The Colgate Scene
September 2001

A camp that cares

Tom Tucker '67 wasn't a happy camper as a kid, but now that he's running a camp, well, it's a different story.

"I spent one week in the infirmary and I was homesick the other week," he says, recalling a summer from his past.

Today, as the chairman and founder of the Fiver Foundation, he has presided over a remarkable metamorphosis on hillsides that sweep down to Poolville Lake. Camp Fiver, in its second season, has four two-week sessions with 40 boys and 40 girls each fortnight. The campers range in age from eight to 12 and 80 percent are back from last summer.

"I love kids," says Tucker on a hot afternoon. Despite his experience as a seven-year-old, he had seen the kind of impact a camp his wife Heather was involved in was having on girls in Long Island.

"The influence was significant," says Tucker, who had worked at Lehman Brothers and knew he didn't want to commute forever. In 1992, at his 25th reunion, Tucker responded to a questionnaire that asked what the men of '67 wanted to do with the rest of their lives. "Start a camp." The answer had everything to do with the notion of giving back, of making a difference in the lives of the less fortunate.

Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, was the special guest of Tom Tucker at the grand opening of Camp Fiver in 2000.
By 1996 Tucker had retired and the idea of a camp was still with him. He searched throughout the Adirondacks but still hadn't found what he was looking for. A Hamilton realtor mentioned a farm was available and while Tucker couldn't envision he'd find the right spot so close to Colgate, he decided to visit Poolville anyway.

There, he walked the 152 acres of the old Keefe farm.

"I'd never really been to Poolville," says Tucker. He wandered by the lake, across the open fields and through the woods. "It had all the topographical pieces I needed." The Tuckers bought the land, including the charming farmhouse where they now live.

Again, a reunion -- this time Tucker's 30th -- proved pivotal. Classmates Greg Marotz and Ira Haspel expressed interest in the camp idea and provided encouragement. Today, both serve on the board of directors and Haspel, an architect, designed the camp.

With the land and supporters, Tucker met Jim Flint, an experienced camp director from Wisconsin. The two walked the site and Flint was ready to move forward, his enthusiasm prevailing over Tucker's concern about his own lack of expertise.

The Fiver Foundation was established and set up shop in a Hamilton storefront. A month later, in October 1998, the first board meeting was held at the farmhouse. The directors defined the mission -- to provide a summer camp experience for economically disadvantaged children, foster self-esteem and interpersonal skills. In less than two years a $4 million campaign was successfully completed.

  Nigel Goodman '03 played with campers and was a role model for kids from tough circumstances.

Haspel's 19 buildings began to take shape around the 3,500-square-foot dining hall. Built by Gaetano Construction Company, the $3.4 million campus includes cabins, activities buildings, a pool, barn and playing fields.

Not unlike Lake Wobegon, time seems to stand still in Poolville, and the creation of the camp signaled a major change for the small enclave. When one of the Keefe brothers was asked how he felt about the transformation of the old family farm and hunting grounds, his answer dovetailed perfectly with Tucker's vision.

"My grandfather always dreamed this land would be used for the greater good."

Tucker hears that good in the sound of happy kids at play. He and the Fiver Foundation seek to build leaders with a ten-year concept that differentiates the camp from most others and will embrace children from age eight to 18.

"Even two weeks at camp can change a life," says Tucker "and our plan is to reinforce that during the off season." Fiver meets with families, holds reunions in church basements and takes groups to Mets games. Even the summer program is evolving -- there are plans to introduce a wilderness component as the campers get older.

"Our ultimate goal is to have the campers come back as counselors," says Tucker. "Jim Flint and I agreed that the most important thing we could do was put the right people in as counselors. They are huge role models."

Among the counselors is Colgate junior Nigel Goodman, who knows the campers are always looking up to him. "Four sessions do wear you down, but you can take something positive out of every day." Goodman clearly sees the effects camp has on his charges.

"A lot of the kids come with baggage. They have an adult level of stress in the city and they come with a hard shell. But at camp they can be kids, run around and enjoy the grass and sun. They just want to be accepted and have fun."

While there are no preconceived views of a child at camp -- in fact, the expectation is the kid will do the right thing -- there are quiet chats between counselors and campers throughout the day. They talk about what went wrong and what is needed to recitify the situation.

Fiver is dedicated to changing lives. The foundation's name -- and philosophy -- is inspired by Fiver, the scrawny but plucky rabbit who had the vision of moving the warren to a safe new home, from Richard Adams' novel Watership Down.

Tucker began writing Adams, who is in his 80s, in 1999 and the author "loved the idea" of the camp, attended the grand opening and is an honorary board member.

There, in front of the large stone fireplace that dominates the dining hall, Adams charmed the audience. "I'm proud to have that rabbit on the logo," he said of Fiver, who is at the center of the camp emblem, and then captured the spirit of the enterprise in one sentence.

"What a marvelous example we have here of that generous, warm-hearted American spirit."

Tom Tucker has created the safe new home where in two happy weeks anything is possible.

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