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Audio Bishop Fisher Features Youth

Memories shared as Camp Turner celebrates centennial


A new wave of memories came flooding back with each person entering Camp Turner. With each handshake and hug, alumni campers spanning seven decades became kids again, enjoying camp fires, hikes and each other. As Camp Turner, the only Catholic summer camp serving Western New York celebrated its 100th anniversary, nearly 200 campers, counselors and friends gathered at the Allegany State Park on July 15.

A new horse trail has been installed at Camp Turner. (Photo by Nicole Dzimira)

“I just love this place. I keep coming back,” said Jim Dokey, who spent 1968-1981 as a camper and staff member.

In 2021, he received a call from John Mann, executive director of the camp, looking for kitchen help for a week. Dokey donated two weeks of his time.

During the all-day centennial celebration, Dokey manned the registration booth with former camp mate Vincent Azzarelli, who was recruited to be a camp counselor by Msgr. Francis Weldgen, then associate diocesan youth director.

“He offered me a job in 1971, I guess. I came out as a counselor. It was great. I worked as the Indian counselor and taught Indian lore to all the kids. It was exposing kids to the Iroquois Indian stories and how they lived. We used to have teepees in the camp and all kinds of stuff,” he recalled. “It was a great event and a great time for kids because they spent time away from home and they learned how to get along with a lot of different people. That was the beauty of camp and still is the beauty of camp.”

Jeff Schwartz stirred up old memories by bringing an old pair of jeans with patches up and down the legs.

“I was a nature counselor in Allegany for three years. I would take the kids on creek walks and hikes. Anytime it would get caught on something, it would get ripped, I would take them over to Barb (Kurpita) and I’d have them back the next day with a new patch on them. Always different, but they were always fixed. That went on the whole summer.”

He brought the jeans, and the memories back to show Kurpita, who recalled Schwartz as the skinny runner who raced the kids up to Quaker Lake.

“We’re panting the whole time and he’s talking the whole ride up,” Kurpita said.

Through social media, many former campers who have lost touch got reacquainted and returned to camp for the celebration. They came from near and far across the United States.

Gary Gardner, now living in Hilo, Hawaii, has not been to camp for close to 40 years.

“The thing I’ve waited for more than anything else is the smell of the pines,” he said, taking a deep breath while viewing the old campsite.

Dave Borokowski was at the 50th anniversary celebration joined by Bishop Edward Head and Buffalo Sabre Jim Schoenfeld.“We all came to work with the kids, but we created lasting relationships and friendships,” said Borokowski, who now is a member of the alumni association.

“These guys and the people I work with mean more to me than high school friends or college. It was just these connections we made. Camp was a special place. The best summers of my life.”

The Camp Turner Centennial Celebration closed out with a bonfire and camp songs. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

Matt and Kerry Brinkhurst got married at Camp Turner. The two met at a backpacking trip in 2014 and fell in love. They decided to hold their wedding at the spot of their first kiss, incorporating the big Mass tent and the Christmas in July lanterns along with a rendition of “Tell Me Why,” the camp song, and Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” that somehow became a tradition at camp dances.

“It’s our favorite place in the whole wide world,” Kerry Brinkhurst said.

Along with burgers, creek walks, archery and a bonfire, a special Mass with Bishop Michael W. Fisher, Msgr. Francis Weldgen, Msgr. David LiPuma, Father John Kwiecien, Father Timothy Koester, and Father Ronald Bagley, CJM, took place.

This was Bishop Fisher’s first trip to the camp.

“What a beautiful place for us to spend our time with one another, away from phones and away from traffic in God’s love,” Bishop Fisher said.

He shared a story from his days at a Boy Scout in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Up early, he saw a deer staring at him, not moving even as he approached the creature.

“I came closer and I got closer, almost to the point where I could have reached out and touched its head,” he recalled. “Maybe God is giving me this wonderful experience – being able to look into the eyes of nature. … Those are the kinds of experiences we can be exposed to and why this mission, the mission of a camp like this is so important to us.”

Msgr. Francis Weldgen, has perhaps the longest and most profound connection to the camp. He served as in-house director from 1965 to 1973, before being named director of the Youth Department. He was instrumental in building the current site.

“My last gesture here was in 1985. I got $1 million from the state to build this property we’re in now. The old camp was across the street and falling apart. It existed since the ’30s,” he said.

At Mass, he thanked OLV Charities for taking over the camp from the Diocese of Buffalo in 2020.“People of the diocese need a Catholic camp here. It is used for summer camping, winter camping, confirmation retreats. So, it’s used all year long to help the Catholic youth of the diocese,” he said.

As a precursor to the on-site centennial celebration, an alumni social was held at Mr. Goodbar in Buffalo, where John Mann knew all of the 110 alumni present.

“I thought to myself, if I go to heaven, it would be like that, with all these good people I know who come together to honor God and the children confided to our care,” he said at the end of Mass. “I am honored to be here with you and so very grateful to the people who were directors and staff members when I was a child. Thank you for putting up with me. You are so wonderful.”

Visit CampTurner.com for information about registration and off season rentals.

Listen to Michael Mroziak’s report.


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