Brenda Matthews and Leslie Witbeck Interview, 2010

Brenda Matthews and Leslie Witbeck met at camp when they were kids. Both ladies remember Camp Mueller fondly and especially swimming in the pool at the camp. Brenda and Leslie talk about how the camp counselors had "Indian" names. The two ladies also recount the various activities campers did at the camp, including riding on the camp's mule.

Participants: Matthews, Brenda (interviewee) / Witbeck, Leslie (interviewee) / Tebeau, Mark (interviewer)
Collection: Phillis Wheatley Association
Institutional Repository: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Interview Transcript

Mark Tebeau [00:00:00] Who is, will be asking you to sign at the end of our interview. Just that we can use this and put it in the archive.

Leslie Witbeck [00:00:06] Okay.

Mark Tebeau [00:00:07] And I'm going to arrange this so that if we're all a little closer together and I can hear the both of you just fine.

Brenda Matthews [00:00:14] Wonderful.

Mark Tebeau [00:00:16] So please introduce yourself.

Leslie Witbeck [00:00:19] Leslie Witbeck.

Brenda Matthews [00:00:21] And Brenda Matthews.

Mark Tebeau [00:00:23] Well, thank you for interviewing with us today. So we're here to talk about Camp Mueller. And my first question, I'm going to ask is, when were you ladies born? If you don't mind telling us.

Brenda Matthews [00:00:37] Oh, the year?

Mark Tebeau [00:00:37] The year. Yes, and where?

Brenda Matthews [00:00:41] Brenda Matthews. I was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1947.

Leslie Witbeck [00:00:48] Leslie Witbeck and I was born in 1946.

Mark Tebeau [00:00:52] And what neighborhoods do you, did you grow up in?

Brenda Matthews [00:00:59] I was in the... [An unidentified person gives Matthews a glass of water, which she acknolwedges.] Thank you. I would say the Quincy-Fairhill neighborhood at the time. Fairfax Recreation Center was near my home, and I went to Quincy Elementary.

Leslie Witbeck [00:01:19] Well, I grew up in the Glenville area and then moved to Lee-Harvard area. And I went to Miles Standish, which is now what, Michael R. White?

Brenda Matthews [00:01:32] I believe you're right.

Leslie Witbeck [00:01:33] Yeah.

Mark Tebeau [00:01:34] So how did you first hear growing up about this camp?

Brenda Matthews [00:01:40] Well, one of my girlfriends attended it.

Unidentified persons [00:01:43] Took a long. Pull it up. He said he can pull it up. I pushed it down. Pull it up. Pull it up?

Leslie Witbeck [00:01:51] One of my girlfriends went to Camp Mueller. So her father and mother told my mother and I ended up going.

Mark Tebeau [00:02:01] And what, did you have any expectations when you started? What did you think was going to happen to Camp Mueller?

Leslie Witbeck [00:02:08] I was going to play, run. Get wild. Things that I couldn't do at home.

Mark Tebeau [00:02:19] Okay, and what about you? How did you hear about Camp Mueller?

Brenda Matthews [00:02:22] I was going to day camp at the Phillis Wheatley at first, at six and seven. And from that point, my mother heard about overnight summer camp for two weeks sessions. And that's how I started. Information that my mother received at day camp.

Mark Tebeau [00:02:40] And what did you expect?

Brenda Matthews [00:02:42] Swimming was what I was interested in at that time. I was already taking lessons, but I wanted to learn to be a better swimmer. And I, for some reason, maybe for movies, I felt that I would learn, learn better at camp.

Mark Tebeau [00:02:58] Now, now, ladies, we were, we were taking a stroll around the grounds a few minutes ago, and I began to wonder did you two know each other at camp?

Leslie Witbeck [00:03:07] Oh, yes.

Brenda Matthews [00:03:08] Yes, yes.

Mark Tebeau [00:03:10] So now you're a year apart. How did you meet each other at camp?

Brenda Matthews [00:03:15] Well, you know, we're, we're really not a year. I was born in January of '47 and for that.

Leslie Witbeck [00:03:22] And I was October '46.

Brenda Matthews [00:03:24] So that's really three or four months difference. So we were in the same.

Leslie Witbeck [00:03:29] Unit.

Brenda Matthews [00:03:30] Unit, cabins, and tents at the time.

Mark Tebeau [00:03:34] Wow. So, what are your, how did you meet? Do you remember your first time you met?

Brenda Matthews [00:03:38] I can't, Leslie. We was young.

Leslie Witbeck [00:03:39] I can't either.

Brenda Matthews [00:03:41] Oh, no.

Leslie Witbeck [00:03:42] That's too long ago. You're talking over 50 years. But.

Mark Tebeau [00:03:49] So take me back to the swimming experience.

Brenda Matthews [00:03:54] The counselors were mostly college students and we went swimming every day and had lessons, and it was wonderful. Our counselors were patient and, and taught us different techniques and the dead man's float, in the back, float the butterfly. And it was just awesome. The counselors were just great at the time. They all had Indian names. I wish I could remember most of the names I believe. Ms. Leslie can. She's better at that than me.

Leslie Witbeck [00:04:24] I remember some of the names. One of the swimming instructors was named Anna Kiki. And she was, I'll never forget, Newport News, Virginia is where she was from. And an excellent swimmer. And she's the one who made me want to be the first black Esther Williams.

Brenda Matthews [00:04:41] Okay.

Leslie Witbeck [00:04:43] Do you know who that is?

Mark Tebeau [00:04:44] I don't, tell me.

Leslie Witbeck [00:04:45] Well, Esther Williams was in movies and she did water ballets, synchronized swimming, and she was in quite a few movies. And I wanted to swim like her.

Mark Tebeau [00:05:00] And were you able to swim like her after camp?

Leslie Witbeck [00:05:02] Yes. I even got my junior lifeguard certificate here at Camp Mueller and I went on from there.

Mark Tebeau [00:05:11] Now, do you think it's possible the two of you became friends because of swimming?

Brenda Matthews [00:05:18] No.

Leslie Witbeck [00:05:18] There was so many other things that we were doing.

Brenda Matthews [00:05:18] Oh, so many activities, yes.

Leslie Witbeck [00:05:20] That we interacted with each other. You know, so.

