Scholarship honors departing co-directors of YMCA Camp Belknap

Special to the Union Leader
October 21. 2013 9:40PM
Retiring YMCA Camp Belknap co-directors Caryn (left) and Gene Clark III (right) were honored at their retirement ceremony in Wolfeboro on Oct. 12 where they were surprised with a $107,535 check for the newly formed scholarship fund named in their honor. (COURTESY)

TUFTONBORO — The leadership and alumni of YMCA Camp Belknap presented retiring co-directors Caryn and Gene Clark III with a six-figure scholarship surprise at a well-attended reception in Wolfeboro earlier this month.

During a retirement ceremony at the Inn on Main on Oct. 12, leaders who served at the camp during the Clarks' 26-year tenure presented an oversized check for $107,535 to launch the new "Caryn & Gene Clark III North Country Scholarship Fund," a new initiative to permanently endow a scholarship for boys from northern New Hampshire. The fund was filled with contributions from 327 camp leaders and staff members.

The Clarks began serving as camp directors nearly 26 years ago, taking over the reins from Gene Clark's parents, Peg and Gene Clark Jr., who served from 1960 to 1988. Incoming camp directors Stephanie and Seth Kassels, both 34, worked with the Clarks over the summer to ensure a smooth transition. Seth, who attended the camp as a boy, also served as a camp leader and then as a program director. The couple and their two young sons live full time at the camp.

Gene Clark said that in his experience, the directorship was much more than a job.

"It's a way of life. I am most proud of the camp and what it stands for. Every person who is on staff has to have gone there. For me, it wasn't just a job, it was a way of life, a passion. It was where I wanted to be," said Clark. In his early years, he was a camper, leader, division head and waterfront director.

Seth Kassels said the Clarks are leaving the camp in great financial shape and that their tenure as directors marked advances in scholarship offerings, program diversity and land acquisition, including the 2010 purchase of eight acres and 1,400-feet of shoreline on Farm Island, just across the bay from the camp's waterfront on Lake Winnipesaukee. The Clarks led the way for the new Adams Environmental Center and the new headquarters that was dedicated this summer as Clark Lodge, according to Kassels.

Originally a boys camp for the New Hampshire State YMCA organization, Camp Belknap restructured into its own independent Y entity in 1998, with the dissolution of the statewide organization. The camp's motto has been, "God First, the Other Fellow Second, Myself Last," according to camp literature.

A technology-free camp (campers are prohibited from bringing cell phones, computers, etc.), the camp offers more than 30 sports and activities, a swim program, ropes course and climbing tower.

The new directors are no strangers to the camp. Seth spent 11 summers over 14 years there, and he and Stephanie became engaged at Camp Belknap. They were living in Boulder, Colo., and returned to Camp Belknap where Seth served as program director before he and Stephanie were chosen as the new co-directors. "We had a great life in Boulder, but Camp Belknap's mission is important to us," he said

"This is a sacred and special place," said Kassels. Stephanie Kassels is a nurse practitioner and will oversee the health component.

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