An Oral History of Nebaga-coincidences far from 54849
John Montag (Atlanta, 78-83, 86):
Several years ago, I shook hands with a Georgia Tech professor, and in the course of the conversation we began to discuss one another’s backgrounds. At the time, he was perhaps 55 or 60, and he mentioned that prior to Georgia Tech he had been at Illinois. I wondered if he was from Chicago, thinking of the abundance of folks from camp. He said, “No. I’m actually from a small town in Missouri. I doubt you’ve ever heard of it.” And then he added, “It’s a small town called Joplin.”
I smiled upon hearing this. In Atlanta, you don’t really meet too many folks from Joplin. I replied, “Oh, I know that town. I went to a camp in northern Wisconsin, and we knew of Joplin,” thinking this might satisfy the situation. Without missing a beat, he looked at me he said, “I know that camp, I went to that camp and I am NOT that kid.” His name is Charles Eckert, now living in Florida. Great guy.
Jon Scharff (Memphis, 73-76, 80-82, 85-88):
I was in Rome in the summer of 1983. I was walking from the Trevi Fountain to the Colosseum, and as I walked I heard someone singing the Pure Prairie League song “Amie,” which Howard Handler had sung a number of times during GTC’s. Anyone from that era will remember it. I thought, No way. Couldn’t be. But sure enough, it was Howard Handler.
On the same trip I was with three buddies from college. We were biking through Europe. I then met my grandfather for a week, and we went to Chartres Cathedral outside of Paris. I turned to my left, and right next to me was Andy Kaplan of Memphis—with his girlfriend (to be wife) Natalie! We wound up hanging out with them the rest of the day and for dinner.
Howard Handler (Detroit/New York City, 72-74, 78-80):
A couple years after the opening of Disney World in Orlando (yup, I know, that’s a loooong time ago), my Nana took my older sister Missy and me on a trip to experience the park. I’m still dizzy from the Tea Cup ride and have “Its A Small World…” repeating in my head as I think about it. After we got off one of our Monorail rides, I walked right into Jim Harris, my bunkmate and cabin mate from Highland Park. We had plenty of fun catching up and hanging out in the game room for the rest of the trip. Fast forward to freshman year 1979 at the University of Michigan, and Jim Harris turns up in the same dorm, five doors down from me and my roommate Harlan Kahn. We’ve all remained close friends ever since.
Jim Harris (Chicago, 72-75):
He left out the best part. Howard got off the Tea Cups, spun around a little bit, and puked all over a Disney flower bed. It was an outcome I would see repeated about a decade later in our dorm.
Ron Borod (Memphis/Boston 51-59):
In 1963, when I graduated from college, my parents as a graduation gift paid for a trip to Europe. I went there on my own—although later that summer I ran into Jerry Seessel and traveled with him for a while. While I was in Paris, not knowing a soul there, I ran into a Princeton classmate on the street, and he invited me to join him under the Pont Neuf. In those days, that’s where young wanderers from all parts of the world (including Vietnam escapees) hung out at night sharing stories and bottles of wine. I was standing there along the Seine, taking it all in, listening to a cacophony of languages from all parts of the world, when a young guy with a backpack wandered up to me and asked: “Aren’t you Ronnie Borod, and didn’t you go to Camp Nebagamon?” We spoke for only a minute or so, and he wandered off. I never even got his name. But I knew then that I was not alone.
Jonathan Ringel (Memphis/Atlanta 78-83, 85):
In June 1990, I crashed at a friend’s apartment for two weeks while I looked for a place to live in the Washington area before starting my first job out of college. This was before the Internet, so looking for an apartment and a roommate meant scanning the Washington Post’s classified ads under “rooms for rent.” It was a bit daunting to consider living with a complete stranger without being able to check Google to find out if he was an ax murderer. One hot, muggy afternoon I found myself in a guy’s apartment in Arlington, Virginia. As I examined the room that was available, one of us mentioned spending summers in more pleasant climates. The other said he wished for weather like he experienced on canoe trips in an unheard of place near the Minnesota border with Canada. His name: Jon Eisen. We quickly realized he had been a couple of years ahead of me at Nebagamon. Although we’d never known each other there, I immediately checked off the ax-murderer concern, knowing that he was CNOC-approved in the proper use of the tool. We shared an apartment for two fun years and have remained friends for more than a quarter-century.
