Dick “Gabby” Wachter (S1958-1962, S1983)

How were you first introduced to Camp Lincoln? I was first introduced to Camp Lincoln in 1958, during my senior year at Iowa University in Iowa City.  Someone told me I should apply for a counselor position at Lincoln because of my previous experiences with summer camps during my high school years.  I sent a letter to Fred Rogers, and after filling out the application, was soon selected to work at camp that summer.  I graduated in June, and headed to Camp Lincoln following graduation.

What were your roles at Camp Lincoln? The summers of 1958 and 1959, I was the Cabin Director for Cabin 10 – Olympic Club, and in the early 1960s (1960-1962) served as one of the Cabin Directors in Senior Camp.  I married my wife, Jan, in August of 1960, and she joined me at camp during the summers of 1962.  The summers of 1961 and 1962, I mostly worked down at the waterfront teaching children how to swim.  I went back to Camp Lincoln the summer of 1983, and served as the waterfront director.

How did you decide to go back to camp in 1983 to become the waterfront director? I had always wanted to be the waterfront director at Camp Lincoln.  In the spring of 1983 (51 years of age), I decided to take all the Red Cross swimming and lifeguard certification courses, with the possibility of becoming the waterfront director.  I asked Sam Cote if I were to pass all those qualifications, would he accept my quest for that position.  Sam said yes- it was a dream come true and I enjoyed that summer tremendously.

What were a few of your favorite memories from camp? Some of my greatest memories at camp were of Evelyn Young’s great cooking and the many great meals that were prepared by her staff.  When you stepped into her kitchen you walked lightly and had to have great manners.  It was her kingdom and she ran it with great efficiency.  Another great memory was of Buck Bethel.  Buck was the head of Prep Camp and was in charge of keeping the fire pit going one night.  Each cabin was responsible to keep the fire going for a short period of time that night.  The next morning, a huge side of beef was buried and cooked over the coals, and carved and served that evening.  A side of lamb was also turned over a fire to cook.  This is how I learned to love eating lamb.

What was camp like in the 1950s and 1960s? Do you have any interesting stories about Sam Cote and Bill Jones as campers? Sam and Bill were both my campers that first summer of 1958.  Both were great campers and well liked.  Bill Jones and I had a great bond, because at the time he was working on becoming an Eagle Scout and needed to pass the requirements for the Swimming Merit Badge.  I taught Bill the skills he needed to fulfill all the requirements.  This reminded me of my Boy Scout days as an orphan in Normal, Ill.  My greatest challenge was to someday become an Eagle Scout by passing the requirements for the Bird Study Merit Badge.  Sam and Bill were two great campers. I have always been proud to have them as my campers that first summer at Camp Lincoln.

What is your favorite camp quote? In the summer of 1958, I enjoyed watching the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai.  In the movie, the Japanese camp director had a favorite saying, “Be happy in your work”.  I had a poster that hung in our chalet that said just this.

Is there anything that you learned while at Camp Lincoln that you still use today? I was a science teacher at Washington Jr. High School in Dubuque, Iowa, for 33 years.  I learned several things from the leaders at Camp Lincoln about how to instill strong work ethics in my classes.  The many things I learned from Fred Rogers and Kurt Nelson were the traits I used in teaching.  Kurt was the Senior Camp Director in the early 1960s.  He was quite a man, and ran that camp successfully for many years.  Camp Lincoln has always had strong leaders, and that is why it was one of the best ways to spend a summer – teaching and being around such great leaders and kids.

Are there any lasting friendships you still have from your days at Camp Lincoln? I became great friends during my first summer at camp (1958) with Pete Anderson. Pete was from Lawrence, Kansas, and he was Cabin Director of Cabin 8 that summer.  Pete was a cheerleader for the University of Kansas, and has always been a Jayhawker.  After 50-plus years, I still manage to send out a morning greeting to him from my computer.  Pete still calls me “the coach” and I guess I am stuck with it. I also keep in touch with Dave Turpin.  He later went on to graduate from Iowa University and become a dentist.  He is now retired and I often send him e-mails as well.  I also enjoyed sending messages to Chuck Everett, and often he would stop in to see me in Dubuque.  Today, I still keep in touch with Sam Cote regularly.

How did Pete Anderson come up with the nickname “the coach”? Pete called me “the coach” because I wanted to go into coaching after I graduated from college.  I coached one year, and then devoted my teaching to becoming a science teacher at Washington Jr. High in Dubuque, Iowa.

Were any of your family members campers or counselors at Camp Lincoln or Camp Lake Hubert? My wife, Jan, worked at Camp Lincoln in 1962.  She worked in the warehouse as one of the store clerks with Greta Brown.  Together the two took care of the camp store.  At that time, Jan was pregnant with our first child, Nancy, to be born in October.  Jan and I lived in the upstairs apartment of the Prep Camp Craft Shop.  The summer of 1983, our daughter, Nancy, was looking for a summer job, and I asked Sam if she might be accepted as one of the helpers in Mrs. Young’s kitchen.  An application was sent to Nancy and her boyfriend, and both were given jobs for the summer.  Nancy got along well with Mrs. Young, and learned to follow her many requests.  Working in Mrs. Young’s kitchen was a challenge, and if you could, you learned quickly how to respect her. Oh what a woman Mrs. Young was!

