by MARK S. PORTER
for Montclair Local
Many Camp Nyoda attendees affirm their camp experiences in a personal way. After the young women become adults and have families, they then enroll their daughters to attend summers in Nyoda, experiencing the same enduring camp culture.
There, in the 125-acre camp, the girls sing the same songs, bunk in the same or similar bungalows, swim and canoe in the camp’s Lake Wabansee, and adhere to the same precepts of Nyoda life — “acceptance, loyalty, friendship” — as did previous generations, including some of their mothers and, perhaps, grandmothers.
Founded 102 years ago by a couple from Montclair, Lee and Grover Smith, Camp Nyoda is open to girls completing grades two through nine. A century ago, nearly all summer camps were for boys only, and the Smiths, parents of three girls, created a camp for young women who could experience outdoor skills and camaraderie.
The camp is based off Route 23 in Oak Ridge, an unincorporated municipality within Jefferson Township, located in northwestern Morris County.
“Nyoda’s such a special place for young ladies,” observed Leslie Brow, whose late mother, Laura Monsees, had attended the camp. Laura’s final summer as a Nyoda camper, or her Tiamalia year, was in 1960.
Growing up in Montclair, Brow had attended Nyoda, and she serves on the alumnae board. Brow’s sister, Lisa Humphreys, had also been a Nyoda camper.
When they established Nyoda in 1917, naming their camp with a Native American word for “rainbow,” the Smiths focused on enrolling girls from families in Montclair, Verona and Glen Ridge. Brow recalled that when she attended Nyoda, about 80 percent of her fellow campers hailed from Montclair and neighboring towns. The fourth generation of the Smith lineage runs the camp.
Humphreys affirmed the camp’s emphasis on meaningful bonds that extend through generations.
“What is so special about Nyoda is that the traditions have not changed,” said Humphreys. “What my mother experienced at camp I experienced, and now my daughter is experiencing too. The same songs, friendships, ceremonies, etc.”
On Sunday, June 30, on the day that Camp Nyoda opens for its 2019 summer season, Brow, Humphreys and fellow family members will participate in a ceremony dedicating a new infirmary and recreation center. The facility will bear the name of Brow’s and Humphreys’s mother, Laura Monsees, who passed in 2005.
Gregg Monsees of Montclair, the uncle of Humphreys and Brow, recalled his late sister Laura’s fondness for Camp Nyoda. “She really enjoyed the plays and the singing,” Monsees noted.
“I do remember a visiting day when we went up there. My father and my sister and I and a favorite babysitter had gone out in a canoe and, when we got back to the dock, we all stood up at the same time and ended up in the water.”
Monsees enrolled his three daughters in Nyoda and now, he affirmed, “I have one granddaughter, and she’s been going for three years.”
There’s a parallel between Camp Nyoda, founded in 1917 by the Smiths of Montclair, and Camp Glen Gray, New Jersey’s first Scout camp that also was founded in 1917 in Mahwah, Bergen County, by another Montclair resident, Frank Fellows Gray.
In 2015, a couple of years before Nyoda attendees, alumnae and staff celebrated the centennial of their camp’s founding, a fire destroyed four of its bungalows, which have since been replaced.
A fundraising drive also focused on replacing a structure that contained the camp’s infirmary and recreation room.
The Camp Nyoda Alumnae Association committed to raising much of the funding to construct a new infirmary and craft room. One of the alumnae coordinating fundraising endeavors is Brow, who had been a Nyoda camper for six years and a counselor for three.
“We were very fortunate to help support this project,” Brow said of her family. “We’re honored to be able to help.”
“The updating of the infirmary is wonderful to keep the girls safe and have an up-to-date space to ensure the nurse can give the best care possible,” Humphreys said.
“There are many places at Nyoda I would hate to see ‘updated,’ but the infirmary was necessary. I am glad my family, combined with other alumnae, could make this possible. “