FRED WOLFERMAN: Summer Camp: We Need Its Ethics in Today's Washington
I got a birthday card today (don't ask). It was from Sanborn Camps in Florissant, Colo., an institution I last attended in 1957.
The nice folks at Sanborn have been sending me birthday cards since 1958. Coincidentally, my wife also attended Sanborn, at the girls' division, though it was a few years later and purely by coincidence. I had no inkling then. She will get her card in November. Our older son also went there. He gets cards, too.
Sandy Sanborn (real first name unknown), with his wife, Laura, opened a boys' summer camp in the middle of nowhere after returning from World War II. The girls' camp opened 10 years or so later, and now there is a conference center and all manner of fancy stuff, all a short drive from Colorado Springs.
Sandy is gone, but his son runs the place and, apart from increased size, things seem pretty much the same. The birthday cards remain as sincere and corny as ever, and every year I am pleased, and a little surprised, to receive mine.
Why ramble on so about an apparent marketing gimmick from a kids' camp? I think it is more than a gimmick. I think the Sanborns really mean it. Sure, they'd like our kids and grandkids to go there, that's just good business; but this is really a nice family, running a place founded on solid principles and, dare I say it, morality.
All these thoughts and memories struck me today as I was watching the chaos unfold on Wall Street and the politicians and candidates spout on and on.
The Sanborn Camps had a philosophical viewpoint. It was, I suppose you would say now, very Western -- perhaps a little John Wayne. There was an emphasis on self-reliance, but also on teamwork, as each cabin competed for various awards. There were rules: Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not fight, thou shalt be responsible.
There was an absolutely nondenominational, and always beautiful, weekly event at Sunday Rocks, where you could watch the sunset and think about whatever you wanted. We rode horses, hiked, swam and shot arrows -- and, yes, rifles. I admit that, even then, I was anxious to get back to the golf course, but, as I later came to understand, my parents needed a break, too.
One of my lasting memories from Sanborn was a summertime ski-lift ride over a sleepy little Colorado town with one ski slope and a few scattered summer lodges. That was Aspen.
Well, Aspen has changed a lot. So have my wife and I. Though Sanborn apparently has not, the country certainly has.
The Washington-corporate axis of complicity doesn't have the ethical standards of a kids' summer camp. The beggar-thy-neighbor, beggar-thy-employee, beggar-thy-constituent attitude of the so-called leaders of our major institutions would leave them short-sheeted and sleeping outside at Sanborn's.
Chairmen of Congressional Finance and Banking committees are the biggest recipients of lobbying money from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Executives of those firms, and others, knowingly marked up questionable assets to increase their earnings and bonuses. The boys at the SEC, who were supposed to be overseeing all this, were out somewhere for a two-martini lunch. The administration was asleep at the switch.
All these guys toured the same cocktail circuit, flew in the same corporate jets, and shared the same beaches from the Hamptons to Sea Island.
The presidential candidates have launched into a new theme. "Change" is no longer enough. Now we must have "reform." That must be something stronger.
They say we need new laws, more regulations, more overseers. We are supposed to trust one set of rascals to monitor another.
This is all nonsense. We do not need more laws. There are already plenty of laws. We need better people. We need, somehow, to find leaders who can remember the lessons of summer camp, and not of law or business school. Who can work together for some common purpose or be thrown out of the tent.
It took a birthday card to make the point.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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