Brenda Matthews [00:05:24] Right at breakfast, the breakfast here was very warm, very family.

Leslie Witbeck [00:05:30] Family- oriented.

Brenda Matthews [00:05:31] Oriented. And it was still the same stage. And so you became friends, right at your, your meal, mealtime, whether you were younger or older. Because we all ate together. It was just so warm. It really was.

Mark Tebeau [00:05:44] So tell me about that breakfast. What did they serve you for breakfast?

Brenda Matthews [00:05:50] Hot oatmeal. We truly had.

Leslie Witbeck [00:05:52] Sometimes we'd have oatmeal. Some mornings, cream of wheat.

Brenda Matthews [00:05:54] Some mornings it would be cold cereal. But we always had toast and jelly or apple butter?

Leslie Witbeck [00:06:00] Apple butter. I, I really feel.

Brenda Matthews [00:06:02] Yes.

Leslie Witbeck [00:06:02] It was homemade.

Brenda Matthews [00:06:03] Yeah.

Leslie Witbeck [00:06:03] The apple butter was absolutely delicious.

Mark Tebeau [00:06:05] Had you ever had apple butter before?

Brenda Matthews [00:06:07] Yes.

Leslie Witbeck [00:06:08] For me, here was my first experience camp, as far as, apple butter. That's my first introduction was here.

Mark Tebeau [00:06:16] I love apple butter.

Leslie Witbeck [00:06:20] Me too.

Brenda Matthews [00:06:20] Yes.

Mark Tebeau [00:06:20] What about lunch and dinner? What do you remember what foods you had for lunch and dinner?

Brenda Matthews [00:06:24] Do you remember, Leslie?

Leslie Witbeck [00:06:25] Oh, no. But it would be a usual lunch, you know, well-balanced.

Brenda Matthews [00:06:29] Great real mashed potatoes.

Leslie Witbeck [00:06:32] Yes.

Brenda Matthews [00:06:34] And butter and milk. Real not instant. Everything at actually was, was fresh.

Leslie Witbeck [00:06:40] Yeah.

Brenda Matthews [00:06:41] As far as our meals, but no your mashed potatoes and your chicken. And I'm trying to think of the different meals we would have at all our different.

Leslie Witbeck [00:06:48] Meatloaf.

Brenda Matthews [00:06:50] Meatloaf.

Leslie Witbeck [00:06:51] Corn.

Brenda Matthews [00:06:51] Yeah, but they were all well-balanced meals.

Leslie Witbeck [00:06:56] True. And we get fruit twice a day every day.

Mark Tebeau [00:06:59] Now was that something you didn't have much of at home?

Leslie Witbeck [00:07:02] Well, we had fruit.

Brenda Matthews [00:07:02] Good fruit.

Leslie Witbeck [00:07:03] It was something that you automatically got here, whereas at home I might see it and walk past it. This time, you know, it was right there. So you ate it.

Brenda Matthews [00:07:14] Peeled and sliced or whatever. Fixed in a salad, which made it more appealing all the time.

Mark Tebeau [00:07:22] Now, tell me about those cabins that you stayed in. Were they, were they cabins or tents?

Brenda Matthews [00:07:28] Both.

Leslie Witbeck [00:07:29] Well, the younger kids stayed in cabins, which is what we started out in. And the bunks would be lined up and there would be counselors at either end.

Brenda Matthews [00:07:44] Inside plumbing.

Leslie Witbeck [00:07:47] But we couldn't wait to get to the tents. Then we had an outhouse.

Mark Tebeau [00:07:52] How'd you feel about the outhouse?

Leslie Witbeck [00:07:54] Well, late at night and you had to go. You might get halfway to it, but you'd change your mind quick or you'd get your buddy to go with you. It wasn't anything you wanted to do on your own.

Brenda Matthews [00:08:11] Well, by the time you got to tents, you should be used to spiders.

Leslie Witbeck [00:08:16] Yeah.

Brenda Matthews [00:08:16] Frogs.

Leslie Witbeck [00:08:17] Snakes.

Brenda Matthews [00:08:19] Occasional snake or two. So but it was, the big girl to be in a tent that meant she was a big girl now.

Leslie Witbeck [00:08:25] That's right.

Mark Tebeau [00:08:25] Now, do you ever remember a time going to the outhouse and seeing a snake or a frog in there?

Leslie Witbeck [00:08:30] No.

Brenda Matthews [00:08:31] Spiders maybe. Not the snake in the outhouse.

Leslie Witbeck [00:08:35] Not snakes.

Brenda Matthews [00:08:35] The, the spiders.

Leslie Witbeck [00:08:37] Yeah.

Brenda Matthews [00:08:37] Daddy long legs.

Mark Tebeau [00:08:38] So how many years did you go to this [inaudible]?

Brenda Matthews [00:08:43] Maybe six.

Mark Tebeau [00:08:44] And what about you Ms. Leslie?

Leslie Witbeck [00:08:44] About the same.

Mark Tebeau [00:08:46] So what, so what were the other differences between camp and when you were just starting out Were you, that first time, were you, were you scared? Were you a little homesick?

Leslie Witbeck [00:08:58] No, because I already knew one person that was going. So, it was fine with me.

Mark Tebeau [00:09:05] Who did you know that was going?

Leslie Witbeck [00:09:06] My girlfriend. She had been the summer before. And next summer, I went. And so I wasn't afraid that. I'm an only child, so I had no problems going anyway. All you had to say, let's and my bag is packed.

Brenda Matthews [00:09:24] Same with me. I'm an only child so traveling prior to coming to camp, I was doing that and exposed to different activities because of being an only child. So my parents went oh, let's get her here and let's do this. So. And to do sort of a variety of things since I didn't have someone to play with.

Mark Tebeau [00:09:44] So now, I understand you sang songs here at camp?

Brenda Matthews [00:09:48] Yes.

Leslie Witbeck [00:09:51] Yes. That's a song.

Mark Tebeau [00:09:55] Now I asked you before, could you remember one of those songs? Maybe two of them for me.

Leslie Witbeck [00:09:58] Wait a minute can we get the Camp Mueller song together? Let's see. I can only do two verses.

