May 30, 2018

Princeton-Blairstown Center Recalled With Humor, Candor

MEMORIES OF CAMP: Last week, alumni of the Princeton-Blairstown Center got together for a panel discussion at Princeton Public Library in honor of the center’s 110th anniversary. From left are Romus Broadway, Eric Craig, author Kitsi Watterson, Shiriey Satterfield, and John Broadway.

By Anne Levin

When Pam Gregory heard that Kathryn “Kitsi” Watterson’s 2017 book I Hear My People Singing included reminiscences from Princeton residents who attended summer camp at the Princeton — Blairstown Center, of which she is president and CEO, she rushed over to Labyrinth Books to buy a copy.

Last week, four of those former campers — Shirley Satterfield, Romus Broadway, Eric Craig, and John Broadway — appeared with Watterson at Princeton Public Library in a panel discussion about their experiences at the 110-year-old summer program that provides free, adventure-based experiences for vulnerable youth. An exhibit about the center is on view in the library’s Princeton Room through the end of July.

“I was so moved by the book, and I immediately thought it would be perfect to get these people together like this,” said Gregory. “We had our leadership dinner first, followed by the public forum. We like to do things that help educate folks about what we are doing.”

The alumni who shared their memories had plenty to say, much of it with humor. “What struck me the most was that they were so funny,” said Gregory. “People were chortling. Kitsi asked them to talk about their experiences, and some of the things they remembered were things we wouldn’t do today. For example, kids who cursed got their mouths washed out with soap. When they disagreed, the kids would put on boxing gloves in the evenings and box it out. Those are things that we’d be shut down for today, but it was interesting to hear stories about them, and in such an entertaining way.”

The Princeton-Blairstown Center began in 1908 as a summer camp run by Princeton University students and faculty. It has evolved into a variety of year-round programs that serve more than 7,000 young people from the Mid-Atlantic states. As the organization’s website reads, “Today our award-winning Summer Bridge Program serves as the centerpiece of the Center’s work and provides week-long educational programs to approximately 600 students from low-income communities in Trenton, Newark, and New York City free of charge.”

Satterfield, a well-known local historian, commented at the discussion, “What’s so special about Blairstown is that it brought us together no matter what color you were. Growing up in segregated Princeton where we couldn’t even go up on Nassau Street, it was great to be in one place where people could get along and have respect.”

The panelists talked about how they learned to love nature during their summer weeks at the camp. “That’s still true today,” said Gregory. “They also said that the counselors respected them and really cared about them, so much so that they would visit them back in Princeton. We hear the same things today about the college students that work in our Summer Bridge Program. The kids feel they have a caring adult who is looking out for them.”

The panelists had fond memories of Everard “Ev” Pinneo, who was student director when they were at camp and is now an honorary trustee; and the late John Danielson, who was executive director, then director of development, and finally a member of the center’s board of trustees. The two men and other key players in the center’s history are part of the exhibition in the library’s Princeton Room.

The program was originally supposed to take place in a different location. When that fell through, the library was welcoming. “Brett Bonfield (executive director) came through in such a great way, along with his staff,” Gregory said. “He is the epitome of community in many ways, and not just because of this. They all went out of their way to make this happen.”