Recreation leader ensured a memorable vacation

By  Lisa Petsche
  • July 26, 2007
The year I turned 13, my parents booked a week at a lakefront resort, a departure from our family’s usual summer plans. This afforded us a wealth of recreational opportunities. Little did we know, though, how big a role the activities director would play in our enjoyment of them.
We met  Sandy that evening, at a welcome reception in the lodge. He was dressed as a genie.

At first we didn't know what to make of him. But he was entertaining and outgoing, and guests – ourselves included – were drawn to him. Over the course of the week we would spend a considerable amount of time in his company.

A colourful, 30-something character, Sandy had boundless energy, a love of adventure, a wacky sense of humour and a gift for storytelling. He'd travelled to exotic places and would regale us with tales, some no doubt embellished. He embraced New Age beliefs and practices, such as holistic health and healing, yoga and transcendental meditation. We'd never met anyone like him.

Delightfully spontaneous, he'd show up as a fortune teller or with a guitar in hand, ready to start a sing-a-long in the lounge. He connected effortlessly with people as well as nature. This made Sandy perfect for his job.

No one knew what he did or where he lived the rest of the year, or how the resort's owners had found him. An intriguing sense of mystery surrounded him. All we knew was that he'd been working there for a few summers.

In keeping with Sandy's easygoing nature, the recreation program was informal. Some activities were pre-planned, while others were announced at breakfast. Day trip destinations varied, according to Sandy's whims.

The most memorable events were the "wet shoe" trips. I recall moments of anxiety during each of them, but Sandy's confidence and enthusiasm were contagious, ultimately overpowering my fears.

 There was the excursion to one of the local falls, where we crossed white water by hopping on boulders. And the island trip where, in order to glimpse a blue heron's nest, we scaled a muddy cliff.

Then there was the river trek. A mixed group of families, honeymooners and older couples, we were dropped off mid-morning at the riverbank with canoes, paddles, lifejackets and boxed lunches.

The water was unusually shallow, and cautious navigation was required. At times we had to carry our canoes. One of the newlyweds became mired in mud and it took considerable effort to free him.

During our lunch break, rain clouds moved in. The drizzle continued most of the afternoon. Unfazed, Sandy tried to keep our spirits up, singing and telling jokes. But we couldn't get out of the canoes fast enough when we finally reached our destination and the waiting vehicles. What a disaster, I thought, drenched and miserable. That evening, though, Sandy had us laughing about our misadventures.

With Sandy's persuasion, my sisters and I also tried water skiing – again and again, until we got the hang of it. "Can't" wasn't in his vocabulary.

Our last night at the resort, Sandy handed out certificates for "bravery, endurance and valour" exhibited during the week's activities. I still have mine.

The next summer, we were thrilled to reunite with Sandy for another week of adventures. Highlights included climbing a 30-metre steel fire tower, participating in a postcard photo session and launching a war canoe, an event covered by the local press.

Disappointingly, Sandy wasn't on staff when we returned the following year. He hadn't been available, no one knew the details. There was a new recreation director, capable enough, but things simply weren't the same. They couldn't be.

My family has often reminisced about those two unique vacations and wondered where life's journey has since taken Sandy.

I envision him still single and nomadic, a free spirit pursuing eclectic interests around the globe. Somehow, I can't imagine him settled down, with a steady job, a wife and kids (and maybe grandkids). But you never know.

In any case, thanks, Sandy. Not only for all the fun, but also for encouraging us to stretch our limits.

We went home with some great stories we've enjoyed sharing over the years – no embellishments needed.

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