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Camp Offield: A lost Geneva Lake icon

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May 06, 2014 | 03:34 PM
During the early 1950s, I was a member of Boy Scouts Troop 35 in Lake Geneva. I was the assistant patrol leader of Troop 35’s Cochise Patrol (named after the Apache chief).

In 2014 there is no longer a Troop 35 of Boy Scouts in Lake Geneva. There are two troops, both with a higher number. During the early 1950s, Troop 35’s Scoutmaster was Ernest Rocker, who lived on Center Street and was the principal of the Fontana School. The Assistant Scoutmaster was Charles Button, the father of Fritz Button.

There were four “Patrols” in the Troop. Troop 35 met in the American Legion Hall, then upstairs above the fire station, which in those days was located on the north side of the 600 block of Main Street. There were four “Eagle” scouts in Troop 35 (the highest rank one could achieve in the Boy Scouts)-Elbert Aspinall, Allen Button, Bill Danielson, and Fritz Button.

Among the many civic duties that members of Troop 35 performed were placing American flags on the graves of veterans in all of the Lake Geneva cemeteries just prior to Memorial Day and planting trees in the eastern section of the recently established Big Foot Beach State Park, immediately south of where Badger High School is today.

Those trees, which we planted as seedlings, still exist, and are very tall. Like today’s Boy Scout troops, we marched in the Lake Geneva Memorial Day parade. Several of us in Troop 35 participated in the Fourth of July ceremonies held at Robinson Hillside on Geneva Lake’s south shore.

Members of Troop 35 also camped out at Devil’s Lake State Park, held weekend winter campouts adjacent to Sugar Creek in Walworth County, participated in Boy Scout State Line Council gatherings at Beloit Collage, and camped out at the “Y” cabin on the Chapin estate between Highway 50 and Snake Road.

For those who could afford it, however, the highlight of the year was spending two weeks at Camp Offield, the Boy Scout camp formerly located on Lake Shore Drive in the woods across the road from today’s Country Store, just east of Fontana.

Camp Offield was the summer camp operated by the Boy Scout’s State Line Council headquartered in Beloit. I was fortunate to have attended, during the early 1950s, a two-week session at Camp Offield. Camp Offield had been donated by James R. Offield, the brother-in-law of P.K. Wrigley.

The Offield’s summer home was located on the north shore of Geneva Lake, accessible from Snake Road. Prior to the establishment of Camp Offield in the early 1930s, the Boy Scout’s State Line Council camp had been located at Camp Rotary on the Rock River between Rockton and Roscoe. It was constructed by the Beloit Rotary Club.

Boy Scouts who attended Camp Offield were housed in large four-man tents with bunk beds and wooden floors. During the two weeks that I spent at Camp Offield during the mid-1950s, my tent mates were Doug Hill (who died several years ago), Dan Miskie, who now lives in LaFayette, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay area, and Dan Derrick, today the owner of the Derrick Funeral Home on Edwards Boulevard.

Three meals a day were provided in Camp Offield’s large cabin. The food was excellent. Every morning we would all walk down to Geneva Lake and participate in swimming lessons.

We all earned our swimming merit badges as well as our camping and cooking merit badges. After swimming lessons, we would spend the remainder of the days learning how to build fires, how to use a compass to orient ourselves, and how to live in the woods. We were all required to go to bed when it got dark. It was quite scary being in the woods in the dark of the evenings.

We heard owls screeching and other animals making their way through the woods. Even though we were just a few miles from Lake Geneva, it was as if we were in the north woods. With four young males living in a confined space, it of course was natural that tensions would occasionally arise.

Upon completion of our two weeks at Camp Offield, we were all given a beautiful round red, white and blue patch, which we sewed on our Boy Scout uniforms. I still have mine. I saw on the web that they are presently being sold for $25 a patch.

When I drive by the woods where Camp Offield used to be located, memories of the two weeks that I spent there over a half century ago churn to the surface.

But Camp Offield is but a memory. It is another of Geneva Lake’s lost icons, like the Northwestern Military and Naval Academy, Ceylon Court and the Hotel Geneva.

Patrick Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.

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