David Semel (Highland Park, IL/Los Angeles, 73-77, 80):
One summer, I think I must have been a Lumberjack, I was on a canoe trip in the BWCA. I think we were on Knife Lake when we stopped at Dorothy’s for root beer. I’m sure most will remember that Dorothy was the sweet nonagenarian who lived by herself on an island in the middle of the lake. We only saw her during the summers, but stories had her living out there in the dead of winter cutting her ice blocks from the lake. (Why she needed ice in the winter, I’m not quite sure.) She also had built a small fence around her house made of canoe paddles. Dorothy sold root beer to all comers (probably mostly to the kids from the summer camps who would stop by for a visit and thirst quench.) On this one trip, I went to add my name to the sign-in book when, lo and behold, I saw my brother Drew’s name on the page for only the day before! My brother was not at Camp Nebagamon that year. This was his “off year,” and he was with a traveling camp that was traveling all over the United States. As this was obviously well before the days of the Internet and cell phones, and I had no idea on a day-to-day basis where my brother was, I was pretty shocked. The coincidence was mind-blowing.
In the 1990s, we took a hiking trip in Turkey, led by a knowledgeable young Turkish man, Mahmut Turhanouglu. Toward the end of the trip, we and nine fellow hikers sailed and lived on a gulet, landing on islands and shoreline communities and hiking inland to see ruins. One morning, as we were breakfasting on deck, Nardie brought the Nebagamon Alumni Directory to the table, in order to look up some addresses.
Mahmut: “What’s that?” Nardie explained about camp and the directory.
Sally: “I bet you find someone you know in that directory” (thinking that a Nebagamon alumnus might choose to go hiking in Turkey)
Momentarily, Mahmut exclaimed “Andrew Semel?”
Nardie: “You mean Drew Semel?”
Mahmut: “I know Drew Semel; he’s a friend of mine, and he is in Turkey right now!” Mahmut whipped out a phone, called a hotel in Istanbul and asked for Drew, who just happened to be at the reception desk of the hotel. Mahmud said hello to him and handed me the phone.
Sally: “Hi, Drew!”
Drew: “Wait a minute……”
Sally: “How are you, Drew?”
Drew: “Sally? What are you doing there?”
And I explained. Quite coincidentally, our guide Mahmud had been a translator for Drew when he filmed a documentary for classroom use about the Great Silk Road. They became good friends, visiting back and forth between their home countries. We happened to take a trip in Turkey, and there we were, sailing on the Mediterranean Sea, and discovering that Mahmud’s good friend was Drew Semel. We’ve had a myriad of Nebaga-coincidences in our long lives, but this one seemed especially random.
Charlie Barrows (Oak Park, IL/Seattle, 99-04, 06-09, 11):
In February 2015, my brothers (Sam and Ted) and I were hiking down one of Hawaii’s more grueling trails, the Waihee Ridge Trail, with a friend of mine (Wilson) from grad school. Wilson also happened to be on vacation in Hawaii at the same time as our family. Now, of course, you can’t get three former trip staff to hike together without talking about camp at least 70 percent of the time, including stories of running in to others at airports, bars, and Mardi Gras, so Wilson was starting to become a little incredulous that we are actually part of some crazy network like this. Minutes from the end of the hike, however, who did we see sauntering up the trail, fully bearded, and with a walking staff fashioned out of a downed branch? None other than Bob Chukerman: The Man, The Myth, The Legend. Leave it to Bob to pick the same off-the-beaten-track, non-tourist-friendly hike in Hawaii in the middle of February as another generation of Nebagamon alumni. By the way, my family used to also play the game of betting on who we’d see first at an airport: a Nebagamon person or one of my dad’s patients. Sometimes that was the same person, so we’d both win.
Ricardo Phillips (Mexico City, Mexico, 76, 78, 80, 84, 86):
On his second day after camp, my son Ricardo and myself were strolling near the cliffs that give off to the Pacific in La Jolla (California). An older couple stood next to us, and we started talking about seals and beaches. We introduced ourselves, where we came from, and what we were doing there. Ricardo stated he had just come back from a canoe trip in the border lakes (BWCA), and the older man said he had been there when he was younger. Right then it popped out: the word Nebagamon.
And so we met Punky Chapman from Omaha. He and his brothers all went to camp when it was just getting off the ground. I had never met anybody from the early days (it is harder, considering my brother and I were the first Mexicans), and Punky had never met a non U.S. citizen who went to camp. Our conversation soon turned to traditions and events that still took place and how camp had expanded internationally. We were excited to have met each other and discover how large the camp community had grown. Punky sent me a letter the day after we met (see “From the Mailbag”), and we have continued to mail each other to talk about traditions in camp.
Jessie Stein Diamond:
I was 23 at the time, en route home after spending much of a year backpacking and working my way mostly through New Zealand (also Australia). A friend from college met me in Hawaii, a stopover point on my flights home. We were at a grocery store in Honolulu buying supplies for our backpacking trip at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. As I was placing an item in my grocery cart, I suddenly heard a booming voice call out, “Hey, Jess—what are you doing here?” Standing there in flip flops and a Hawaiian shirt was Tony Coletta, a friend and neighbor from Lake Nebagamon, who years later returned home from many years of work and adventure in Hawaii and became a waterfront director for camp.
