County Fare: A bunch of happy campers taking a trip down memory lane

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The memories came flooding back for the boys of summer from Camp Onota.

Revelry playing at the crack of dawn. Refreshing swims in Onota Lake. Road trips for a Friendly's Fribble milkshake.

Making lifetime friends.

The nearly 60 camp alumni were gathered Saturday at the former site of the all-male youth retreat off West Street in Pittsfield.

Courtesy of Jodi Tartell and other homeowners who now reside on the once-bustling summer camp site, the baby boomers relived their summers away from home. The boys-to-men played a morning softball game (County Fare learned that it wasn't a pretty sight); went swimming and boating from the very cove that had the camp docks and beach; enjoyed a barbecue lunch and catered dinner and looked at dozens of decades-old annual group camp photos.

Aah, those good old days of five decades ago.

"We got away from our parents, and they got two months away from us," said Longmeadow native Andy Leveton.

And the boys couldn't wait to see their new friends summer after summer.

"It had tradition. We were notorious for having the same group of campers for seven, eight years," noted reunion organizer Gary Linder.

For Bill Berger, there was nothing like summering in the Berkshires 50 years ago.

"As I came [Saturday] by Route 20, I had to roll down my window and smell the air — it smelled like camp," Berger told County Fare.

Berger and Linder were typical of the boys, ages 6 through early teens, who mostly came up from Long Island and metropolitan New York City for a Berkshires summer. The camp opened in the mid-1920s, closing in 1975 for financial reasons.

The 48-acre private recreational area had all the essentials and amenities of a boys camp: two sets of bunk houses, dining area, basketball, volleyball and tennis courts, Olympic-size outdoor pool, two baseball fields, along with a dock and beach.

They initially arrived from New York via train and, in later years, by bus. Camp Onota has some famous alumni from the entertainment field that include television and film producer Robert K. Weiss. His movie credits include "The Blues Brothers," and "Naked Gun" franchise.

Another successful camper, Richard Rosenstock, has been a consulting producer/writer for numerous television series, most recently "The Big Bang Theory" and "Arrested Development."

Likely the most well-known former camp counselor was a 19-year-old Leonard Bernstein, who conducted the Camp Onota Rhythm Band in 1937, according to The Berkshire Eagle archives.

By 1974, Camp Onota was on the market, with the city the first suitor. Despite a two-year attempt to buy the property, Pittsfield bowed out, and eventually, the property was divided into several residential parcels.

Jodi Tartell is the current homeowner of the 7.5 acres that hosted Saturday's reunion. Tartell was aware of the property's history when she bought it nine years ago. So, when the Pittsfield businesswoman got wind of the reunion, she jumped at the chance to host the trip down memory lane.

"I said, 'Come on over,'" she said. "It was my pleasure to have them; they were perfect gentlemen."


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