Brenda Matthews [00:10:01] Camp Mueller campers. Camp Mueller campers.

Leslie Witbeck [00:10:04] Are you ready?

Brenda Matthews [00:10:06] Why not?

Leslie Witbeck [00:10:08] I may bail out on you, though. Cause I can't get it together.

Brenda Matthews [00:10:10] See that's not right.

Leslie Witbeck [00:10:12] I know. I'm not a bit funny. It would be because I can't. Are you ready?

Brenda Matthews [00:10:16] Yeah, let's do it.

Brenda Matthews and Leslie Witbeck [00:10:16] Camp Mueller campers are the campers that are really cool. Camp Mueller!

Leslie Witbeck [00:10:24] Camp Mueller campers are the campers.

Brenda Matthews and Leslie Witbeck [00:10:26] That are really cool. Camp Mueller!

Brenda Matthews [00:10:30] Mueller, how we love your name.

Leslie Witbeck [00:10:33] All right.

Brenda Matthews [00:10:33] And we hope to bring you fame.

Brenda Matthews and Leslie Witbeck [00:10:37] Camp Mueller campers are the campers that are really cool. Camp Mueller!

Leslie Witbeck [00:10:42] All right.

Brenda Matthews [00:10:43] We're campers. We're.

Leslie Witbeck [00:10:45] Oh, my goodness.

Brenda Matthews [00:10:46] Do your best.

Brenda Matthews and Leslie Witbeck [00:10:50] Dance and sing.

Brenda Matthews [00:10:52] You're better than.

Brenda Matthews and Leslie Witbeck [00:10:54] The rest. La, le. La, le. La, le. La, le. La. Camp Mueller! La, le. La, le. La, le. La, le. La. Camp Mueller!

Brenda Matthews [00:11:07] Mueller how we love your name and we hope to bring you.

Brenda Matthews and Leslie Witbeck [00:11:16] Thank. Camp Mueller campers are the campers that are really gone. Camp Mueller!

Leslie Witbeck [00:11:21] Wasn't that wonderful?

Mark Tebeau [00:11:22] All right. Come on boys. Now that was fantastic.

Leslie Witbeck [00:11:32] Yes.

Mark Tebeau [00:11:32] I'm impressed that you could remember that. Oh, wow. You have a beautiful voice.

Brenda Matthews [00:11:34] Thank you.

Mark Tebeau [00:11:35] Now, ladies, you asked me a question. As we were walking over here, you wondered if the activities were the same. And I'm curious if these young gentlemen who have been to Camp Mueller. Do you think they know any camp songs?

Brenda Matthews [00:11:45] I believe they should.

Leslie Witbeck [00:11:49] You should.

Mark Tebeau [00:11:49] Do you all know any camp songs?

Jimmy [00:11:51] I am the only one who went to camp here.

Mark Tebeau [00:11:53] And do you know any camp songs?

Brenda Matthews [00:11:54] Yes, you do.

Leslie Witbeck [00:11:54] Yes, you do.

Mark Tebeau [00:11:54] You weren't singing any camp songs?

Jimmy [00:11:54] Nope.

Mark Tebeau [00:11:54] No campfire songs?

Brenda Matthews [00:11:54] You've got to be kidding me?

Jimmy [00:11:56] No. I'm, I'm serious, we didn't do any campfire songs.

Brenda Matthews [00:11:56] Oh, okay.

Mark Tebeau [00:11:58] Oh, now I'm really disappointed. I was hoping you'd sing for us.

Jimmy [00:12:03] We didn't do any. I mean, we just sat by the fire.

Mark Tebeau [00:12:08] Sat by the fire?

Jimmy [00:12:08] We never did anything.

Mark Tebeau [00:12:11] So, boys, I have some more questions I'm going to ask the ladies, but I'm wondering if you each have any questions about their experience that you wanted to ask? Lucky and then Jamar.

Lucky [00:12:20] Was there any pranks that you all did?

Brenda Matthews [00:12:24] What was that again?

Lucky [00:12:25] Was there any pranks that you all did?

Brenda Matthews [00:12:27] I did. I. Again, I said we had a moonlight swim and that was really, really big because the girls and boys would swim together. And, you know, we're teenage, we're 12 and 13 now. And that was a big deal. But I collected a jar full of daddy long leg spiders all throughout the today, and that evening I let them loose in the tent. Everyone was scream and hollering but myself. So that was a give away that I was the...

Leslie Witbeck [00:12:56] Culprit.

Mark Tebeau [00:12:58] Leslie, do you remember this?

Brenda Matthews [00:12:58] And my, I couldn't go on the moonlight swim and to me, that was very important. But yeah, that was my prank.

Mark Tebeau [00:13:05] And that was your punishment?

Brenda Matthews [00:13:06] Yes, it was. Yes, it was. But I had fun.

Mark Tebeau [00:13:12] Was it funny?

Brenda Matthews [00:13:16] Well, it depends on whether a spider crawled across your face or not. If one crawled across your face, it wasn't funny.

Jamar [00:13:27] I have a question. Was there any light in the tent? Whatsoever, any lights?

Leslie Witbeck [00:13:31] Flashlights.

Jamar [00:13:36] What about out in the outhouse?

Leslie Witbeck [00:13:38] Flashlights.

Brenda Matthews [00:13:36] No, flashlights. I mean, we really was.

Leslie Witbeck [00:13:38] We camped.

Brenda Matthews [00:13:38] We camped. We camped. Yes. It's true. So true. We did have to walk with the flashlights every where we went once the evening came.

Leslie Witbeck [00:13:46] That's true.

Mark Tebeau [00:13:48] How dark did it seem that first few years or so, that first time you went?

Brenda Matthews [00:13:53] Well.

Brenda Matthews and Leslie Witbeck [00:13:54] It was dark.

Leslie Witbeck [00:13:55] It was dark, but for some reason the moon and the sun and the moon excuse me, and the stars was really it was bright. It came out you'd be able to see once your eyes would get adjusted. You can, you see shadows. You can move around.

Mark Tebeau [00:14:15] Do you have a question?

Unknown camper 1 [00:14:16] Yeah, I do. What kind of art activities did you do?

Brenda Matthews [00:14:19] Oh, the craft that we, the grading of the keychain.

