Scouting: Part Three – Winter Nights at Camp Kedeka

Camping was of course a big feature of Boy Scouting, which was perfectly logical and expected, given the origins, nature, and mission of Scouting. We had several weekend campouts in various parks and other places. But there were other things, as well. There were “merit badges” to be earned, and meetings to attend at which merit badge work could be reviewed and camping trips be discussed and planned. I’m sure there was more but that’s what I remember.

The meetings, once begun, were OK. They were a bit more regimented than the Cub Scout gatherings, and for better or worse, included very little involvement by our moms. But we were older, and could go off and participate in such things by ourselves. I also, with some fondness, recall the wild, impromptu, undisciplined, “capture the flag” sort of games we would play in the OLGC gymnasium, which nicely counter-pointed the organized meeting which immediately followed.

But it was the outings — in my mind and memory, at least — which seemed to be the predominant activity. As I’ve indicated earlier, we had various campout experiences. But far and away the ones I remember most fondly took place in winter.

Each year, deep in the winter, we would spend a couple of weekends (Friday evening through Sunday afternoon) occupying the small, rustic cabins at camp Kedeka, in the heart of Bliss Woods in Sugar Grove, IL.

For a Boy Scout camp the name Kedeka seems a nicely appropriate Indian-sounding name, but was in fact the concatenation of the first letters of the three counties which the camp served; Kendall, DeKalb, and Kane. We had no idea where we were, and could not have found Sugar Grove a map to save ourselves, and Bliss Woods had a much more primitive and remote feeling than Camp Blackhawk ever did. But the car rides to and from were much shorter, so we knew we weren’t too far from home.

We would settle in late on Friday afternoon and because, as I have said, this was the dead of winter it was already getting dark by the time we arrived. The cabins in which we stayed were actually a bit more than rustic — they were primitive. Memory fails me here, but I’m guessing that they were each no more than 15 x 20′. The central feature was a large fireplace, opposite the entrance. The accommodations were four wood frame double bunks built against on each side wall. The bunks were man size, however, so there was plenty of room, and with a thin mattress to supplement our sleeping bags, they were downright luxurious compared to sleeping in a tent on the ground; even dry ground.

Settling in, we would cook and eat our dinner, then tidy up and all gather around the fireplace of one of the cabins for stories. We were too keyed up from just being there to turn in early on Friday, so we would sit well into the night, mesmerized by the fire, lost in the stories the troop leaders would tell, which of course would include the terrors possibly lurking in the dark snowy woods just outside the thin cabin door.

Saturdays were filled with activities; woodcraft and knots, of course, and usually a hike in the dense woods. We would stop for lunch at some small clearing, or beside a stream, and the troop leaders would again provide proof that a cooking fire could indeed be built and lit in the damp cold woods. After the meal we were taught how to properly douse our fire, and disperse the remnants, so as to leave the woods as we had found it.

After Saturday night’s supper, and a few more stories, or sing-alongs, or whatever, we would turn in; being pretty tired on this night from the exertions of the day. This was what I was waiting for. Every time we went winter camping at Camp Kedeka, I took with me the same plan. My intention was to sleep for a few hours, and then get up about 1 AM, and go for a hike of my own. I wanted very much to hike the winter woods in the complete and silent solitude of the cold dark snowy night. It just seemed like such an adventure, and I would look forward to and plan my trek for days before we would make camp.

Alas, it turned out that each time I had the opportunity I was just as tired as everyone else, and I would sleep through the night. Each time this happened I always had a tiny sense of failure. I hadn’t brought my plan to fruition.

The upside was that when morning came I always awoke fresh and properly prepared for the Sunday breakfast of pancakes and sausage, which set us up nicely for Sunday’s fun. I regretted missing the opportunity to have my solo adventure. But okay, I’d do it next time, for sure.

