It was a true gift to spend 10 days in Italy with, among others, John Karsten (left) and Fr. Bakke (right).

By: Chris “Topher” Aderhold

It occurred to me the other day, while 30,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean somewhere near Iceland (this according to the flight map which can be displayed on the personal video screen on each seat of a Delta International Flight) that Camp Gray is really, really awesome. Of course, I’ve known this for quite some time. Occasionally, however, something happens that reminds me of this fact.

I had just spent 10 days in Italy, touring Rome, the Vatican, Assisi, Siena, and Florence. It was 10 days with 40 wonderful people from around the diocese. It was 10 days of eating lots of pizza and a plethora of pasta. I was carbo-loaded to a level which would enable me to run not one, but two whole marathons. Two.

It all started a couple Fridays before, as I sat at a conference in Rochester, MN. I was vigorously taking notes on how to enhance Camp’s online and digital presence when I received a text message from Fr. Larry Bakke. Fr. Bakke was the Director at Camp Gray from 1979-1993, and is currently the pastor at St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Monroe. 48 hours later he’d be leading a group of 40 folks on a pilgrimage to Italy. Turns out, someone on the trip had fallen ill, and someone needed to fill that spot.

I immediately texted him back with a thank-you, and with a decline of the offer. As much as I would love to go to Italy, how could I possibly be so spontaneous?

One of my favorite parts of Summer Camp at Camp Gray is the spontaneity. Things are crazy and fun and random and spontaneous. Too often, post-summer, it can be difficult to keep that spontaneity alive (and I live here 365!). I get caught up in the mundane details of my latest to-do and find it difficult to live in a moment sans any sort of premeditative planning. Thankfully, I was with several friends at the conference, among them Jenna Keller and Lindsay Becher, and thankfully they figuratively kicked me in the butt. “You’d be crazy not to go,” they said. Thankfully bosses Jeff & Rebecca, in their kindness and support, echoed their sentiments, “You’d be crazy not to go.”

good people

You’d be hard pressed to find better Rome tour guides than Joe (left) and Bill (middle).

So, 48 hours later, after three loads of laundry and the purchase of an electric outlet adapter, I was on a flight to Rome, with a short layover in Amsterdam first. Among the wonderful gaggle of people I was traveling with were John & Diane Karsten. John is the Chairman of Camp’s Board of Directors. John and Diane have shown Camp Gray (and me personally) great generosity over the years. The new hall that is connected to Camp’s new office, Karsten Hall, is named in their honor to show our appreciation for their great generosity.  They’re an inspiration for all of us and it was a wonderful gift to spend time with them in Italy. Fr. Garret Kau, the current chaplain for Camp was on the trip, as was, of course, Fr. Bakke. Though Fr. Bakke stepped down as Director in 1993, he’s been active ever since as a member of Camp’s Board of Directors. Additionally, it was a blessing to be with loads of people that are connected to Camp by a child or grandchild’s attendance at Camp Gray.

Another thrill of the journey was spending time with former CG staffers Bill Van Wagner, Joe Baker, and Deacon Kyle “Gus” Digmann, all of whom are in seminary in Rome. Those gentlemen are doing amazing things over yonder, and they will be great priests for the future of the Church.

Long time staffer Ryan McGrath once said, “People are a product of their gratitude.” I have that quote on a sticky note by my computer. At various times in the past few months, upon reading that quote, I’ve had differing thoughts on what it means. Perhaps in Ryan’s brilliance, it’s a quote that can mean different things at different times. I think for now, for me, it means that who I am as a person is a reflection of my gratitude for the gifts of my life. Without the support of friends, co-workers, and Camp Gray supporters, I would have stuck with my initial decline of Fr. Bakke’s invitation. I am incredibly thankful for these people in my life. Also, I think for now, for me, it requires that I ask the question of myself, “How can I be more generous?”

What makes Camp Gray really, really awesome (with an emphasis on the double ‘really’)? Camp Gray is a place where youth learn, grow, have tons of fun, and make genuine friends. Wouldn’t ya know it, Camp Gray is that place for us staffers, as well. What a blessing it was to experience such an adventure in Italy. What a blessing it was to spend the time there with Camp Gray friends, and with new friends.


Please tune in tomorrow at 7:00pm to watch Bill perform a song from Bless Us for the Journey.

Lastly, a plug: Tomorrow at 7:00pm CST, we’ll be posting a video to Camp’s youtube channel of former staffer Bill Van Wagner. As you likely know, Bill is a first-rate singer and guitar player (he was one of the contributors on Bless Us for the Journey). On my last morning in Rome, I convinced Bill to join me in St. Peter’s Square at 7:00am so that I could record him playing a song from Bless Us for the Journey. Bill asked that I stress to you that his motivation to get up early on a Saturday for this recording wasn’t to appease me. Rather, he had you – a loyal supporter of Camp Gray – in mind, and was happy to oblige in an early morning performance.

Please tune in tomorrow at 7:00pm. You don’t want to miss it!

Oh, and just an update, regrettably, I wasn’t able to convince Popes Francis & Benedict to join us for a future running of the Cassidy Games. However, rest assured, we’ve got some other wonderful duos in mind for future epic competitions.

Thanks for your support of Camp Gray!