Leslie Witbeck [00:14:23] Oh, yeah. Lanyards.

Brenda Matthews [00:14:25] Yeah.

Leslie Witbeck [00:14:25] We'd make.

Brenda Matthews [00:14:27] The plastic streamers. Make the key, keychains that go around your neck on your arm.

Leslie Witbeck [00:14:32] Yeah.

Brenda Matthews [00:14:32] That was.

Leslie Witbeck [00:14:33] We made earrings for our mothers. We worked with clay.

Brenda Matthews [00:14:38] That clay. Yes. Table plates, making the plates and painting. Yeah. So, that was.

Leslie Witbeck [00:14:46] Placemats.

Brenda Matthews [00:14:48] Scavenger hunts was fun. Yeah, that was really, really fun. I enjoyed it. That's where they gave us a list of things to bring back and we'd get a little prize and they will call for the swimming instructor's hair and a certain flower. And it would be things that we would have to go all over the campground to get.

Leslie Witbeck [00:15:08] To find, yeah.

Brenda Matthews [00:15:09] Different type of stones because they've taught us about the different leaves and stones and, and to collect and bring them back. That was fun. I enjoyed that.

Leslie Witbeck [00:15:17] That was fun.

Mark Tebeau [00:15:18] This swim instructor's hair.

Leslie Witbeck [00:15:19] Astrad.

Brenda Matthews [00:15:21] Astrad.

Mark Tebeau [00:15:21] Which swim instructor do you remember?

Brenda Matthews [00:15:23] Oh, he was so fine.

Leslie Witbeck [00:15:27] I can't remember his name but he was very good looking. Very good looking. And in retrospect, very nice body too.

Brenda Matthews [00:15:36] Of course, we're, you know, 13 and 14 by this time and we didn't look at it that way.

Leslie Witbeck [00:15:43] Yeah.

Mark Tebeau [00:15:44] You had a question, sir?

Unknown camper 2 [00:15:45] Yeah. Did you guys go on any nighttime classes?

Leslie Witbeck [00:15:49] Yeah.

Brenda Matthews [00:15:49] Well, we the field, where we were heading, we spent a night in in the sleeping bags.

Leslie Witbeck [00:15:55] Yeah.

Brenda Matthews [00:15:55] All night.

Leslie Witbeck [00:15:58] We'd have the campfire.

Brenda Matthews [00:15:59] We'd have the campfire, sleep on the ground, and the sleeping bags, and listen to what we thought sounded like coyotes and owls and everything else.

Leslie Witbeck [00:16:09] We'd tell ghost stories.

Brenda Matthews [00:16:10] Yes. Counselors were very good at telling the stories, and.

Mark Tebeau [00:16:13] The counselors were good at telling stories?

Brenda Matthews and Leslie Witbeck [00:16:15] Yes.

Mark Tebeau [00:16:16] Tell us. Just one second. Could one of you guys go close that door real quick? We're getting a lot of noise from it. Thanks Jimmy.

Leslie Witbeck [00:16:23] That's the bingo players.

Mark Tebeau [00:16:25] And the longer they play, the louder they get.

Leslie Witbeck [00:16:28] They get.

Mark Tebeau [00:16:29] So tell me, what's the. Tell me a ghost story.

Leslie Witbeck [00:16:33] Oh, I don't know remember.

Brenda Matthews [00:16:34] I don't remember either. Oh, there were plenty of them and the crazy hunter and all that kind of stuff. But no, I'm sorry. I wish I could remember some of them.

Mark Tebeau [00:16:45] Ms. Witbeck. I'm sorry, before when you were telling us about the female counselor you remembered, there was some noise in the background. Could you tell us her name again and what?

Leslie Witbeck [00:16:53] Anna Kiki. She was our swimming instructor.

Mark Tebeau [00:16:56] And what do you remember about her?

Leslie Witbeck [00:16:58] Well.

Brenda Matthews [00:16:59] She was attractive, I'll say.

Leslie Witbeck [00:17:00] Very, very. She was from Virginia, and she is the one who was responsible for me getting my junior lifeguard certificate. And I went on from that night. She started me doing water ballets, the synchronized swimming. And I wanted to be the first black Esther Williams.

Mark Tebeau [00:17:21] Now, did you do the water ballet with her?

Brenda Matthews [00:17:24] No, I didn't. No, I didn't.

Mark Tebeau [00:17:25] So. Tell us about water ballet.

Leslie Witbeck [00:17:28] Oh, that's where you more or less put on a show, a dance-like in the water. You do surface dives and when you go down, you can spin and you see your feet going all the way down.

Mark Tebeau [00:17:41] Now, could you do this show for someone at the end of camp?

Leslie Witbeck [00:17:44] It would be for the campers, yeah.

Brenda Matthews [00:17:47] Shows for each other. We entertained each other.

Leslie Witbeck [00:17:49] Yeah.

Mark Tebeau [00:17:49] Oh, really? So tell me about that. Was there something at the end of camp or was it ongoing?

Brenda Matthews [00:17:55] Ongoing.

Brenda Matthews and Leslie Witbeck [00:17:55] We'd play in the talent shows.

Brenda Matthews [00:17:58] The younger kids may learn little things. And we'd come to dinner one day and after dinner we'd put on a little show.

Unknown person [00:18:04] Is this the restroom here?

Mark Tebeau [00:18:08] It is.

Brenda Matthews [00:18:08] It's one of them, yes.

Unknown person [00:18:08] Oh, okay. thank you.

Brenda Matthews [00:18:10] Also with the older kids singing and.

Leslie Witbeck [00:18:13] Dancing.

Brenda Matthews [00:18:13] Dancing routines.

Leslie Witbeck [00:18:15] Skits.

Mark Tebeau [00:18:16] Now, you, you said the camp counselors had Indian names.

Brenda Matthews [00:18:21] Yes, they did.

Mark Tebeau [00:18:22] Do you remember those Indian names? Even if you don't remember the counselors' names?

Brenda Matthews [00:18:25] There was White Cloud.

Leslie Witbeck [00:18:27] Minnehaha.

Brenda Matthews [00:18:29] Hiawatha was the cook. There was Little Beaver. Those are the ones I remember.