Tell us about your childhood. My life as a young man was a struggle.  Growing up in two orphanages was quite an experience, and not an easy life for a young person.  It was a period of time when so many families were suffering because of the Great Depression.  Ten years of my youth was spent in orphanages.  My father served in the Army in WWI, and after coming home, he worked for a few years with one of his brothers in a hardware store before being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  My mother was soon unable to care for me and my brother, due to his condition.  In 1940 (at nine years of age), my brother, Bill, and I were sent to the Angel Guardian Orphanage in Chicago.  This was not a pleasant way to live- poor meals, poor healthcare and strict nuns.  We stayed there for two years, and in the fall of 1942, we went to live with my mother’s parents also in Chicago.  We lived with them for one year, and in 1943, the court system sent us to the Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s School in Normal, Ill.  I was able to join the Boy Scouts at the age of 12, and in 1949 became and Eagle Scout.  It was one of the greatest thrills of my lifetime.  We lived there until we both graduated from high school in 1951.  I was called into service that fall, and served in the Navy as a signalman on a destroyer in Korea.  In 1953, I enrolled at Iowa University and graduated with a teaching degree in 1958.  I received a Masters Degree in Science, and after 30-plus years of teaching, I retired in 1991. For the next seven years, I worked at a casino on a riverboat – that was quite an experience.  For six summers I then worked as a teller at the Dubuque Dog Racing Track.  At that time, dog-racing gambling was extremely popular. It proved to be the best part-time job I ever had.

What happened to your mother? My mother continued to live in Chicago and died in November of 1963- the day before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  That weekend was the worst time of my life.

How did the nickname “Gabby” come about? When I was living in the orphanage in Normal, Ill,  I used to listen to the St. Louis Cardinals baseball games on the radio during the mid 1940s.  In those days, there was no TV.  The Cardinals announcers were Harry Carey and Gabby Street.  Gabby Street was the one who was always gabbing away.  The guys that I lived with during that time used to get after me complaining about him.  So they said, “from now on, we are going to call you Gabby.”  So I have been using that nickname ever since.  In high school, all of us who played football had nicknames too.  I played four years of football, and my senior year was the starting left guard.  We had a 22-game winning streak, and our record still stands.  At least eight of us from the orphanage were on the team.  Oh, we were a tough bunch of kids….

What is your life like now? I have lived in Dubuque, Iowa since 1958.  Jan and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary in August 2010 with our three children: Nancy, Robert and Jeff, and our five grandchildren.  Life has been good to us.  I am almost 81 years of age and still very healthy.  Last fall I was chosen to go to Washington D.C. to participate in an Honor Flight since I am a Korean Veteran.  It was one heck of a day, and one of the best days of my life.  Seeing all those memorials with almost 100 veterans on our flight was a thrill- we were treated like royalty.  I hope all veterans get to participate someday in an Honor Flight and visit the United States Capitol.  My life has been an interesting and exciting challenge.  Those six summers I worked at Camp Lincoln were some of the best of my lifetime.  Now, as each summer passes by, as I grow older, I often wish I could return to Camp Lincoln and be a part of the summer and teach children how to swim and experience camp.  My thoughts always come back to the many people who helped make those summers so enjoyable.  People like Fred Rogers, Chuck Everett, Brownie Cote, Sam Cote, Bill Jones, Felix Schuler, Kurt Nelson, Buck Bethel, Orville Maupen, Bud Austin, Jerry “Charlie” Brown, Dave Calhoun, Dave Turpin, and Mrs. Young.  These people will always be part of my memories from Camp Lincoln.  My dear friend, Pete Anderson, has always and still says to me, “gee I would just love to go back to Camp Lincoln and walk down that trail to the cabin I spent my summers in.”  Then I think about the last time I was at camp in 2009 for the 100th Anniversary.  As I drove out of camp that day on my way back to Iowa, I thought that this place is and always will be, a sacred place for many more hopeful visits.  Camp Lincoln, we all have enjoyed so many great summers.  Sam Cote vividly recalls his camping days with Gabby as his counselor.  “When I was in Cabin 10 (Olympic Club) with Gabby, it was he who motivated and encouraged me to finish the requirements for my Stag Club.  I really credit him for pushing me to do the work and complete the activity requirements for completing that award.  He was and still is one of my camp heroes, and I have long treasured his friendship and enjoy keeping in touch with him via email to this day.”

Want to connect with Gabby?  If so, please feel free to send him an email at gabbyjan1960@hotmail.com.