Homesickness at Camp: Robbie’s First Letter

A camper’s first summer away from home can be exciting and a little scary.  Even for Tigers who have been to Timber Lake before, leaving the familiarity of home and heading back to Saddle Mountain for the summer can bring back feelings of homesickness. No one is immune to feeling homesick, not even one of TLC’s greatest and famous.  Just ask Boys’ Head Counselor Robbie Gothelf.

To try and find anyone associated with TLC who doesn’t know Robbie would be a daunting task. From hosting TLC TV, to bringing the Rec Hall and Timber Lake’s courts and arenas to life with his stellar emcee work, Robbie has come to epitomize the spirit of Timber Lake. While it’s hard to imagine Robbie as anything but excited to be at Timber Lake, his now famous letter home during his first summer that he posted on social media before the summer of 2016 shows that he wasn’t ALWAYS full of excitement about camp.

Keep in mind that the ironic letterhead to his first letter home read “Spectacular Camp News!”

Here it is for your viewing pleasure:

Dear Family,

I hate this! I’m really not getting better, help me, I don’t know what to do. I am sitting here crying.

Love,

Robbie

In retrospect, this letter has become a funny and important example of how spending a summer away from home can impact campers coming to TLC for the first time. It seems ridiculous to think that the young boy who wrote this letter in 1997 would be returning for this 20th summer at Timber Lake in 2017. Looking back on the letter from his first summer, Robbie calls it the “greatest gift my 10 year old self gave to my 30 year old self.”

In honor of his upcoming 20th summer at Timber Lake Camp, here’s a follow-up to that letter, two decades later:

“Dear Mom and Dad,

As I embark on my 20th – – yes 20TH — summer at Timber Lake, I wanted to make sure I wrote you this letter so you guys know how much I appreciate you and the opportunity you gave me to be at Timber Lake almost 20 years ago.

While my first letter home (see above) might have brought you to tears in the sad kind of way, knowing you, this one might bring you to tears in the happy kind of way.

Timber Lake has given me so much I don’t even know where to start.  In 1997, I started out as a quiet homesick camper that loved sports.  I cried the entire first week of camp.  Danny (my brother) didn’t even know what to do with me as he was often the person I cried to the most.  The only thing that hasn’t changed is that I still love sports! 

The opportunity to be at this majestic wonderland every summer has given me some of my best friends.  Those same friends I used played sports leagues with, hang out with at Canteen, laugh (a lot) with, then became my co-counselors and are still some of the best friends and people I know.  You know what they say – camp friends are the best friends!  Now, instead of awkwardly dancing at Friday Night Socials with my camp friends, I awkwardly dance at weddings with them and have a blast doing so.

A lot of people I know don’t understand “camp.”  They don’t understand how parents could send their children away for 2 months while only getting letters, a few phone calls, and 1 visit throughout the entire summer.  People think parents are CRAZY for doing this.  Well, given my experience, I say you’re crazy NOT to. 

Timber Lake has molded me into a genuine, unique, and caring person.  I have learned how to become a leader.  Most importantly, I have learned how to be ME.  That’s what camp is all about.  Getting up there on stage and emceeing events is second nature to me now because of experiences I had at Timber Lake.  My love for this place is incomparable.

Today, I am lucky enough to have an impact on 480 campers’ lives each summer and teach them the same values I continue to learn throughout my 20 years here from people like Jay, Mindy, and some incredible counselors.  I have learned that at Timber Lake, we are a family.  Everyone who enters those gates in June and leaves in August becomes a part of the greatest camp family in the world.  I am just lucky enough to have had the opportunity to be a part of it all because of the two of you.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

P.S. – I know you two are also my biggest TLC TV fans.

Love,

Robbie”

Talking to Robbie about the follow-up letter, he said “writing the letter 20 years later was heartwarming and felt like I was giving my parents a gift in return.” It’s hard to imagine the impact campers’ time away from home will have on them as they head off to TLC this upcoming summer. It’s true that the first couple of weeks might have some tears and even a possible plea to go home during the first phone call, but once they get over their initial homesickness, they’ll find they have a second home and a summer family at Timber Lake. Who knows? Maybe the buses heading up to camp for the summer of 2017 will be carrying TLC’s next Head Counselor!

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