Leslie Witbeck [00:18:37] And you are doing better than I

Brenda Matthews [00:18:44] Yes.

Mark Tebeau [00:18:44] So one of the things where I'm going to ask you, we're we're. I'm going to ask the boys to ask you a question here in a few more minutes. But I have a couple other questions that I'm supposed to ask. One is about the neighborhoods you grew up in, and I don't recall exactly what you answered. How was camp different from the neighborhood and the community you grew up in? You know, so that's.

Brenda Matthews [00:19:09] Oh, for me completely. I'm in inner city.

Mark Tebeau [00:19:12] Okay.

Brenda Matthews [00:19:12] I mean, truly inner city, so.

Mark Tebeau [00:19:14] So, [where did you] grow up then?

Brenda Matthews [00:19:15] I grew up in a Quincy. And for the ones who may know Quincy Central neighborhood, Fairfax Recreation Center is a popular center. So someone here and that would have an idea of the location. But I'm strictly inner city. I went to the recreation centers in the neighborhood. But as far as the camp atmosphere, no.

Mark Tebeau [00:19:37] So what was different?

Brenda Matthews [00:19:39] The air. Trees. Well, as far as the frogs, and the snakes, and the spiders. All of it. Yes.

Leslie Witbeck [00:19:50] Nature.

Brenda Matthews [00:19:51] Nature itself.

Mark Tebeau [00:19:52] So nature, was that what you, was different. Now, where did you grow up, Ms. Witbeck?

Leslie Witbeck [00:19:55] Glenville area. And we had a pool that was accessible. Yeah. I mean, right here at our disposal. And like I said, nature because you didn't get the trees. And you didn't go for hikes in the city. And you rode your bicycle or you walked. Well, there weren't any bikes out here. So we walked.

Brenda Matthews and Leslie Witbeck [00:20:24] Everywhere.

Brenda Matthews [00:20:25] Yes.

Leslie Witbeck [00:20:26] Just being outdoors. We didn't have to worry about traffic, getting hit by a car, or anything. And we we're just free-like.

Mark Tebeau [00:20:34] Wild even.

Leslie Witbeck [00:20:37] Yeah.

Brenda Matthews [00:20:38] Yes. Yeah.

Mark Tebeau [00:20:43] What, would did, did, is there anything you didn't like about camp?

Leslie Witbeck [00:20:48] The outhouse.

Brenda Matthews [00:20:50] I was going to say that would be for me also. The outhouse.

Mark Tebeau [00:20:52] Did it smell bad?

Leslie Witbeck [00:20:53] Yes.

Brenda Matthews [00:20:55] And it was always cold water.

Leslie Witbeck [00:20:56] That too.

Brenda Matthews [00:20:56] Always. Well, and the tent and the cabin when you're younger. The younger children it was warm water and inside. But in a tent. Yes.

Leslie Witbeck [00:21:07] You washed in cold water.

Brenda Matthews [00:21:09] Washed in cold.

Leslie Witbeck [00:21:09] Showered in cold water.

Mark Tebeau [00:21:12] What was the typical day like? Just what would you do? You'd wake up when and when would you go to sleep?

Brenda Matthews [00:21:20] Well, we'd wake up early.

Leslie Witbeck [00:21:21] Yeah. Brush, brush our teeth. Come to breakfast. Go back and clean up.

Brenda Matthews [00:21:29] Clean up.

Leslie Witbeck [00:21:29] Your areas.

Brenda Matthews [00:21:30] True.

Mark Tebeau [00:21:30] Now, you mentioned the flag pole out front when?

Leslie Witbeck [00:21:33] That was after?

Brenda Matthews and Leslie Witbeck [00:21:35] Before breakfast.

Brenda Matthews [00:21:37] Before breakfast.

Mark Tebeau [00:21:37] Tell me about that. So what happened?

Brenda Matthews [00:21:39] We had a ceremony.

Leslie Witbeck [00:21:41] Yeah. Every morning. Every evening. We would meet out in the, by the flag code and we'd raise the flag. There would be a different group to do it. And.

Brenda Matthews [00:21:54] That is right.

Leslie Witbeck [00:21:55] You'd do that, too? And then every evening after dinner, we would lower the flag.

Brenda Matthews [00:22:00] And fold.

Leslie Witbeck [00:22:01] And fold it.

Mark Tebeau [00:22:03] Now was it a real privilege to be the child who was doing the folding?

Leslie Witbeck [00:22:06] Yes.

Brenda Matthews [00:22:07] Yes. For sure. Oh, the flag can't touch the ground. Now that was.

Mark Tebeau [00:22:13] Who chose the person who did that?

Brenda Matthews [00:22:16] The counselor who thought they was a responsible individual for the day.

Mark Tebeau [00:22:22] Now, every day when you would do something, was there a set of activities on a like, on a list?

Leslie Witbeck [00:22:29] Well, some days we'd have arts and crafts in the morning. Oh. What else did we do?

Brenda Matthews and Leslie Witbeck [00:22:39] Well, we would... [crosstalk]

Brenda Matthews [00:22:41] Always swimming this weekend.

Leslie Witbeck [00:22:43] Swimming lessons we always had in the morning.

Brenda Matthews [00:22:45] After we cleaned up. We had the breakfast go back. We cleaned up. Then we had our swimming lessons. Some groups had the arts and crafts then. Some had the scavenger hunts. Baseball.

Leslie Witbeck [00:22:57] We were always doing something.

Brenda Matthews [00:22:59] Always hikes, just serious hikes up and down the ravines. And we really did the ravines. We really had to climb up and down the ravines.

Leslie Witbeck [00:23:10] Yeah.

Mark Tebeau [00:23:10] So besides the outhouse, was there anything else you didn't like?

Leslie Witbeck [00:23:13] No, I didn't like going home.

Mark Tebeau [00:23:14] I can understand.

Brenda Matthews [00:23:14] I enjoyed. I really did.

Leslie Witbeck [00:23:20] I did too.

Brenda Matthews [00:23:20] I had a good time.

Mark Tebeau [00:23:22] When was camp in June or July or do you remember?

Brenda Matthews [00:23:25] There was four sessions. It was.

Leslie Witbeck [00:23:26] Started in June.

