Passing of Sy Lebenger

It is with a great deal of sadness that I report the news of the passing of Sy Lebenger.  Sy was the Director of Timber Lake Camp since it was founded in 1962 through 1983.  Sy was my camp director.  He was 85.

Sy, along with his partner, Ralph Bannet, founded Timber Lake.  He was a force to be reckoned with.  In the early years, campers first set eyes on him as their bus to camp rounded the turn in the road at the bottom of the steep, then unpaved hill, that took them into camp.  Sy, in a worn Timber Lake T-shirt, covered by a open denim jacket and jeans, scraggly straw hat on his head and the permanent scowl he wore on his face would meet every bus as it pulled up.  Campers would transfer into open rack trucks for the last half mile into camp.

Meeting him at the bottom of the hill on opening day was one thing.  Meeting up with him at two in the morning if you went on a raid was quite another!  In those days you could still beat the campers.  Sy was as tough as nails.  He was built like a bull, ran several miles daily well into his fifties, could throw down a counselor half his age, if the need arose (and it apparently did, from time to time), and he could capture the attention of the camp with his presence and a shot from his piercing eyes.  His voice rang in the mountains.  As the saying goes: when Sy Lebenger spoke – everyone listened.

He was a great story-teller.  He drove around camp not in a golf cart, but in a battered green World War II vintage open jeep.  I was one of his “jeep kids” – a non- athlete, often unhappy and frequently wanting to go home.  Sy would drive us around for hours.  You never left his jeep without a smile and a better outlook on camp – and on life.

It was Sy that taught me that a great camp director understands that “camp is like a volcano.”  “Your job” he said, “is to keep it from erupting.”  “But,” he admonished, “don’t ever do it too much – don’t ever let the volcano go dormant – nobody visits a dormant volcano.”  Sy was a great teacher, philosopher, and a terrific camp director.  When he looked at you with that serious look and tossed an “OK, baby” you knew you were in.   And that, alone, took us for many miles.

Sy last visited Timber Lake four years ago when we dedicated the TLC Playhouse to him.  “You could have made a bigger sign” he told me, in typical Sy Lebenger fashion.  While it is sad that he won’t walk on these grounds again, it is perhaps fitting that he died during the summer – fitting he died on the day that Timber Lake was hosting “The Owner’s Cup” tournament.

Next year at our 50th Reunion we will remember him.  I’m getting a bigger sign.

– Jay