Justin Karbel (Detroit, Stamford, CT, 79-83):
Ted Stein and I were never at camp together for any period of time long enough to become very close, and our interaction outside of Nebagamon in the intervening years since I was a camper (1979-83) was nil. That being said, we’ve been superficially “friends” on Facebook for a number of years. I’d relocated to Stamford, Connecticut in 1999. Unbeknownst to me, Ted lived in the adjoining town of Rye, NY. I’ve worked part time at the local bicycle shop on weekends for many years. Ted stopped by one day looking for me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there at the time but when I heard about it, not knowing Ted lived nearby all this time, I was pleasantly surprised. We got together for a reunion/bike ride through the New York and Connecticut countryside shortly after.
Last summer I received a note from Ted with a link to a bicycle for sale on Craigslist. Being a good lawyer, Ted did his due diligence and checked out the owner’s background. He noticed that she and I were friends on Facebook. Of course, he asked what I knew about the bike. I did a double take. It was one of my bikes that I had sold some years before to the seller. He bought it from her and rode it in a big event in Massachusetts, where we met up last summer.
Ed Altman (Fort Smith, AK/Los Angeles, 58-60):
In 1967, during the summer between my sophomore and junior years in Ann Arbor, I was with my girlfriend attending a concert in Ravinia Park just north of Chicago. I’m waiting in line for the men’s room and who do I see but Bud Herzog. I’m a rather friendly sort, so I call Bud by his name, and he nicely comes over and talks to me. I explained that I didn’t expect him to know me since I was one of hundreds of campers, and he was several years older. We talked a minute or two and that was that.
After graduating, I moved to Los Angeles where the aerospace industry is headquartered. I love to play tennis (and where did I learn? Camp Nebagamon), and every weekend I would play at a park in Cheviot Hills near the Century Plaza Hotel, just next to Beverly Hills. One day, let’s say 1972, I’m getting into my car to go home and I see this gentleman walking from the tennis court; so I rolled down my window and said “Hey – can I give you a ride”? He said sure, and he got in. I look over at him, and I say, “You’re Bud Herzog.” And he looks at me in utter disbelief.
Danny Slosburg (Kansas City/Omaha, 64-69, 71):
Many years ago, Patti and I were at the Atlanta airport waiting for our flight. I got up, and Patti asked me where I was going. I said I’m just going to go look in the concourse and see if there’s anybody from camp that I know. She was happy to point out that I was full of crap. About five minutes into me studying the passersby, Chuck Cahn walked past. Needless to say, Patti was shocked by the event. I, on the other hand, had full faith and confidence that I would see a Nebagamon boy. We have spare name tags that camp sent for luggage. I keep one on my pack just in case the situation happens again.
Chad Millman (Highland Park, IL/New York City, 80-83):
Years ago, I wrote a book about guys who bet on college basketball for a living, called The Odds. The publisher sent copies of it to media outlets all over the country, including Minnesota Public Radio, since the Final Four was going to be in Minneapolis that year. Shortly after the book arrived at MPR, I got a wonderful note from someone who worked there: My Swamper 1 counselor, Euan Kerr, aka Jane Stein’s husband.
Years later, in 2015, a buddy of mine at ESPN, who is from Minneapolis, went back home for his daughter’s wedding. She got married on the University of Minnesota campus, and the event coordinator there asked him if he and I were friends, since we both worked at ESPN. He said yes, and when he returned to work a few days later he passed along a wonderful note to me, signed by the event coordinator, Jane Stein Kerr. Clearly, the Kerr family learned how to write a letter during all those summers at camp.
This story is about a camper and counselor who had a miraculous encounter sometime during WWII. The camper, whose name has been lost to history (I’ll call him “Bob), was assigned to be airlifted into China via “The Hump,” the name given by Allied pilots to the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains. This particular flight, known to be the most dangerous in the world, was a 500-mile route from India to China. Due to the vicissitudes of the winds and weather, the lack of visibility and/or reliable charts, nearly 1,000 men and 600 Air Transport Command planes were lost flying the Hump between 1941-1945. Bob’s white- knuckle flight over “The Hump,” with its poor visibility over the hazardous mountain peaks, the plane shuddering from the countervailing winds, had Bob and his fellow passengers gripping their seats in fear, and it seemed to last forever. But miraculously, the pilot landed the plane in China and the passengers burst into applause. When Bob recovered his land legs he walked forward to the cockpit. He wanted to thank and congratulate the pilot. Quite unbelievably, the pilot was his first counselor at Camp Nebagamon, Harry “Bus” Yedor. We can only guess what emotions surged through those men when they experienced this coincidence thousands of miles and many years from that first summer at camp.