By: Chris “Topher” Aderhold
As I stepped inside, an intoxicating mix of sawdust and testosterone slugged me on my whisker-less face. Country music was playing loudly from the radio, and I, well, I tried to stand a little taller and speak a little deeper.
It was one of our recent single-digit days, the thrill of seeing my breath having long since passed (that was back in 2007, actually…). I bundled up that morning for the long commute from Camp’s posh wall-to-wall carpeted Office to visit the power tools, the diesel, and the men of the Camp Gray Maintenance Shop. Tom and Nate, our two-headed Maintenance Monster, were there, diligently assembling a new table saw. It’s been an arduously long winter, and no one at Camp Gray endures winter’s beating more personally than Tom and Nate. With every passing winter storm there are roads to plow, walkways to salt, and the occasional septic tank to thaw. Table saw assembly on that bone-chilling day provided a nice respite – the indoor projects are a welcome change of pace to facing winter’s wrath. Except on that day, perhaps more pesky than a winter storm, a tall fellow Camp staffer (me) had come armed with a reporter’s notebook. I came to bother them with questions because, I tell them, I want to write an article about them for the Camp Gray Blog. It was Tricia’s idea – “You should write a story about Tom and Nate.” Yes I should, because it’s the people that make Camp Gray Camp Gray, and you won’t find many people better than Tom and Nate.
Sure, the Cassidy Games has been melting faces since the 11th year of the third millennium, and there’s perpetual pandemonium in and around the Panda Ball Pit, and there’s a gargantuan fish in Lake Jake that has a facebook account – but it’s the people.
Tom and Nate are as different as they are alike (which is a statement that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but if ever it would fit into one of my articles, then today’s the day…). While Nate is still hovering within the parameters of his mid-20s, Tom is famously inching towards the age of 75. Though there’s nearly 50 years between them, and though the greater is a Veteran of the Navy (1959-1963), and the lesser is a Veteran of the Army (2005-2011), they team up better than a Rodgers-to-Nelson deep-route touchdown pass-and-catch.
I asked them how often their conflicting Navy vs. Army training comes between them, to which Tom replies, “Well, that’s why I’m the boss.”
I asked Tom to share his favorite part of the job (he’s been at it for 18 years), and he began answering with specifics about the multitude of varying tasks that make each day different. He doesn’t like monotony, he tells me.
To Tom’s answer, Nate responds, “Your favorite part isn’t working with me?”
Tom smiled and answered my question a second time, “It’s the people. I love the people at Camp Gray. I wouldn’t work here if not for the good people…”
I stayed in the Shop for a while that morning, as much to ask the occasional question as to watch and reflect – we’re blessed around these parts. 61 years back, Monsignor Francis Gray founded this Camp with a simple dream – to create a safe and fun place for youth. Could he have ever imagined the long line of good people that would serve at Camp Gray over the years to keep his dream alive? Tom and Nate, in their humble and quiet way, do the dirty behind-the-scenes work so many others can do the celebrated in-the-spotlight work. Even with a modest budget, Tom and Nate do an exceptional job keeping Camp looking and running as if it were brand new. They’re really good at their jobs – they’re better at being really good people.
“What about you, Nate?” I ask. “What’s your favorite part of the job?
He quips, “Lunchtime.”
Later, as I stroll back to the office on well-sanded walkways, I’m thankful to be at a place that in addition to hard work, strong character, sincerity, generosity, and kindness mean so very much (and I’m thankful for my time in the Shop that morning, because wait, hold the phone, is that facial hair I feel sprouting on my face?).
A few days after spending time with Tom and Nate in the Shop, I bundled up once more and trudged through the snow to Camp’s St. Francis Cabin. Tom and Nate have put in dozens of hours of work this winter remodeling the aging cabin. It was another cold day – though temperatures had “warmed” to the mid-teens. Technically an “indoor project,” remodeling Francis is cold work, because Francis is without a heater. To take the chill out of the air, they have a propane heater running inside the cabin (though I visited them the day they were installing new windows, so you can imagine how quickly the cold outside air overcame that little heater…).
The dark wood paneling has been removed from the walls and replaced with plywood. The plywood and the ceiling received fresh paint that day – you’ve never seen that cabin so bright! Wainscoting will be installed later, as well as new lights. It was just another day for Camp’s two-headed Maintenance Monster.
Tom and Nate are as different as they are alike. There’s nearly 50 years between them in age. One served on the sea aboard the USS Cabildo in the South Pacific, while the other served on the ground in Iraq in his trusty Leather Personnel Carriers. It’s an honor to work with these two fine gentlemen. It’s a blessing to call them friends.
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