Camp mainstay says goodbye
Twenty-one folded T-shirts rest in two stacks on Camp Willolinn Co-Founder Judy Liebo's patio table. The shirts, which feature patch designs decided on annually by each flock of campers, help Liebo recount notable moments from each year and the length of her tenure.
With 2018 marking Liebo's final time volunteering for the camp, which has served Wilsonville, West Linn and Lake Oswego Girl Scouts since 1992, the West Linn resident plans to cut out the patch designs, sew them into a quilt and wrap herself in 21 years of memories.
"It truly was a joy to work with the girls," Liebo says. "They are so much fun."
Along with helping found the week-long summer camp for first- through seventh-graders, which takes place at Memorial Park in Wilsonville, Liebo has served as its business manager and manager of hospitality throughout her tenure.
Though nicknamed Scrooge due to shrewd money management, she is beloved by Willolinn regulars. So it should come as no surprise that some of the camp aides pleaded with her to reconsider her decision to retire.
"She's got a good sense of humor," former Camp Director and Co-Founder Liz Kyle says. "She knew how to have fun with them (the camp aides) but also empathize the work they had to do as
role models for the younger girls."
Liebo recalls driving toward the Minnesota wilderness with 10 family members and cramming into canvas tents as a kid, serving as a Girl Scout and leading Scout troops for many years as an adult. Liebo wanted her kids to feel acclimated with the outdoors and learn important values gleaned from Scouting.
"I think Scouting is such a positive activity," Liebo says. "There's lots of community service; there's lots of healthy values that they teach that I think are beneficial."
Liebo, Kyle others decided to start their own camp more than 25 years ago when another local summer camp discontinued. In the first camp, 125 girls attended, and as many as 300 have signed up each year since. Liebo has seen both her daughters and granddaughters attend the camp and graduate to supervisory roles.
Throughout the week, girls practice outdoor cooking, tying knots, packing, survival skills and much more.
"We're all very supportive and we get to see 200-plus girls gain a little more maturity and outdoor skills. Just watching them grow from year-to-year is phenomenal," Camp Director Barb Weiser says.
Liebo's financial decisions, such as purchasing Girl Scout cookies for campers instead of Costco cake, helped keep the camp afloat, according to Kyle and Weiser.
"She purchased all of the supplies and tried to get the best bargain for us with our limited resources," Kyle says. "She just was fun and it lightened my load as the director to have her working there. She was very capable at her job. I never had to monitor her. I just knew she would need to take care of whatever she needed to take care of."
Liebo took a break for a few years after her daughters graduated high school but returned once her granddaughters became old enough to join the camp. For the last 11 years, feeding the camp aides — a group of eighth-graders and high schoolers — was her primary responsibility.
Each morning, she made 100 cups of hot chocolate, 50 cups of coffee (for the adult volunteers) and filled tables with an assortment of food such as bagels, donuts, salads and sometimes tasty treats like strawberry trifle.
"I have had girls say to me, 'You're the reason I keep coming back to camp. You have such good food here.' The older girls have a table just for them and I keep that table full of stuff," Liebo says.
A few years ago, Liebo suffered a stroke just three months before the camp. Though Liebo was initially hesitant to return, one of the camp founders, who lives in San Diego, traveled back to Wilsonville to assist Liebo with her responsibilities. And Liebo said the experience was emblematic of the camp itself — where kids and parents often attend for over a decade and form tight bonds.
"The camp is so much fun," Liebo says. "They really have a good time."
Weiser surmised that the camp helped Liebo recov-er.
"I think it did from a mental standpoint because she could be there and knew she could help and we really needed her," Weiser says.
Liebo, who is 70 years old, said though she still enjoys camp week, packing and unpacking materials each day has become too taxing.
"Every morning this year I'd wake up and go 'Oh my God, do I hurt,'" Liebo says.
For Liebo, saying goodbye was difficult — and campers protested.
"Most of these girls, I've watched them come up the entire 11 years," Liebo says.
"So this year when I said I was going to leave, there were some tears and protests. 'You can't leave. You have to stay.'"Liebo said staying home next year while campers congregate will be strange. But the quilt will help her remain synergetic with the camp that has highlighted over a quarter of her summers.
"It's one of those experiences where you say 'I had no intention of doing this for 21 years,'" she says. "It just evolved. It was fun to do."