In the spring of 1955 a spunky little girl by the name of Gail Rietman insisted that she be allowed to go to camp with her twin sister. Camp authorities refused to accept Gail because she had Spina Bifida. Walt, her father, approached Paul Vogt, president of the Geneva Rotary Club and asked if he knew of any camp that would admit Gail — and thus the seed was planted.
Paul Vogt, the outgoing president, liked the idea of an area camp for the physically handicapped and turned the idea and task over to the president – elect, Neil Marvin. When Neil took office, he appointed Robert Maney to chair a committee to investigate the need and to sound out opinion for the organization of such a camp. They soon realized that the task was too great for one club and turned to the clubs in neighboring counties. In 1956, the local Rotary clubs held the first summer camp for handicap youth at Camp Babcock-Hovey. It was originally called the Rotary Camp for Handicapped Children.
One of the Rotary Camp objectives is to help these handicapped children realize that they should and can serve a useful purpose in life by utilizing their various and individual talents. Though handicapped they can strengthen their strong points, so that may can fit into a normal community life, it has been discovered in this type of project that that individuals tend to become more helpful, more outgiving more social conscious – finding that more people are interested in them as individuals.
33 handicapped children were accommodated in the first year camp. Boy Scout Executive Edmond T. Hesser served as the camp director for at least the first nine years. During the early years, fleets of boats would descend upon camp to take all campers out on an annual fishing boat tour.
Rotary’s Camp for Handicapped Children on Seneca Lake was renamed in 1968 and became known as Camp Onseyawa, Land of Happiness. While the name is characteristically Indian in sound, it is actually derived from the first two letters of each county in the four county area from which it receives its support; ONtario, SEneca, YAtes, WAyne. An emblem portraying an Indian head and incorporating the new name was also designed to be used in conjunction with the new name.
Over the years many fundraiser have been sponsored by the rotary to raise funds for Camp Onseyawa. This include but are not limited to easter seals sales, carp fishing tournament, golf tournaments, pancake breakfasts, radio-thons, hike-a-thons, and bike-a-thons.
The relationship between camp Onseyawa and Camp Babcock-Hovey has been one of mutual benefit over the years. Onseyawa and the local area Rotary Clubs have helped pay in part the cost of installing the pool at camp and have helped pay part of the two renovations since. Additionally the South Shower House was built with help by the local Rotary Clubs.
Below is only a sampling of current newspaper articles in hand-
1956.02.10 Clifton Springs Rotary on board for handicapped camp
1956.07.12 Rotary clubs team up to aid handicapped
1957.08.14 Rotary Camp Starts second year
1964.07.16 Scout executive serves as camp director again
1968.05.26 Rotary announces name change for Camp ONSEYAWA
1973.02.22 Radiothon sets record
1975.08.14 Campers ready for camp
1975.08.30 Camp comes to an end
1978.08.18 Campers attend carnival
1978.09.15 Camp closes for another year
1979.12.11 campers invited to christmas party
1980.07.03 Article about Neil Marvin founder of ONSEYAWA
1981.08.23 25th Year of operation
Despite being from Steuben County, by special arrangement I spent two incredibly fun years at B-H when Dale Hesser was campmaster. When Steuben opened Camp Star a couple years later, I was obliged as a resident to go there, but was very disappointed. The facilities, activities, and organization at B-H were much better. Ditto the location on Seneca Lake. Many fond memories.