3 thoughts on “Scouting: Part Three – Winter Nights at Camp Kedeka

  1. Rod Handeland

    You and I have much in commonalthough we were on opposite sides of river in Aurora and I was in Troop 3 at New England Congregational. I also recall and have done much with musice and other aspects of Aurora life in both words and views, but will include response here to yourKedka and Blackhawk segments. Send me your email and we can figure out what else I have that may be of interest to you, as all of your postings of 50’s have been to me:

    Camp Blackhawk was much harder to pinpoint, and still is. your experience confirmed some memories and made me question others. I was only at Blackhawk one year for two weeks as a counselor, a dishwasher since they were the only less than full summer staff positions. Unlike your description which the Muskegon county location helped me find, I was first elated to see that Camp Owasippe which included your Blackhawk photo was oldest Boy Scout camp in US. Another 100 year history of Owasippe site http://www.mlive.com/news/muskegon/index.ssf/2011/07/owasippe_nations_oldest_boy_sc.html had a 1927 photo of Camp Blackhawk as part of it and it has always been a Chicago area Boy Scout Camp. However, I remember our Blackhawk having a large swimming pool just outside main lodge and dining room entrance. It seemed unique to me, in that two sides were gradual declines rather than vertical drops, as the other two sides were and all normally are in pools. I recall the pool as I associated it with achieving Scout Lifeguard badge, culminating in vicious battle in attempted rescue of swimmer who was waterfront director where I fought back long enough for him to turn limp and let me haul him in.

    Other water area in our Camp Blackhawk seemed to be a river where canoes and boats were available for us after dinner and accessed by trail down from dining hall. St. Joseph comes to mind, but that much further south than Muskegon. Most memorable night at Blackhawk was evening campfire conclave when Order of Arrow Indians appeared to call several scouts. As one of those called, I was led away and entranced by Indian encirclement ceremony explaining Order of Arrow and what I would do regarding surviaval camping that night and silence next day. The induction next night was even more impressive with Indian and other Order members. It was the most memorable 24 hours of scouting. Knowing much longer effort for Eagle, Silver and Pro Deo et Patria, it probably was more validation of those and other Tropp and Post years, but all concentrated in short time.

    Biggest disappointments in Scouting were not going to national jamboree at Valley Forge or Philmont. But a year or so after Balckhawk summer, Kedeka Council bought Baker Lake Wilderness Camp in Wisconsin. I was with first Explorer groupto camp at Lake in Spring and then return as leader of Post for two week summer encampment. it was completely wilderness with nothing other than lake and forest, but we didn’t need to sleep on ground. Even though we had to cut down trees for all dining tables and chairs, we slept comfortably above ground in jungle hammocks. I have been successful in pinpointing Baker Lakes location, even though it is no longer a Scout Camp. At least all the photos, patches aand memories remain.

    First trip to Kedeka was via 7 mile hike along old railroad bed and stream running west from Aurora along north side of Galena. It is probably now the Gilman Trail. Before leaving our patrol assembled, all with way overfilled packs for weekend . One small Scout by name of Don Timmy slipped pack over hisshoulders and didn’t have strength to lift himself and pack off the floor. We all laughed, then helped, but can’t recall whether he then left some packed stuff behind.

    Your winter camp Kedeka brought back many similar recollections. Having lived in San Francisco since finishing Northwestern in 1965, I often still think back to how cold it was overnight in those overnight Kedeka winter cabins, despite the fires when wood was dry enough to burn rather than smolder. I also remember both spring and Fall Jamboree’s where all other council troops would set up encampments at Kedeka for the weekend and newest scouts would be sent on snipe hunts, before contests, games and merit badge work of each day.

    On recent visits to Aurora, I looked for where Kedeka was and came up with the Police Training Academy. Whether that was the main lodge is the academy now I expect not. It still has a big room like lodge, but seemed smaller than I remembered, just like lots of things from my Aurora days. Troop trips I recalled more than Kedeka were canoe trips, both on Rock River an then on Fox down to Starved Rock, my parent’s honeymoon site. Enjoyed the canoe trips that during highschool several ex scouts lash canoes together with outboard motors between to relive the Fox canoe trip. As I recall, we were fine for start, but most of trip ended up with motors in bottom of canoes while than propelling us to an effortless ‘Cruisin Down the River…’. Always suspected that friend Bob Taggart who was much better engineer at Northwestern than I was always suspected outcome.

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    1. Albert Henke

      I too was a Troop 3 Boyscout from 1960 to 1965. Highlights of my scouting experience were a two week trip to Philmont in 1964 and being chosen as goodwill ambassadors at the New York World’s Fair in 1965. Camp Ke-de-ka and Camp Chin-be-go-ta near Wausau, WI were where many of my fondest scouting memories were made. Our troop had a “freeze-out” at Kedeka one January. However, unlike your experience, our cabin got so hot from the fire that l slept on top of my sleeping bag.
      Scouting was truly a beneficial and life-changing experience for me. I will always remember it with fondness.

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