If this were February, Stan Makover, age 73, would be at his retirement home in Boynton Beach, Florida, where, he says, “I get up in the morning, I play tennis, I go to the gym. We go to the beach, and then my wife and I decide where to go to dinner that night.”
But it’s July, and so, as he has every summer for the past 14 years, Makover has come out of retirement. On weekdays in July and August he reports to Pierce Country Day Camp in Roslyn to supervise the athletics counselors who teach campers tennis, basketball, gymnastics and more.
“I want to work here as long as they want me to work here,” says Makover, who still owns a home in Syosset. “I come here because I love the people, I love the activity. I don’t count this as work. This is fun.” Another perk: Two of Makover’s granddaughters work at Pierce, so he bumps into them throughout the day.
While most people think camp staffs consist of teenage counselors and schoolteachers working summer gigs — and that is the bulk of most day-camp staffs on Long Island — there’s another demographic in the mix: retirees who have given up their primary jobs but rejoin the working world during the summer at camp.
At Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts in Wheatley Heights, for instance, Brad DeMilo, 76, of Massapequa, teaches French horn summer mornings and leads two camp bands in the afternoon. At Kenwal Day Camp in Melville, retiree Larry Barth, 60, of Plainview, spent the past two winters in Florida yet is maintaining his position as camp director, where he wears a shirt that says “Uncle Larry” under the Kenwal logo.
“Hi, Larry,” yell two little girl campers as Barth walks by.
Do they think Barth is old?
“Yes, really old,” says Claire Monaco, who says she is 5 — “I mean 6.”
“Because he has gray hair,” points out Lyla Green, 5.
But the girls still think it’s great that Barth’s at camp. “He’s silly,” says Lyla. And during DJ Fridays at camp, he dances with the campers. “He likes to hop on one foot,” Claire says.
WHY WORK AT ALL?
These retirees say they work at camp to stay in shape, make extra “fun” money, keep current with younger generations, earn free camp time for grandchildren, or just for an excuse to escape Florida’s extreme summertime heat.
“I can work 39 days and be off the rest of the year,” says Robin Wynn, 57, of Oceanside, a retired physical education teacher who now winters in Port St. Lucie, Florida, and works at Pierce as a head group counselor for 7-year-old girls during the eight weeks of camp. Wynn says it helps keep her fit. “In one day I’ll walk three miles just around the camp,” she says.
Wynn’s retired husband, George, 60, is group leader for 8- and 9-year-old boys in the camp’s Sports Academy. On a recent weekday, his boys drilled, catching tennis balls in baseball gloves and learning technique. “Every day ends with an ice cream break,” Wynn says of camp. “How bad could it be?”
DeMilo says he continued working at Usdan after retiring from his band director position at Farmingdale High School because retirement wasn’t exactly what he expected.
“I thought I’d be painting and studying Italian,” he says. But once a French horn player, always a French horn player, he says, even though, now that he’s older, he sometimes struggles with flexibility in his fingers when playing. “It ends up I’m doing what I’ve always done. If you’re a musician, it’s a calling. One of the things I’m very cognizant of is, ‘Pass it on.’ ”
That philosophy in sharing benefits Usdan campers, says Maxwell Freyre, 16, of Fort Salonga. “We learn a lot of life lessons from the older teachers,” he says. “The older generation, they were taught a very different way. I have a lot of respect for that.”
MONEY IS NICE
Most retirees interviewed for this story are former teachers who had already worked at camp before retirement. But camp owners and managers say they don’t rule out candidates with no prior camp experience. “Say someone was a chef and they retired and they wanted to come run our culinary arts program,” says Pierce director Will Pierce. “We’d interview them and if they were the best person for the job, they’d be here at Pierce.”
Bounce and Karen Grant — better known at Kenwal Day Camp as Bounce and Ooo Lala — are examples of expertise-trumps-camping experience. The couple, 67 and 63, respectively, performed circus acts at fairs along the East Coast for 35 years and jumped at an offer to stay put at Kenwal during the summer to run the camp’s Circus Arts program. They teach the kids to juggle and to spin plates. Their home for the season is a trailer in Old Bethpage. When camp is over, they return home to Key West, Florida.
While the retirees say the pay isn’t the primary motivation for working at camp, it is a nice benefit — it is a job, after all. Susan Wihnyk, 64, of Long Beach has been retired for 10 years from her nursing position at West Hempstead High School, and now spends winters in Fort Myers, Florida, and summers working at the East Williston Summer Recreation Program. “Today I had a kid with a fever of 102. You get the bruises, you get the bumps,” she says. “The money I make is my play money." She uses hers towards travel. "I just got back from an Alaskan cruise.”
Retiree Eileen Benedict, 60, of Coram, teaches more than 200 kids a day as the chorus director at Usdan. Her camp salary has helped fund special projects at home: One year she bought a new digital piano, another year her camp earnings went to redoing her deck.
Gary Mayers, 70, says a valuable perk of his job running the camp’s bus transportation network is that three of his grandchildren attend the camp for free. Two are here from Arizona, the third from Virginia, staying with their grandparents in Plainview.
The former New York City math teacher says his position keeps him intellectually challenged — he has to plot all the transportation routes for the camp buses. One recent morning, Mayers, who escapes winters here by teaching in Las Vegas, had to troubleshoot. One bus had a flat tire, another was delayed behind a railroad crossing, and a third had to be cleaned because a camper upchucked. “All these things happened in 20 minutes,” he says.
Mayers’ colleague Barth, retired for two years, has found another benefit to being off during the academic year: He starts the camp season relaxed. “Last year was the best year I had in a long time. I wasn’t stressed out from the whole year working at school.”
He’s made some modifications to his camp director schedule — with the camp owner’s stamp of approval — due to being older. For instance, the camp hired someone else to run evening trips campers take. “I’d get back at 12:30 or 1 a.m. from a Broadway show and then have to be here at 6:30 a.m.,” he says, and that got tough.
One of Barth’s morning responsibilities is to kick off the day with announcements on the camp public address system. “It’s another beautiful day in almost-sunny downtown Melville, Long Island,” he says into the handheld microphone one recent overcast morning. “Before we do anything, as usual, the Kenwal Anthem.” The traditional camp song reverberates throughout the grounds.
After the last note, Barth turns off the mic and sums up his dual status as a retiree and summer camp employee. “It’s the best of both worlds,” he says.