Camping Magazine

Edie Klein

Edie Klein – camp organizer and counselor

Karen Pavlicin

In 1955, the American Camping Association broke ground on its new office site in Bradford Woods, Ind. Edie Klein, then the associate director of the Department of Physical Education and Recreation at Indiana University, attended the ground breaking. And as she proudly told generations of camp folk over the years, she bought the first brick for the building foundation.

Edie died on September 15th. Throughout her life, she sought to give the entire field of camping a solid foundation.

At camp

Through her work at camp, Edie touched thousands of lives.

She worked at Blue Star Camps in Hendersonville, N.C., for 18 years, much of that time as the counselor-in-training director. Former camp director Herman Popkin remembers she was the “most knowledgeable person and knew how to impart that knowledge to campers and CITs.”

Edie had a tremendous effect on the CITs in her charge. “She could teach anything,” Herman said. “She gave her students a great deal of confidence and never had a single discipline problem. They all respected her.” Some of her CITs returned to camp as directors; many became university educators.

One of her former CITs, Rodger Popkin, took over as director of Blue Star in 1971. Many of Edie’s beliefs about the camp experience have influenced him as a director. “For example,” Rodger said, “she believed that camping trips that got rained out, things that didn’t go well, were the more teachable moments. She was interested in how well a person stood up to those moments.”

“She was passionate about camping and had a strong commitment to the outdoors, an intrinsic intimacy with nature,” Rodger said. “She was a powerful, definitive leader. I remember always being aware that you never wanted to let her down.”

Shortly after Edie left Blue Star, she met Marvin Black, co-owner of Pine Forest Camp in Greeley, Pa., at a staff recruiting event at the University of Georgia. Marvin hired Edie to direct Pine Forest’s girls’ camp. She stayed for 21 years.

“She had a dominating, no-nonsense personality,” Marvin said. “You knew she was in charge. She had a great sense of humor, and was an ideal camp director. She ran the 8-week program from day one to the end.”

Edie maintained a special rapport with the campers and staff. “The kids respected that she had rules,” Marvin said. “And they liked her. She had a certain warmth that came natural to her.”

Edie made tremendous advancements at Pine Forest. She was an innovator, bringing to the camp a free-choice program for boys and girls and equalizing the girls athletic program. “We had confidence in her and gave her the freedom to make changes,” recalled Marvin. “She proved she was right. Having her here added class to our whole operation; whatever she did has become part of our foundation that will go on forever.”

A leader and volunteer

A super organizer, Edie was in great demand to chair committees, organize seminars, and speak at various functions.

She was a natural leader. “She was able to articulate how proposed changes could improve ACA’s ability to serve camps,” said John Miller, ACA executive vice president. “She built bridges between groups to make the changes happen. She did it with a sense of humor, compassion and the ability to make those different groups feel good about their involvement in the process.”

“Edie’s wisdom and guidance were what people looked for,” said Charlie White of ACR’s Southeastern Section. “She was always driving the section forward.”

Norman McGee Jr., president of the ACA Southeastern Section, adds, “You could always count on Edie to stay up on what was going on and to let you know what she thought about it.”

They recall Edie’s fundraising abilities and sense of humor. “Edie was always an active participant in the ‘I Believe’ auctions,” said Charlie. “We played tricks on Edie to enhance a bid, but she played tricks on others to do the same thing.”

Every year Edie put on her “official voice” to explain in a serious way why someone needed to buy a certain mug. Many section members remember the scenario: “We passed around that same $2 mug, and every year Edie would get someone to buy it for $50.”

Edie was a generous donor herself. She wrote extensively, and when her materials were published by ACA, she gave her royalties to the Endowment Campaign.

Edie served in many volunteer positions including ACA national president (19881990), president of the ACA Southeastern Section (1978-79 and 1982-83), and president of the Northeast Georgia Girl Scout Council. She also received awards as a tribute to her leadership and involvement: In 1981 she received the ACA Honor Award; in 1982 and 1983 she earned the Outstanding Teaching Award at the College of Education, University of Georgia; and in April of this year, the ACA National Board of Directors voted to award Edie the 1996 Distinguished Service Award (ACA’s highest honor).

But for all her titles and awards, most people knew her simply as “Edie.”

A friend

Nell Poolos, a Girl Scout volunteer, met Edie in 1964. They got together often for lunch and an occasional Georgia football game. Each year, the two of them went to the ACA national conference a few days early to travel and see the town. Over the years, Edie was very supportive and gave Nell ideas for her role as a Girl Scout camp professional.

“The thing that made everyone who met Edie instantly love and respect her was her honesty,” said Nell. “Sometimes you didn’t like what she said, but everybody knew it was the truth.”

Whenever Edie came to the ACA national office, she visited each staff member individually. She took an interest in their staff position and personal lives. Edie not only brought cheer into the office, she always brought something for the staff to share – sweet rolls, cookies, candy. She gave Christmas gifts to each staff member when she was national president, even though it was not a holiday she observed.

“She made everyone feel they were special to her,” said one ACA staff member.

“If Edie traveled across the country, she’d never have to stay in a hotel,” said another ACA staff member. “She could go to any city and she’d know someone. She’s spent her life keeping in touch with people. Her directory of best friends must’ve been a three-inch binder.”

A living foundation

Edie spent nearly 50 of her 65 years in camping. Before she died, she left specific instructions for those who attended her funeral: no crying, no mourning, celebrate. According to Norm McGee, “No one would dare cross Edie, dead or alive. So we celebrated.” Loved ones and strangers, Jews and Christians, children and the elderly all sang Gathering ’round the Ole Campfire as a tribute to this woman who touched so many lives through her work in camping.

“She set an example that many will continue to emulate,” said one of her many students. “Even though we will all miss her, she built such a strong foundation all across the country, through so many people, she’ll be remembered and talked about forever.”

At Edie’s request, contributions may be sent to the University of Georgia Foundation, Edie Klein Scholarship Fund, c/o Dr. Douglas Kleiber, Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, 300 River Road, Athens, GA 30602.

Written by Karen Pavlicin and Grechen Throop.

COPYRIGHT 1995 American Camping Association

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group