For these retirees, camp life means work

If it’s Wednesday morning, they can be found at the Baiting Hollow Scout Camp.

It has been this way for years. A small band of retirees volunteer their time to take on projects and work at the camp in Calverton each Wednesday from 9 a.m. till noon.

“We get away from our wives — just for a half a day,” joked Lou Sandhop, 82, of Lake Grove.

Mr. Sandhop and Oddvar Skadberg, 86, of St. James are the original (and oldest) members of this group, which now numbers seven and continues a practice that began in 2003 when they began donating their time and services to the camp. Over the years, they have taken on projects, large and small, in their efforts to make the camp, owned and operated by the Boys Scouts of America’s Suffolk County Council, a better place.

“They do a little bit of everything,” camp director Jim Grimaldi said. “Over the years I wish I would have kept a log, but they’ve done painting, they’ve done carpentry. I think one of the big things they do is we run a program for our Cub Scouts where they build little catapults. They cut 1,200 catapult kits a year. They make birdhouse kits for the kids to build. Honestly, the list just goes on and on … They’ve worked on literally thousands of projects over the years.”

Mr. Grimaldi called their contributions “priceless.”

The volunteers were kept busy for several months, applying polyurethane to all of the boards inside the recently renovated, 3,200-square-foot McMorris Lodge, named in honor of Andrew McMorris, a 12-year-old Scout who was struck and killed by a car while hiking with his troop in 2018. 

“That was a monster of a job,” said volunteer Tim Burke, 73, of Center Moriches.

They built a wooden train, a farm tractor and a training wall for Scouts to climb over. They repaired countless screens and painted bunk beds. Recently, they had paintbrushes in their hands again, painting a dining hall.

And they do all this while exchanging playful banter along the way.

Laurence Rudin paints the side of a building at the camp last Wednesday. (Credit: Brianne Ledda)

“It’s a little of this and a little of that and a lot of painting and a lot of cutting and a lot of catapults,” said Mr. Skadberg. One never knows what will be next. “Maybe that’s part of the enjoyment,” he said.

These volunteers come from different places and a variety of occupational backgrounds. Laurence Rudin, 74, of East Setauket and Bill Taylor, 69, of Sayville are retired teachers. Mr. Sandhop worked for Con Edison. Mr. Skadberg worked for Grumman for about 15 years and then for the Suffolk County Department of Public Works for 29 years. Mr. Burke worked in data communications. Paul Monthie, 67, of Port Jefferson Station is still on call as a physician assistant, working in the emergency room at Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson.

“When you retire, you have to keep active, you know,” Mr. Taylor said. “Either that or I’m watching, you know, ‘Matlock’ reruns.”

The camp opened in 1926 and the entire property covers 220 acres. There are two parcels that the Scouts own free and clear, but they don’t own the development rights to those parcels, and there are state lands that adjoin them, said Mr. Grimaldi.

The volunteers are all retirees, lending a hand in their spare time. (Credit: Brianne Ledda)

“It’s a beautiful place,” Mr. Rudin said. “We’ve been all over it.”

Mr. Sandhop, who was involved in Scouting for 50 years, said: “We’re retired and we have a love for this place. Even though Scouting has changed tremendously over the years, tremendously, it still provides the way for a kid — I won’t say just a boy or a girl now — to learn how to work as a team, to learn how to do things.”

As for the work itself, Mr. Sandhop pointed out that “some of us are a little older and we don’t climb ladders now, and we don’t climb on roofs.”

But they still get a lot done.

“Every little bit helps, you know,” Mr. Skadberg said. “A lot of hands make for lighter work.”

Mr. Skadberg said he has found himself looking forward to Wednesday mornings. “It’s a little male bonding and a change of scenery, a change of pace, and accomplishing something,” he said. “Jim works so hard out here and does so much for Scouting and the council. How can you refuse him or not support him? And that’s maybe the biggest thing, helping him and the comradeship.”

Said Mr. Sandhop, “Once you have this in your blood, it kind of sticks.”

Is there anything else to be said?

To that, the volunteers would offer four words: “Pick up a paintbrush.”