RAYMOND – The beloved former leader of Camp Agawam has reached a major milestone, turning 100 earlier this week. He had help celebrating from former campers and counselors, who held birthday parties across the country in his honor.
“It’s been a wonderful 100 years,” said Dave Mason, who lives in Fryeburg with his wife Peg, 91.
The Masons owned and directed the boys camp on Crescent Lake in Raymond for nearly 30 years. Together, they helped guide kids from 1957 until 1985, when they turned the camp over to the Agawam Council, a group of former campers, parents and staff.
Through it all, the Masons were always striving to mold young boys into responsible men.
“Dave has probably been one of the most influential – if not the most influential – people in my life,” said former camper Mike Forbes.
Forbes, 65, is a former U.S. Congressman from New York who now serves as a deacon of a church in Austin, Texas. He credits the lessons he learned at Agawam – including confidence, focus, and the idea that all things are possible by doing what is right – for helping him become the man he is today.
“I attribute most, if not all, the successes in my life to the influence that Dave had upon me,” said Forbes.
Dave’s birthday was Sunday, April 9, and Forbes was one of 11 Agawam alumni or friends to host a party to help celebrate from afar. Dave and Peg had their own small party in Fryeburg with family and friends.
Along with Forbes’ party in Texas, there were gatherings in California, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey and New York, along with one closer to home in Windham hosted by Dave and Cathy Griffiths at the Deck House Tavern.
Former camper and counselor Peter Wilson Jr. hosted a party at his home in New Canaan, Connecticut, where about 25 people came together to celebrate Dave’s big day. Wilson, 50, said the group included Agawam campers from as far back as 1946 and as a recently as 2014.
“We stood in a circle, and everyone introduced themselves,” Wilson said. “We could have done that all day long.”
Wilson attended Agawam as a camper starting in 1979, and worked there from 1982-87, eventually becoming program director. The party at his home also featured a large, 3-D cake designed to look like Dave.
Though a tall man, both Wilson and Forbes describe Dave as a quiet and gentle leader.
“I don’t think I ever heard him raise his voice,” Forbes said.
That approach seemed to make all the difference for Forbes, who said he arrived being “scared to death” from Long Island in 1965 at age 12.
“They had a calm, nurturing manner about them that ended up settling into your bones,” Wilson said about both Dave and Peg.
The Masons met in church while living in Connecticut. She was born in New Jersey, he in New York, and they would eventually move to Maine to run the camp that his father founded back in 1919 when Dave was 2.
“During the camp summers, Peg and I were a team. She ran the office and I ran the camp,” Dave said about their partnership.
Perhaps their most heralded accomplishment was instituting the Maine Idea Program at Agawam in 1971, which, according to the camp, provides more than 100 disadvantaged Maine boys with a free week-long camp experience.
Dave said the idea for the Idea program came from what Helen Herz Cohen had started at Camp Walden in Denmark, where disadvantaged girls from around New England were offered a free camp experience. Dave’s take for Camp Agawam was to offer it specifically for campers from Maine.
Over the years, the duo provided consistent leadership at Agawam, even as the world changed around them.
“It was just a different world then,” Peg said, explaining how things have changed drastically since the days where camp correspondence was done by letter or telephone.
Something that hasn’t seemed to change over the years is the strength of family connections on display at Agawam. Wilson, for example, sent his two sons to the camp and they are now counselors.
Forbes said about 50 members of his immediate and extended family have attended the camp, including his father, brother and all three of his sons.
Though former Congressman Forbes now has politics in his rear view, several of Maine’s current political leaders took time to recognize Mason’s milestone. Maine’s two U.S. Senators, Republican Susan Collins and Independent Angus King, sent Mason a flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol.
On Saturday, Mason was also surprised with a video montage of messages from Agawam alumni wishing him well as he enters his second century.
“I haven’t seen some of those faces since camp,” he said.
When asked about the outpouring of support from the Agawam community, Mason didn’t hide his appreciation.
“It’s a very, very warm feeling. Very gratifying, very humbling,” he said.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
Former Camp Agawam owner and director Dave Mason, seated, celebrates his 100th birthday with his wife Peg and family and friends.
A 3-D cake made in Dave Mason’s likeness at a 100th birthday celebration held in New Canaan, Connecticut in his honor.