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Gateway to the Mountains

George Wireman

Chapter 29: Camp Airy

On a foothill of Eagle Mountain, overlooking Thurmont and the surrounding valley, is Camp Airy. A spacious house, a swimming pool and surrounding cabins provide many pleasures for the Jewish boys who are privileged to attend the camp and enjoy its many benefits.

Camp Airy was first established as a boys camp in 1924 and the facilities at this time included three buildings and a total of fifteen campers. Director of the camp was Dr. William Pargman, who has served in this capacity for 43 years. Dr. Pargman came to Baltimore from New York, to attend the University of Maryland School of Dentistry and became engrossed with the Jewish Educational Alliance, working with young men and boys who were athletically inclined.

Although Camp Louise, a Jewish camp for girls, was established in 1922 as a summer vacation spot for the Daughters of Israel Working Girls, it was this camp site that brought about the establishment of Camp Airy two years later.

When Camp Airy began in 1924 it consisted of three buildings and 15 campers. Today, 43 years later, the camp comprises 20 hollow tile bunks holding 12 children and two counselors each. These facilities make up the Senior and Intermediate group. The younger campers area is made up of 10 log cabins each housing 12 children and two counselors. Modern bathroom facilities are available throughout the camp. Other camp facilities include a recreation hall, a large dining room seating over 400, activity buildings, tennis courts, archery and rifle ranges, a fish pond, swimming pool, base-ball diamonds, volley ball and hand ball courts and numerous other programming facilities. All activities are supervised by a very talented and capable staff. The camp has a large infirmary and two doctors and four nurses are available at all times.

There are eight rotating doctors, each serving a two-week period. These are primarily from the Washington area and have at one time or another been campers or served as counselors. Doctors from Thurmont who have served the camp in past years include Dr. Morris A. Birely, Dr. Franklin Birely and Dr. James K. Gray.

A year after Camp Airy was established, a large swimming pool was erected, using the water of Owens Creek. This provided additional recreation and was very popular among the campers during the long, hot summer months.

In 1926, nine additional bunks were constructed, each capable of accommodating 10 boys and a counselor.

The camp was originally set up for the under-privileged children, but has since been opened to include all other groups. By 1929 the camp had grown considerably and the need for more bunks was felt. At this time additional facilities were added and the camp was divided into two groups senior-intermediate and the junior group.

Camp Airy, at its very beginning, catered to boys from the Baltimore area, but by 1930 this was broadened and included campers from Philadelphia, New York, Roanoke and Richmond. Today, as one glances over the camp register he finds that campers are from New York, New Jersey, Montana, Florida, California, Ohio, Mary-land, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, North and South Carolina, West Virginia, Illinois, Argentina, Sweden and Israel.

The camping period was limited to two weeks at $10 per week. Today the fee is $45 per week and for those who wish to attend camp but cannot afford the fee, a special vacation fund has been set up to cover all or part of the expense.

Mrs. Lena Cohen, a familiar figure to the citizens of Thurmont, has served the camp faithfully for many years. She has been Assistant Director of Operations and has been manager for the last 42 years. She has served as house mother, dietician, kitchen manager, and maintenance manager. She is on the job from the day the sea-son is open until the camp closes in the fall.

Thurmont has played an important part in the operations at Camp Airy. Local merchants such as Donald Lewis, E. Guy Hobbs, Hershey's Five and Ten, Farm Equipment Center, Shapiro's Clothing Store and many others have provided their services to help maintain the camp.

For thirty years Mrs. Ethel Smith was in charge of the kitchen and preparing over 500 meals was a normal day's work. Her daughter, Madeline Frushour, became famous for baking and was a great help to her mother in preparing delicious food for the campers and the guests who would visit the camp on weekends.

Today, this has changed somewhat and the camp is served by a catering service which has been in charge of the kitchen since 1964 and has proved to be very successful.

Camp Airy is a member of the American Camping Association and their program each season is considered to be one of the finest in this section of the country. The athletic program features swimming, diving, Red Cross life saving, archery, riflery, horseback riding, baseball, basketball, dodgeball, softball, ping pong, tennis, volleyball and many others.

Other items included in the camping program are photography and developing, hiking, primitive camping, fishing, dramatics, variety shows, relays, movies, trips to nearby historic points of interest and trips to Camp Louise for brother and sister contacts.

Arts and crafts is a major part of the overall program and this includes painting, leather work, wood work, copper work, aluminum work, sculpture, ceramics and enamel jewelry.

In 1951, when Thurmont held its big Bicentennial Celebration, Camp Airy entered a float in the parade which drew wide acclaim for the workmanship it displayed.

Today the Aaron and Lillie Straus Foundation provides the necessary funds needed to operate the camp. The camp itself has an excellent staff which is made up of the following:

Dr. William Pargman, Camp Director; Lewis Barnette, Super-visor of Counselors; Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Chernak, Consultants on Services; Miss Ida Sharogrodsky, Executive Secretary; Mrs. Lena Cohen, Assistant Director of Operations; and Leon Lerner, Director of the Camp Training Program. Mr. Meyer S. Barnette is President of the Aaron and Lillie Straus Foundation. Mr. Barnette is also President of Reliable Stores, Corp., of which Mr. Straus was the founder.

Gone are the days when the campers arrived by way of the Western Maryland Railway and were then driven to the camp by automobile. Although time has a way of changing things and the rail-road station is now only a memory, the camp remains active and its future looks bright. Thurmont is proud to have contributed to the success of Camp Airy and is indeed fortunate in having this worthwhile facility in the immediate area.

Chapter Index | Chapter 30: The Romany Players

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