Oh, The People You Meet!
This guy (to the right) was Charlie Westgate, and I had the privilege of learning how to sail under his tutelage as a 9 year old boy. Later, in the strangest turn of events, I served as his “Boss” when I assumed the role of Camp Director at the age of 26. I learned under him, alongside him (as a staff member) and later he taught me a lot about how to find joy and humor in even the smallest things. He fell just one year short of serving 50 years as a counselor at Mishawaka, when he was overcome with a staph infection.
But between all the jokes he told, the sailing instructions he bellowed from his perch atop Mulford Pier, one piece of advice stands out. He told me, as a camper, that you should be nice to everyone because, in the end, everyone needs 6 friends. At the time I had no idea that he meant a person needed 6 pall-bearers, but as I heard him offer the consul to others, and again to me in my various roles at Camp Mishawaka I came to understand the full import of what he was offering. Besides needing 6 friends to complete the physical act of carrying your corpus to any after life, a person needs 6 (or more) friends to carry him or her through this life.
Anyone who knew Charlie will remember him for his quick wit, love for music, knowledge of sailing, devotion to his wife, Eleanor, and family, and a frugality that can only come from a thick line of Scottish heritage. It is a fact hard to imagine that he and his wife Eleanor made the down payment on their charming Reservoir Hill home in the heights above Tulsa by selling their bicycles. When he would leave Camp in the fall, he would always drop off the left-over food that he and Eleanor could not finish- right down to the paper-clipped salad dressing containers that were first opened many weeks before. But for all the frugality that ruled his fiscal policies, he spent freely of his time and talent, and as a result had hundreds of friends- far and wide, deep and strong.
He later offered the sage advice to me that in order to make a friend, one had to be a friend. For me, and thousands of others, there is no more fertile ground than Camp Mishawaka. Friendship is not so much “requested”- as we have come to know it in social media parlance-but developed over time and through adventure. There are times we can help, and times we need help-and friends always seem to know just which one is needed. Camp allows us all to do both- to make ourselves simultaneously vulnerable and able to help. And that, I have come to believe, is the genesis of all true friendship. Charlie, I suspect, knew this, too. And, of all the things we try to impart at Camp Mishawaka today, I know that this is one of the most enduring.
I remember the time that he asked me to help him take his Catalina 22’ sailboat out for the season- a process that involved running the small motor dry of fuel. He circled King’s Bay over and over as he tried to empty his tank. As fate would have it, he ran out at the farthest arc in his circle (adrift in the middle of the Bay, not at all like he had planned) and shouted back to me at the landing, ‘I am now officially out of gas’. I shook my head, pulled the truck back to Camp, got in a boat and towed him to the landing. I don’t recall being grateful at that time, but nor do I recall being the least bit angered. Today, that it is one of my most treasured memories of this man.
A friend in need, is a friend indeed.