In mid-July, Walla Wallan Lee Coleman said the Minnesota northwoods were warm, dry and nearly mosquito-free.
"Since last summer was the coldest and possibly the buggiest summer in decades, this summer is what I like to think that God intended as his perfect world," she said of her place there.
Eight girls and three leaders from the Mariposa group in Walla Walla arrived there on June 28.
The Walla Walla YWCA sponsors the Mariposa program, which involves selected grade school and middle school Hispanic girls. Its aim is to increase self esteem and widen the girls' horizons.
Last year, they did a trip with four girls. "Broetje Orchards considered it such a worthwhile experience that this year they donated enough money to transport 11 people to Cedar Lake via air and van ... and they did this unsolicited," Lee said in a missive home.
The two school-year leaders chose their girls: four sixth-grade and four middle-school girls. They and a YWCA Board member accompanied the girls.
"None could swim and none had been camping, lived in the woods, or been away from family. But these were never strikes against them. We had an incredible time."
Wearing life jackets, the kids swam all the time. They quickly learned to paddle kayaks and jumped off cliffs into cold water; hiked miles and miles; cooked out; explored the woods; watched bears and wolves at the research centers; lived without showers, running water, flush toilets and iPods; and never got homesick, Lee said.
"Their comments at the week's end were that they loved living with less; that they were no longer afraid of the dark, way more willing to try new and scary things and appreciated all the teamwork and support they gave to and received from each other. Not bad for a week. I am certain that they all had life-changing moments in a week they will never forget."
With dog Jib to keep her company, Lee has been working in her woods. She cleared downed timber and dead brush and made two long paths to a clearing that was designated as a memorial site for an Oshkosh swimmer, Natalie, who died in a car accident in February.
"I found a craftsman to make four benches for the site and another man to inscribe them and transport them to the cabin, and I applied multiple coats of spar varnish."
More recently, Lee's camp hosted 17 Wisconsin swimmers who were chosen for this first memorial camp for Natalie, whose mom and two older sisters were among the leaders. One day they all did a final brush-out of the trails, carried the benches into the site and placed a memorial plaque. The next day they fed a sky-high brush pile into a chipper and used the chips to line all the paths.
"These kids and leaders are truly an inspiration. They have turned a tragedy into an event that is shaping and strengthening their lives, and are learning to put their grief to work while they laugh and sing and look to their future with their friend always in their hearts.
And Jib and I have been privileged to be a part of all of this. We love each day."
"When I started leading canoe trips in 1957, we named our nonprofit operation Voyageur Trails," Lee said of the camp. She led trips for young people every summer until 1980 when her family moved to Walla Walla.
The focus was changed a bit to readymade groups, such as church, scouts, or Y. For the last 10 years they've had three or four big open-water swim camps each summer. Lee's son Jay Coleman is head swim coach at the Oshkosh YMCA, and most of the kids are his swimmers. Jay previously coached the Whitman College team for several years after Lee retired from there.
They started the Mariposa program last summer. "So we do whatever seems interesting, or work with kids that will benefit from this experience."
The rustic Voyageur Trails is on the edge of wilderness. "We do have electricity, and we pump water out of our pristine lake.' They offer participants a dozen canoes and eight kayaks. There are five acres on the road side of the lake, and 10 acres across the lake which are roadless. The lake's about a quarter mile across ... "a swim most of us do many times a day.
Lee sleeps in a tent most of the summer.
"Some of our kids sleep in a big empty loft on top of our pack-out house, and many sleep in backpacking tents. In our camps we do a lot of swimming, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, running … and whatever occurs to us as a challenge. As I write this, 23 kids and five leaders are just returning from hiking the 17-mile round trip of the Grand Portage from Lake Superior's north shore inland to a navigable river."
Find Ely, Minn., on the map, and Lee's camp is five miles away and Ely's about 120 miles north of Duluth, and it's just a couple of miles from the Canadian border.
"I led trips for 10 years before we found this land and bought it in 1967. Three of us built the three buildings over a couple-year span."
Lee retired from Whitman as a full professor after 17 years on the faculty. She taught exercise physiology, motor learning, all of the aquatics and a lot of teacher education and coached the men's and women's swim teams. For a time she was the women's AD and PE department chair.
During his 11-year tenure as operations manager, Don Locati has witnessed the annual flood of visitors to Fort Walla Walla Museum. So far, they've come from all 50 states and up to 47 foreign countries.
Several years ago, the Museum's annual goal was reached in mid-June, earlier than anyone could remember, said Paul Franzmann, communications manager.
The year after, a Rhode Islander completed the unofficial 50-state goal with about a month remaining in the visitation schedule that ends Oct. 31.
"This year, the streak appears robust, with visitors from 45 states signing the guest register through June," Paul said.
Museum staffers are hoping to see travelers from Delaware, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Vermont and West Virginia.
"Some of the New England states are the toughest to get recorded" Don said. "Places like Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island have relatively low populations and, of course, a really long way to travel to get to Walla Walla. Despite the tough economy, we think we're doing really well this year. We're grateful, because these visitors from distant places make some of our best ambassadors … they always have good things to say about our community and the Museum."
Paul said he, Bookkeeper Carolyn Burdine and Tour Coordinator and greeter Bill Lake joked with Don about having Bill hold a sign "asking if anyone was from -or wants to be from- any of the missing states.'"
Although Washington, D.C., still lacks representation, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers may count as she lives there and will be a guest speaker at the Museum's Women's History Celebration! on Aug. 22.
Walla Walla Mayor Barbara Clark and Washington State Rep. Maureen Walsh will also speak, along with several women from the Museum's Living History Company. There will also be a number of craft demonstrators as the Museum marks the 90th anniversary of ratification of the 19th amendment guaranteeing American women the right to vote and the 100th anniversary of Washington State suffrage.
Should you like to visit, the Museum is at 755 Myra Road. It's open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. April-October. There is an admission fee. Contact personnel there at 509-525-7703; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or online see fortwallawallamuseum.org .
Native Walla Wallan Steve Ayres is newly enrolled in the Washington Officials Hall of Fame Class 2010. The 1964 DeSales High School and 1968 Gonzaga University graduate officiated for basketball, football and softball games for many years in the Spokane Valley, said his mother, Virginia Ayres of Walla Walla.
Steve continues to assign and schedule officials for basketball games and tournaments. "Spokane officials credit him as the driving force and reason for success when the boys and girls officiating groups merged in 2004," Virginia said.
Steve was honored at a banquet recently at the Red Lion Inn in Yakima. After 31 years as an administrator, he retired in 1999 from the state of Washington Juvenile Rehabilitation Division. He is also the son of the late Steve Ayres Jr. His siblings, Ron Ayres and Lynn Foust, both reside in Walla Walla.
Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at email@example.com or afternoons at 526-8313.