- Associated Press - Saturday, August 13, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The young girl at camp had no idea she’d become a pediatric cardiologist when she grew up.

But when Sandy Clapp, 67, reflects on her decision to enroll in medical school at Ohio State University, she knows her many summers at Camp Wyandot - both as a camper and as a camp counselor - gave her the confidence she needed to do it.

That’s why she returned to the familiar campsite this summer wielding power tools and an iron will. Clapp, who lives in Dallas, wiped the sweat from her face and the sawdust from her shirt and smiled. The wooden frame of a sizeable storage shed was starting to take shape.

“This camp has done so much for me,” Clapp said. “I wanted to pay it back.”

For the past three summers, a small group of Camp Wyandot alumni and their family and friends have returned to the residential camp in the Hocking Hills to complete construction projects as volunteers. The new tradition, spearheaded by self-taught women in their 60s, started when Clapp retired and reconnected with former camp director Connie Coutellier, 74, in 2014.

Coutellier was also the director in the 1960s, when Clapp was a counselor.

The two women went their separate ways in the ‘70s - Clapp enrolled in medical school and Coutellier, a lifetime camper, took jobs with the national staff of Camp Fire USA and the American Camp Association. Coutellier retired and returned to Camp Wyandot in 2011 to “temporarily” fill in as its director again. She hasn’t left.

The first time Clapp visited, she realized Courtellier’s office, likely no more than 350 square feet, also serves as her living space on the days she is away from her Pickerington home.

“She decided I needed to move my bed out of the middle of the office,” Courtellier said.

Clapp, Courtellier and the volunteer construction crew added two bedrooms, a storage area and a deck onto the building and also updated its bathroom. In 2015, they expanded the inadequate restroom facility for boy campers. Until 1975, the now-coed camp served only girls.

None of the much-needed upgrades cost the independent, nonprofit campground anything.

That brings us back to this year’s project: a storage shed for camp caretaker Chuck Woodrum Jr., 51, which will also serve as his workshop. The handyman currently stores his tools and maintenance supplies in a shabby, 70-year-old shed that’s much too small.

“It’s amazing what they’re willing to do to help us out,” said Woodrum, who assisted the group with all three projects.

As the women worked together, they reminisced about how little has changed at their beloved camp. The dining hall still smells of chestnut wood. The 70-year-old dinner bell still echoes through the hills. And each summer, hundreds of children still connect with the outdoors, and each other, for the first time.

Those fond, familiar memories inspire many alumni, like them, to help the next generation of campers through donations and volunteerism.

“They still feel attached to it after all these years,” Courtellier said. “It’s really inspiring.”

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