Brenda Matthews [00:23:27] Immediately after school was out. Two weeks. So that was two weeks in a four weeks in June and four weeks in July. Or was it?

Leslie Witbeck [00:23:37] To start in like the middle of June.

Brenda Matthews [00:23:37] Yeah the last two weeks of June

Leslie Witbeck [00:23:41] And it would go. Then it would go to the first two weeks in August.

Mark Tebeau [00:23:44] And when. I'm sorry. When was the. Did you both go to multiple sessions?

Brenda Matthews [00:23:49] Yes, we did. I didn't.

Leslie Witbeck [00:23:51] I used to go second and forth.

Mark Tebeau [00:23:53] Second and forth?

Brenda Matthews [00:23:54] Second for me.

Mark Tebeau [00:23:55] Now, did it cost your parents anything to send you here?

Brenda Matthews and Leslie Witbeck [00:23:58] Yes.

Brenda Matthews [00:24:00] Yes. That's what the one two session week was most my parents could do and I was grateful for that.

Mark Tebeau [00:24:10] Now, I'm going to ask you just a couple of questions about your memories. Thinking back on Camp Mueller, did it change your life in any ways?

Brenda Matthews [00:24:19] Oh, for me, I will say yes. Even growing up with my children, I had plenty of friends and I'm sure you experienced that. They don't like bugs, and they don't like this. And they don't want to be bothered with the nature. I talk about these things and they like, oh, no, I can't do that.

Leslie Witbeck [00:24:33] They did nothing.

Brenda Matthews [00:24:34] I liked that. I liked the fact that I have no problems with animals and, and spiders and bugs, and you can enjoy yourself more. Also, with my sons, I did build a pit in the backyard. And for years when they were young, we did the s'mores and I didn't tell the stories we had a camp, but I did have a book at the time. A little storytelling that I could do. But yes, I have to say yes.

Leslie Witbeck [00:25:01] And it makes you more appreciative of nature as you get older. When you are in school and starting in biology and stuff like that. And you say, oh, I learned about that at camp. And you got a lot of exposure that you wouldn't normally get in the city and you appreciate things a lot more.

Brenda Matthews [00:25:21] I have to agree. And knowing what foods and leaves that were natural that were good for you that people and pioneer used before. One of the best experiences I had was the counselor taking us and picking sassafras leaves and boiling it. And that was some very, very good tea.

Leslie Witbeck [00:25:40] Yeah.

Brenda Matthews [00:25:41] Very good. And we was, I was really surprised and by, that was the healing experience with that tea. So I enjoyed that.

Mark Tebeau [00:25:51] Now, have you taken family members into the, have family members or close friends gone to the camp as a result of your experience?

Brenda Matthews [00:25:59] My sons, I will say yes. But it wasn't here. It was Hiram House. And at that time that, they went there, wanted to go there because of friends that they had that was going to that particular camp. So I tried. They went to Camp Mueller day camp when they were younger, but when they was eight and nine was ready to go. It was Hiram House because of other friends.

Leslie Witbeck [00:26:26] Well, after my first summer then some cousins who were around my age and a little younger started coming to camp, and some of their friends, and just went on and on.

Mark Tebeau [00:26:40] If you could pick one thing that you left the camp with, just one thing and said this was, this was it. This is what camp was all about for me. What would it be?

Leslie Witbeck [00:26:52] Swimming.

Brenda Matthews [00:26:52] Swimming for you? I have to say swimming also I really enjoyed that. That was.

Leslie Witbeck [00:27:00] Yeah.

Brenda Matthews [00:27:00] Fun. We had a mule. You don't remember the mule though, right?

Leslie Witbeck [00:27:03] Yes, I do. Vaguely.

Brenda Matthews [00:27:04] We did. We had a mule.

Mark Tebeau [00:27:07] A Mule?

Leslie Witbeck [00:27:07] Yes.

Brenda Matthews [00:27:07] And it was so, I don't want to say it was nasty, but it was always these bugs just floating around.

Leslie Witbeck [00:27:13] Flies.

Brenda Matthews [00:27:13] And we would, we would ride him.

Leslie Witbeck [00:27:18] Yeah.

Mark Tebeau [00:27:18] What was his name?

Brenda Matthews [00:27:20] I don't remember but as long as we could with the flies. Oh, my goodness. Bareback. That was fun. I don't know. Somebody may have donated him to the camp one year. You know what I'm saying? He didn't last long.

Mark Tebeau [00:27:35] Well, I'm done with my questions. Boys, do you have any more questions you'd like to ask? Okay, Jamar you first.

Jamar [00:27:41] Oh, yes I got one for you. When you said you lived in the Glenville neighborhood like 105 and 108th and stuff like that.

Leslie Witbeck [00:27:48] Yeah.

Mark Tebeau [00:27:51] Why do you ask? Do you live in Glenville?

Jamar [00:27:51] Yeah, I live, I live on 108th and St. Clair.

Leslie Witbeck [00:27:55] Well, I lived in on 93rd and Yale.

Jamar [00:28:00] Okay.

Leslie Witbeck [00:28:00] But I'm still on the same area.

Brenda Matthews [00:28:01] Ain't our school is still there isn't it?

Leslie Witbeck [00:28:03] Yeah, and I went to Empire Junior High. Oh, yeah.

Unknown camper 3 [00:28:10] Oh okay. I have a question. When you went to camp was it like a all girls camp or was it like a mixture of both.

Brenda Matthews [00:28:15] Girls and boys. Yes. Yes. That's why I was saying the swim the moonlight swim especially when we were 12, 13, and 14 and I was gone.

Leslie Witbeck [00:28:24] Yeah.

Brenda Matthews [00:28:24] Because it was the team boys there also.

Leslie Witbeck [00:28:26] Yeah.

Brenda Matthews [00:28:27] Yes.

Mark Tebeau [00:28:27] So where most activity single-sex?

Brenda Matthews [00:28:32] A lot of them were.

Leslie Witbeck [00:28:33] A lot of them were.

Brenda Matthews [00:28:33] But then we would get together with the different plays and the swimming we were all together.

Leslie Witbeck [00:28:38] And baseball.

Brenda Matthews [00:28:40] Baseball we were all together. Our meals was both sex.

