Not just for girls: Camp Fire USA celebrating 100 years of service

By Brett Ashley Hawkins
Editorial Intern

Vintage photo showing a Camp Fire USA Grand Council at the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium

Vintage photo showing a Camp Fire USA Grand Council at the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium

To commemorate 100 years of service to the United States, Camp Fire USA is hosting celebratory events all over the country to honor its members and benefactors. The Long Beach Area Council, 7070 E. Carson St., is having its own ceremony on Saturday, July 31 at 2pm with numerous activities and a symbolic campfire at 7:30pm.
Camp Fire USA prides itself on being an all-inclusive, co-ed youth development organization helping children and young adults acquire skills and lessons to become better stewards of their communities, their world, and themselves. Serving nearly 750,000 youths yearly with community-based learning programs geared toward social and environmental responsibility, Camp Fire USA has become one of America’s oldest and most iconic national youth development organizations since its founding in 1910. Though originally an all-girls membership, Camp Fire became co-ed in 1978 with the launch of the boys’ club, the Thunderbirds.
Rather than hosting long seminars with oral presentations, Camp Fire USA prefers to engage youth and encourage them to gain confidence in their skills by involving them in hands-on group activities– maximizing on a kinesthetic learning approach. Such teaching styles paved the way to Camp Fire’s rise in membership, which has included Gilmore Girls star Lauren Graham. Signal Hill City Councilmember Ellen Ward was also a Camp Fire member. “I was a Camp Fire Girl in elementary school,” she said. “It was extremely instrumental in helping to develop my leadership skills.”
The most high-profile event launched by Camp Fire USA annually is its candy sale fundraiser. As early as 1912, Camp Fire members supported their programs by selling their own homemade confections. A decade later, candy production companies noticed potential sales in Camp Fire’s candy sale; Famous Mason, Russell Stover, and Nestle manufactured candy specifically for Camp Fire USA’s candy sale by 1924. Then in 1932, Camp Fire Girls played a pivotal role in the original Rice Krispies Treats’ development and marketing after a Kelloggs employee saw potential in promoting their cereal by making it a key ingredient in a dessert. Eventually, Camp Fire developed its own candy and began selling it by 1951.

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The Camp Fire Law, which was formed a few years into Camp Fire USA’s opening, originally began with the phrase “give service.” This later was expanded to include worshipping God, seeking beauty, pursuing knowledge, glorifying work, and being trustworthy, happy, and healthy. The “Law” is sung at most Camp Fire events and ceremonies to the tune of the old Scottish folk melody “Flow Gently Sweet Afton.” Despite the inclusion of “worship God” in 1942, Camp Fire maintains that the law is by no means a contract. “At no time in the organization’s history has a Camp Fire member been asked to take any oath or make any promise” read a statement from Camp Fire USA. “The Camp Fire law is a desire or a goal, not an oath.” Camp Fire USA desires its youth to learn an appreciation for diversity, including that of all religions. Prayer is encouraged before meals at most camps, but participation is not mandatory.
Long Beach formed its Camp Fire USA Area Council in 1923 and chartered in 1925 under the leadership of Ruth and Irene Kirkland, sisters who started the first Camp Fire group in Long Beach at Jefferson Middle School. The Long Beach Area Council today serves Long Beach, Artesia, Bellflower, Cerritos, and Signal Hill, in addition to “classic clubs” from the Orange County area.
Long Beach’s first Camp Fire day camp, Camp Suanga, opened in 1929 after Eliza P. Houghton donated land from Houghton Park to establish an in-town camp. A resident camp, Camp Hemohme also opened near Jackson Lake in Wrightwood. Camp Fire began an annual doughnut sale in 1931 to earn money for Suanga. E.E. Buffum, owner of department store Buffum’s, donated money and several necessities to build a log cabin at Suanga. Part of Suanga eventually became the site of the 91 Freeway.
In 1958, the Long Beach Area Council bought 248 acres near Running Springs. Camp Wintaka opened on the reserve that same year and continues to run today. Wintaka, dubbed the “happy camp on the mountain,” houses campers in cabins and camping structures and hosts a large activity lodge, an archery range, swimming pool, crafts area, observatory, and several campfire rings. Campers live in groups based by ages ranging from 2nd to 10th grade. The camp is run by Camp Fire USA Long Beach Area Council leaders and hosts counselors ages 18 and older. Another group at the camp, the Counselors-in-Training (CIT) hosts the 11th- and 12th-grade campers shifting positions between camper and counselor. The counselor and CIT staff honor the tradition of going by an alias, camp nicknames such as “Scout,” “Raggedy Ann,” “Venus,” and “Mr. Incredible.” This years’ Wintaka camp runs July 19–24.
“One of my favorite things about Camp Fire USA is singing our serenade song ‘Hey There’ at events,” said Camp Fire member Gabrielle Tutson. “It reminds me of the memorable times I had in the Counselors-in-Training program at camp with my friends.”
In place of Camp Suanga, Camp Shiwaka opened at the Long Beach Area Council’s new and current location at 7070 E. Carson St. in 1969. Shiwaka offers a day camp with a Monday-through-Friday program with an overnight outdoor camping experience on the Thursday and outdoor cooking four of the five days. Three sessions of Camp Shiwaka are held every summer for ages 4 and older.
Other programs hosted by Camp Fire USA’s Long Beach Area Council include Backyard Bunch, another day camp lasting the whole summer at the council with weekly themes. This week’s theme is “Survivor (Determination).” Another camp, the Explorers Day Camp, focuses on field trips and outdoor living for 5th to 9th graders.
Camp Fire USA is calling on all its members, old and new, for its centennial celebration. The event will include a tea and food station from 2pm to 4pm, complete with Camp Shiwaka classic outdoor cooked dishes. The climbing wall will also open for the adventurous in the camping ground’s challenge course. Dinner will be hosted from 4pm to 6pm at $10 per person with a menu of tacos, beans, rice, and a dessert.
For information, call the Long Beach Area Council at (562) 421-2725. The ceremony is free of charge. Close-toed shoes and socks are recommended by the council for the campfire as there will be a walk through the campsite to get to the amphitheatre and fire ring.

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