WEST STOCKBRIDGE -- Ed Ulanoff, a gym teacher and basketball coach from the Bronx, spent nearly five decades bolstering America's ranks of educators. He also generated lots of business for wedding photographers.
These are not things he set out to do, they were merely bi-products of his main mission in life. He ran the Crane Lake Camp from the early 1950s until 1998 -- a summer camp for children. But in operating the camp, his caring, generous spirit influenced generations of young people, many of who grew up to become educators. Many of them also wound up marrying fellow campers they met during "magical" summers at Crane Lake Camp.
Many of them came back to camp Saturday for parents day and a memorial service for Ulanoff. He passed away earlier this year after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer's. But his presence was definitely felt by campers, counselors, parents and alumni.
His wife of 52 years, Barbara Ulanoff, remembers the drive and boundless energy Ed Ulanoff displayed in operating Crane Lake Camp.
"He always had a great insight into what we should do," she said. "Early on, he said we needed more tennis courts, and an expanded arts and crafts program. And we used to buy dogs from the want ads and bring them to the camp to help the kids who were homesick. By the end of the summer, all the dogs were always adopted by the campers' families or staff members."
When Ulanoff and his brother Stanley bought the camp for about $100,000, there were some 200 campers for their first summer. The camp had previously been operated by the Raceman family for about 50 years.
Ulanoff retired in 1998, when the camp was sold to the Union for Reform Judaism. This summer, a record 600 campers showed up. For the Ulanoff tribute, there were about 400 campers, 100 alumni and 200 staff members in attendance.
When the Ulanoff brothers bought the camp, noted Stanley Ulanoff, 90, they wanted to get into the overnight summer camp business, and they felt they could do it better.
Turns out they were right. From what alumni said Saturday, Ed Ulanoff was never too busy for a camper needing help. He was caring, outgoing, friendly and loved by the campers and staff. His influence changed the life paths of many. It quickly became customary for campers to be hired as camp counselors when they became too old to attend the camp.
Josh Berlin, a former camper and staff member, saw Ulanoff as a mentor.
"My experience with Ed sort of pushed me in the direction of working to become an educator," Berlin said.
He has been a physical education teacher on Long Island for 17 years.
Berlin's sister, Cory Hermann, is also a former camper and staff member.
"Ed actually gave me my first leadership experience," Hermann said.
She shared a feeling expressed by many others at the camp: "I was always welcome here. It was a home to come back to."
Hermann is the director of congregational education at a New Jersey synagogue.
Jim and Cindy Dinkel of Las Vegas met at Crane Lake Camp as kids in 1991.
They are both teachers.
"Ed showed us the right way to do things," Cindy Dinkel said. "He trusted us to do a good job. And he always put the kids first."
Ulanoff hired Nik Middleton in 1986 as a counselor and water ski instructor at 18 years old. He had traveled from England for the first time in his life, and had a rough time of it at first.
"I hated the first two weeks," he said. "After that it was the most fantastic experience of my life."
Today, Middleton owns an architectural firm on the outskirts of Boston. He was recently contracted to design a new dining hall for Crane Lake Camp.
"Ed Ulanoff is the reason I'm in the United States today, and why I'm a Red Sox fan," he said.
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