Leslie Witbeck [00:28:42] Yeah.

Mark Tebeau [00:28:42] And you stayed in the... But your...

Brenda Matthews [00:28:47] Sleeping quarters were seperate.

Mark Tebeau [00:28:47] Seperate.

Brenda Matthews [00:28:48] Yes.

Mark Tebeau [00:28:49] Did, did anybody snore?

Leslie Witbeck [00:28:53] I don't know because I would be sleeping.

Brenda Matthews [00:28:53] We did have, you know, every once in a while someone would. We'd shake them up.

Leslie Witbeck [00:29:00] Because by the time I laid down. I was ready to go to sleep.

Brenda Matthews [00:29:02] After we walked around all day.

Leslie Witbeck [00:29:04] Yeah and played.

Brenda Matthews [00:29:04] You are right about that. We were tired. Pass out.

Mark Tebeau [00:29:07] Well, now I did promise you that I would let you ask the boys who'd attended camp, which in this case it looks like it's only Jimmy, any question you could you wanted ask and you're on the spot, my friend.

Brenda Matthews [00:29:22] Well, I have to ask this. We, we took our stroll. Are the cabins out here that you stay in now or tents?

Jimmy [00:29:30] No. They are just, they are cabins?

Brenda Matthews [00:29:32] No tents?

Jimmy [00:29:32] No tents.

Leslie Witbeck [00:29:34] So you come back and forth from a rec center every day or?

Brenda Matthews [00:29:38] How do you attend Camp Mueller now?

Jimmy [00:29:42] Usually, NAACP we go to Tri-C and you do the program we're in. Three of us our in. They take us over to Camp Mueller every summer, go through the camp, but they haven't, they just came into the program. So we will be at Tri-C and a bus. About three buses will come and we'll get on buses, pack all our stuff in the back and we'll ride to Camp Mueller. And.

Brenda Matthews [00:30:16] But where do you sleep?

Jimmy [00:30:17] We slept in the cabins.

Brenda Matthews [00:30:18] Oh, that's what I was.

Jimmy [00:30:20] First the two Stokes cabins.

Brenda Matthews [00:30:22] When you first come in?

Jimmy [00:30:22] And the cabin where we were when we first met you. That cabin right there.

Brenda Matthews [00:30:26] Oh, okay.

Jimmy [00:30:26] I slept in that cabin. And these, we went out into the, when we first came we were going to the mess hall and getting around a big circle, introduce ourselves. And then, it's like they sometimes had a list. One year they had a list, and one year they just went around. It was three cabins. So what they did was they said, one, one, two, three, one, two, three. And when all the ones went to that cabin, twos went to that cabin, threes went to that cabin.

Brenda Matthews [00:30:55] Okay.

Jimmy [00:30:55] It was, it was fun.

Brenda Matthews [00:30:56] Interesting. Okay.

Mark Tebeau [00:30:57] So did you... You... Were at the Stokes cabins here when you were here?

Brenda Matthews [00:31:02] And that.

Mark Tebeau [00:31:03] Those were the ones I think.

Leslie Witbeck [00:31:05] Atop of the hill?

Mark Tebeau [00:31:05] At the top of the hill here.

Leslie Witbeck [00:31:06] Well, we didn't go all the way up the hill, but that's where the cabins were for the girls.

Brenda Matthews [00:31:11] Where we met. When we was.

Mark Tebeau [00:31:12] This camp was having? Three, correct.

Brenda Matthews [00:31:15] Up the hill when remember when we said that hill seemed to be really tall. When we were younger, that's where the younger girls were.

Leslie Witbeck [00:31:22] Yeah. In the cabins.

Brenda Matthews [00:31:22] It's in the cabins up the hill.

Leslie Witbeck [00:31:24] And where that house like is, that's where our.

Brenda Matthews and Leslie Witbeck [00:31:28] Tent were.

Brenda Matthews [00:31:28] And we came to a conclusion that the ground must have given away because it was would be a set of six, six or seven tents plus the outhouse, which was along that path and evidently the ground had gave away cause, you know?

Mark Tebeau [00:31:45] Do you think the children missed something by not sleeping in tents today?

Leslie Witbeck [00:31:48] Yes.

Brenda Matthews [00:31:49] Oh, they missed so much. Yeah that's.

Leslie Witbeck [00:31:51] Yes.

Mark Tebeau [00:31:52] Did it ever rain?

Leslie Witbeck [00:31:56] Sure.

Brenda Matthews [00:31:57] Oh, storm and lightning. And that was intense. And that's when story, stories we would tell stories in the tents. Oh, yeah. It could be really intense. Kind of scary.

Mark Tebeau [00:32:07] How many people slept in the tents?

Leslie Witbeck [00:32:08] Wasn't it like?

Brenda Matthews [00:32:09] Four, I think.

Leslie Witbeck [00:32:10] Four. Yeah.

Brenda Matthews [00:32:12] Yeah seemed like two on each side.

Leslie Witbeck [00:32:14] Yeah.

Mark Tebeau [00:32:16] Well this has been lovely. I could keep talking to you all day, but I promised you we wouldn't take too long and we would.

Brenda Matthews [00:32:23] We appreciate it.

Mark Tebeau [00:32:23] Give you time to go down to the.

Brenda Matthews [00:32:27] Pool.

Mark Tebeau [00:32:27] Pool area.

Brenda Matthews [00:32:29] I thought we was going to be on the bus, you know, it's going to be a bus load of Camp Mueller campers, you know, so I wanted to be prepared.

Mark Tebeau [00:32:36] Did you think you were going to sing it on the bus ride out here?

Brenda Matthews [00:32:38] I thought most of the people that was coming were campers only to find out. Leslie found out before I that. I think we might be the only campers, only true campers that was here.

Mark Tebeau [00:32:48] No, we had some others. We, in fact, Mrs. Blakely.

Brenda Matthews [00:32:54] Okay.

Mark Tebeau [00:32:55] Was a counselor, maybe about the time you were there, you were there in the late '50s.

Brenda Matthews [00:33:04] '50s.

Mark Tebeau [00:33:04] Early '60s.

Unknown campter 4 [00:33:05] We didn't go swimming at the pool. It was closed.

Brenda Matthews [00:33:08] Here?

