A Day with Rick Richter

Earlier this year, Joseph Riddle ('88, '95, '97), the Alumni Relations Committee Chair, met up with Rick Richter (‘50-'53) in Rick’s hometown. Read about their day below. 

If you’ve never been to Kendal on Hudson, tucked away in charming Tarrytown, NY, you’re missing out. It’s a beautiful 40-minute train ride from New York -- right along the Hudson, with views of trees and cliffs along both sides of the river, and an occasional sighting of one of the ocean-going vessels that travel down from the Erie Canal. You’re in luck too, because as a Camp Rising Sun alumnus you may find both a reason to visit and a warm welcome waiting.

I recently found myself journeying there to see Rick Richter, friend to many and official Camp Rising Sun historian. Rick has invited me to spend the day with him, marinating in LAJF lore.

I remember meeting Rick for the first time as a camper, in the summer of 1988. He visited to give his annual Instruction on “Choosing a University,” (many of you reading this will share a similar memory). I was intimidated. As the youngest of 13 children from a family that wasn’t wealthy, college was a goal for me -- but not a certainty. I figured any wisdom Rick had to share would be wasted on me, fated as I was for community college, or a state school. (Foolish! One of my few real regrets from camp).

I met him again as a counselor, in the ‘90s just as I was finishing college, when I finally got to hear Rick’s instruction. It was excellent. The campers I encouraged to attend were the ones who, like me, feared that college might be out of reach. I’ve gotten to know him better since joining the board, and by reading his thorough history of Camp Rising Sun, and I’ll tell you this: Rick has a special way about him. It took me a while to recognize the extent of his generosity and amazing memory.

Upon arriving at Kendal on Hudson, Rick takes me briefly to his apartment -- filled with the filing cabinets and papers that document a life of learning. But only for a moment. We are headed right next door to the Rockefeller State Park Preserve, a treasure of undeveloped land in this expensive part of New York. It was once the site of one of the great Rockefeller mansions. Now all that’s left is a pretty (and evidently well built) stone foundation -- a flat space that Rick tells me is the highest point for several miles around. It’s a lovely day, and a great vantage point to see the new Tappan Zee bridge going up.

For me (and for many alumni who aren’t from New York) just the sight of the Hudson River is evocative of camp. It seems fitting that this man, a friend, and mentor to so many CRS’ers, would end up in this beautiful place.

After our walk, it’s down to business. We talk about the early years of camp, about Freddy, about Rick’s introduction to CRS in 1950 (as the nature counselor), about past LAJF executive directors. He tells me dozens of stories about campers from his early years -- and some stories of campers who pre-date him.

We discuss the decision to open up Clinton in 1989, at a time when Rick was just coming onto the board. It was the right decision, but one that -- combined with other factors -- contributed to some years of dipping into the core of the foundation’s money, and, eventually, hard choices about where and when to defer maintenance on one property or the other.

Many people, most maybe, didn’t see that coming. There was talk in those days of securing research grant money and launching Camp Rising Suns all over the world. Rick tells me a story about a past camp director, Dave Weikart, who went on to found the High/Scope Camp and educational foundation (an organization that was a client of mine in a previous job, that I had no idea was founded by a CRS alum).

“Dave Weikart was an educator who wanted to do experimental things at Camp -- expand the curriculum.  Freddy, who by then had been doing things his way for a long time, didn’t like that and they parted ways. When Dave left, he took with him some of his best ideas from the Camp Rising Sun tradition. While it existed, the High/Scope camp ended up being largely funded by academic research.”

Why didn’t CRS ever have luck with that route? I ask.

“To secure funding, he had to select kids at random and compare them to a control group. Nobody thought it was the right ethical model for LAJF to have a control group.”

Rick tells me about another New York state camp he attended -- a commercial camp, that still puts out a glossy alumni magazine each year. Having those kinds of resources would be nice. But, he adds, “Going the commercial route never seemed quite right, either.”

We discuss other notable CRS alums -- founders of successful companies, well-known journalists and scholars. Men Rick has been acquainted with for decades. “Why don’t some of those successful alums donate more to camp?” I ask.

“I don’t know.” He sighs. “It’s different for each one. For some of our first African American alumni, it may have to do with racism they experienced at camp. For others, it may be a disagreement with Freddy’s method... A lot of campers from those early years felt like Freddy’s message was ‘Go out into the world to give, don’t give back to camp, financially.’”

One thing becomes clear during our conversation, and that is Rick’s amazing capacity for personal correspondence. He’s in touch regularly with seemingly hundreds of people -- not just CRS alums, but former students from his years as a University professor, and former colleagues.

It turns out he has connections to a couple of alums from my year: my good friend Larry Norden (who did attend Rick’s college instruction in 1988, and who benefitted from it), and another camper I didn’t know well, who it turns out has been corresponding with Rick for almost 30 years. Amazing.

“Do you think Camp Rising Sun will last another 100 years?” I ask. “It might!” He says with a smile.

We discuss the fact that, for better or worse, CRS made the right choice in sticking to Freddy’s model. CRS is one of the last operating camps of its kind, and it’s kind of wonderful as it is. Not perfect, by any means, but an experience that did a lot to shape Rick’s life, his career, and his friendships. Mine, too: “I feel so lucky to have gone to Camp, I really don’t know what my life would have been like without those friendships,” I tell him. He smiles.

We end the day with another walk around the green, shady grounds, and we agree that if Camp Rising Sun is going to last another 100 years it will be because of the notable excellence of our young alumni. We have each been impressed, during visits to camp in recent seasons, by the quality and energy of the boy and girl campers we have interacted with. “These kids are wonderful,” he tells me. “And they stay friends with each other after camp. It’s a reason to feel hopeful.”

Indeed it is, Rick. And from all of us, a big thank you and How How for your part in keeping our traditions alive.