By: Chris “Topher” Aderhold

Have you heard the starfish story?

It goes something like this:

There once was an old man who liked to start his days by going for walks on a nearby beach. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed, and he found that the beach was littered with starfish as far as the eye could see.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As he grew closer the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up a starfish, and then he would throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled, and said, “It made a difference to that one.”

Perhaps you’ve heard this story before. I’m not entirely sure of its origins, but I first heard it several years ago. Here on the Tuesdays with Topher blog, I’ve never been anything but forthright with you, our loyal readers. I don’t intend to change now, so here’s the truth: When I first heard the starfish story, I remember thinking that it had a nice sentiment, but I thought it was a scosh cheeseball for my taste.

As you’ve probably heard by now, my time at Camp Gray has come to an end. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been slowly going through the process of gathering my things and cleaning out my office. Covering the pegboard in my office were dozens and dozens of pictures, notes, and drawings from over the years. As I was removing all of these items from the pegboard, I found a small blue starfish keychain hiding behind one of the pictures. The keychain had been there for some time, but I had forgotten it was there.

As I looked down at the keychain, the starfish story came to mind, and the words the boy tells the old man echoed in my head, “It made a difference to that one.” As I looked at that starfish, I couldn’t help but reflect and reminisce on my time at Camp Gray. I thought about the goofiness, the joys, the challenges, and the weird, funny antics that are so common at Camp. Additionally, I thought about the people.

Taking the reins last week as the new Camp Gray Assistant Director is Tim Chaptman (pictured at right). Tim is no stranger to Camp Gray, having served on staff for many summers in the mid-to-late oughts. Tim is the right man to help Jeff, Rebecca, and the Camp Gray staff take Camp Gray to new heights. 

Yeah, mostly I thought about the people, because it’s the people that make Camp Gray Camp Gray.

Camp Gray started with a simple dream by a simple man named Monsignor Francis Gray.

I can’t help but ponder what ole Monsignor Gray would think of his Camp today, 64 years after he – with the help of many Baraboo locals – purchased the first 125 of Camp’s 225 acres. Sadly, Monsignor Gray fell ill shortly after the land for Camp was purchased, and he died a couple of years later. He didn’t get to see what his Camp would become – not on this side of eternity, anyway.

While ill, Monsignor Gray traveled back to his family farm in County Longford, Ireland to recover. Every day, in the living room of the Gray family farmhouse, Monsignor would celebrate mass, and he’d offer up his sufferings for the success of his new camp.

When the good Monsignor died, his camp lost its founder, but it gained a strong advocate in heaven. I’m confident the good Monsignor’s prayers continue to this day.  

After Monsignor Gray passed away, his friends in Baraboo took up the cause to turn his dream into a reality – to build a Camp that would impact the lives of countless young people each year. Those early days were meager and simple, but they became the strong foundation upon which Camp Gray is built. They also served as a blueprint for the future – there’s never a shortage of people that will step up for the mission of Camp Gray.

Thousands upon thousands of people have served since those early days, each person integral to the success of Camp Gray.

Today, Camp Gray is among the very best youth camps in America, and I’m certain that Camp Gray’s best days have yet to come. The support of the Diocese, the Board of Directors, the Board of Advisors, and the Camp Gray family, coupled with the great leadership of Jeff and Rebecca Hoeben, will ensure that the future of Camp Gray is as bright as ever.

As I looked at that starfish keychain, I felt a great sense of gratitude that I’ve had the phenomenal privilege to be among the superb people that have served at Camp Gray. During my time at Camp Gray, I’ve met the most amazing people in the world – people that I’m humbled to call friends, people that have taught me much, people that have forever changed my life.

As I looked at that keychain, I thought about the man that gave me that starfish. Paul Coakley, Camp Gray’s Program Director from 2010-2014, would begin the staff training for his Servant Leadership Team by reciting the starfish story each fall. One year, after sharing the story, he gave everyone at Camp a starfish keychain.

When I first heard the starfish story, I remember thinking that it had a nice sentiment, but I thought it was a scosh cheeseball for my taste. I hung the keychain on my pegboard, and it got buried behind pictures, notes, and drawings.

As I looked down at that keychain, the starfish story came to mind, and the words the boy tells the old man echoed in my head, “It made a difference to that one.”

Cynics among us might say about a place like Camp Gray, “There are billions of people in the world, I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

I would simply respond with a smile, “It made a difference to this one.”

Thank you for everything over the years, friends. Please keep in touch. You’re in my daily prayers. Please pray for me.

Lastly, from the bottom of my heart, thanks to Jeff and Reba for the honor of serving as your Assistant Director – it has been one of the greatest joys of my life.


Peace.

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