Unknown campter 4 [00:33:10] It was like, like a, like a spring kind of reservation.

Brenda Matthews [00:33:15] Okay.

Unknown campter 4 [00:33:16] And it was like you were out and turn about right. No, turn left going down the street. Keep going. Keep going. It was like, it was like a picnic area kind of. It was nice. But I never went swimming

Unknown camper 5 [00:33:30] That's the best part!

Unknown campter 4 [00:33:34] I don't like swimming.

Brenda Matthews [00:33:34] We had a boat.

Leslie Witbeck [00:33:35] Yeah.

Brenda Matthews [00:33:36] And went out on.

Brenda Matthews and Leslie Witbeck [00:33:36] The boat.

Brenda Matthews [00:33:38] Fire was it fireflies. Which one was it? No, dragonflies.

Leslie Witbeck [00:33:42] Yeah.

Brenda Matthews [00:33:42] Now they were a little.

Leslie Witbeck [00:33:44] Annoying.

Brenda Matthews [00:33:45] Annoying. Yeah. They were pretty big. I had to get used to them.

Mark Tebeau [00:33:51] Great. So [I] will. We're going to make a copy of this. We'll, we'll make a copy of this and we'll stick it in the mail to each of you within.

Brenda Matthews [00:34:01] All right. Did you need our telephone number. I know I saw it somewhere.

Mark Tebeau [00:34:02] Oh actually, do put your telephone number.

Brenda Matthews [00:34:05] Okay. I was, I was wondering about that.

Mark Tebeau [00:34:06] We can make, we can make it a point to call you.

Brenda Matthews [00:34:09] Okay.

Mark Tebeau [00:34:09] For our events and stuff because that's, this is very helpful. Okay.

Jimmy [00:34:16] I've never seen...

Mark Tebeau [00:34:16] Well, I will let the ladies take you to the pool.

Jimmy [00:34:18] I've seen it from a distance.

Brenda Matthews [00:34:20] Well, we're trying to work our way down there. I see the one direction we went is all blocked up now.

Mark Tebeau [00:34:26] Yeah, I'm not sure.

Unknown camper 6 [00:34:27] I have one question. When you guys were riding in the boat on the lake, did anybody fall in?

Brenda Matthews [00:34:34] Not while we were there. No.

Jimmy [00:34:35] They did one year.

Brenda Matthews [00:34:36] Did they?

Jimmy [00:34:37] We were riding and, and this one boy.

Brenda Matthews [00:34:42] Oh, that's another thing.

Jimmy [00:34:44] He was so, so.

Unknown camper 7 [00:34:47] Cocky.

Jimmy [00:34:48] Yes, he was so cocky. He always trying to show around from time to... That he's better than somebody.

Brenda Matthews [00:34:53] He tells it.

Jimmy [00:34:56] And we said, that looks deep. That looks deep. And we said, everybody be careful. He said, I don't have to be careful. So, he turns the one way. And we all start turning this way and of course, him trying to be cocky, he went the other way.

Brenda Matthews [00:35:10] The other direction.

Jimmy [00:35:11] He tried to go the other way. And we said, we're all turning this. But, what are you doing? And, it was, something happened. I don't know what happened we were turning, we turned around and the boat flipped over. And he was in there trying to swim but he couldn't swim. So, when we came out he was like, we said, I thought you could swim. And he said, the same thing bragging on about I can swim and stuff. I'm a really.

Brenda Matthews [00:35:29] Okay. Okay.

Jimmy [00:35:29] I'm a real good swimmer and stuff. And.

Mark Tebeau [00:35:36] He was Esther Williams.

Jimmy [00:35:38] Since then he has just.

Brenda Matthews [00:35:41] Well, since you mentioned that and you were asking earlier about what helped us with camp. And it was the canoeing. I had a hard time finding a friend to go canoeing, maybe five years. We was going to Mansfield canoeing and no one, you know? I don't know where you were at the time, Leslie. No one wanted to go, you know, so that's something that we was exposed to that made us adventurous. And I, I had a good time. I didn't know little white spiders fell out the tree. I had a little bit, I had to get used to that, really, because where we were canoeing, the trees overlaid the lake and it was for an hour and a half, almost two hours of canoeing. We, we went to a location. the bus took us to another location. We canoed back to where we came in. And it was almost two hours. But little bitty white spiders fell out the trees.

Jimmy [00:36:32] We used to, we had a big race one day with like a triathlon kind of race. We was running, canoeing, kind of mixture of scavenger, scavenger hunt like y'a'll said. And you had a, it was a group of three. You had to run. It started off with canoeing. You had, you really didn't want anybody that you really didn't like. They'll make you lose.

Brenda Matthews [00:36:55] Yes, they were. You need to have order. Yeah.

Jimmy [00:36:58] It was really, really hard. And then you had the person that wanted to be in charge of everybody.

Leslie Witbeck [00:37:05] Yeah.

Jimmy [00:37:05] So you went canoeing and then you had to come up on land. You had to get the stuff and they used to be part of some... One time, like you said you catched [sic] the daddy long legs. We had to do that. We had to catch all three of them. Put them in a jar. And we had people running with them and then they went. Right. And your group doing a certain president they'd have one job and one person was in charge of canoeing. So, what happened was you're going then back on the last leg of the race, we all separated. We all had to separate. And one person from each of the groups, they had a certain job going to different things they had to do.

Brenda Matthews [00:37:44] Okay.

Jimmy [00:37:44] And then you had to meet up and the first team that had all the people there won.

Brenda Matthews [00:37:49] Well, that sounded interesting.

Leslie Witbeck [00:37:51] Yeah.

Brenda Matthews [00:37:52] Oh, yeah. Fun, right.

Mark Tebeau [00:37:52] More elaborate than when you were in camp?

Brenda Matthews [00:37:54] Well, I don't know.

Leslie Witbeck [00:37:57] We used to have.

Brenda Matthews [00:37:57] We had. Yeah, we had fun.

Mark Tebeau [00:37:59] We had fun.

Phillis Wheatley Association

Interviews with staff and former campers at Camp Mueller, one of the nation's first African-American summer camps, located in what is now the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The camp is operated by the Phillis Wheatley Association in Cleveland, Ohio.