rest of my young adult life!

Coniston instilled confidence in my ability as a musician and person. I’ll never forget how excited I would be before every talent show… 

…I believe much of my identity was formed in the cabins in Boys Camp and on the docks of Boys Waterfront. I made lasting friendships on the wood panels of the Adirondack chairs, and slept under the stars on my overnights. What I remember most about Camp Coniston was the mythos of the place. Coniston was a place that survived in my mind on its reputation as a grounds for unexplainable magic that cast a spell on its campers, bringing them back every year. Coniston will always be a part of my life.”