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For Ben Swan '78, Summer Camp is All in the Family

For many grown-ups, the notion of summer camp evokes the chocolate goop of s’mores, the heavenly scent of pine trees, the cozy glow of a campfire. For Ben Swan, a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 1978, summer camp means all that and more, because it’s the family business: Pine Island Camp, a 110-year-old camp for boys in Belgrade Lakes, Maine.

Pine Island Camp has inhabited the island in Grand Pond, one of the Belgrade Lakes, since 1902. Eugene Swan bought it from the founder in 1908. His son, Eugene L. “Jun” Swan Jr., took over in 1947, and his grandson Ben, after stints as a camper, counselor and assistant director, took the helm in 1990. He has degrees in English from W&L and UVA and taught at the Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., before returning to Pine Island. His wife, Emily, serves as the business manager. The rest of the year, they live in Brunswick, Maine, with their children Rippy, Harry and Katie.

Campers between the ages of 9 and 15 arrive by launch, live in a tent, and forego running water and electricity. On the water, they learn to swim, to fish and to pilot rowboats, kayaks, sailboats and canoes. On the land, they craft items in the shop, master riflery and archery, play tennis and learn camping skills.

Readers of Martha Stewart Living spotted the handsome black-and-white pictorial of Pine Island in the May 2012 issue, featuring photos of Ben’s grandfather’s office, plus canoes and tents, trophies and campers.

One of the many beloved camp traditions is the subject of another article, this one in the July issue of DownEast magazine. During the Pine Island Game, aka the War Game, the camp population splits up into two teams for an intense two-day competition, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. “Despite its bellicose name,” says DownEast, “the game involves no physical contact or mock violence. It does, however, involve running, scheming, manipulation, and intense focus as well as more old-fashioned skills like laying in wait, getting bitten by mosquitoes, and following orders.”

As Ben told the writer, “The stated object of each summer at Pine Island is to build a successful community. This is a test of the community. But ultimately, I think, it pulls the camp together, because everyone’s been through a difficult, intense experience.”

Here’s hoping one of their rewards is unlimited s’mores.