Summer camp!

Located on Walloon Lake in Michigan's northern lower peninsula, Camp Michigania has been a haven for alumni families for generations. (Photo courtesy Alumni Association of U-M.)

Located on Walloon Lake in Michigan’s northern lower peninsula, Camp Michigania has been a haven for alumni families for generations. (Photo courtesy Alumni Association of U-M.)

When Joyce and Herbert Furman dipped their paddles into Walloon Lake, the couple thought they were embarking on a leisurely morning canoe trip. It was not to be.They departed the lakeside camp where they were staying in northern Michigan. About 30 minutes in, however, a Boston Whaler approached. “This thing came tearing down the lake looking for us,” Joyce Furman (’53) recalls.

The motor boat pulled alongside and a camp staffer told the Furmans their two-year-old son, Steven, was “having a fit” in the nursery. Would someone hop aboard and return?Joyce Furman began climbing from the canoe—and capsized Herbert (’49, ’50, ’52). “I dumped my husband and the whole canoe over,” she says.

The Alumni Association purchased the camp in 1962, later giving it the name Michigania. (Photo courtesy Alumni Association of U-M.)

The Alumni Association purchased the camp in 1962, later giving it the name Michigania. (Photo courtesy Alumni Association of U-M.)

Herbert did right the canoe and paddled back. Joyce rushed to the nursery to reassure Steven. But there were no tears by then. “Steven was having a wonderful time,” she laughs. It was 1962. The place is today called Camp Michigania, on Walloon Lake. It’s about 25 minutes south of Petoskey by car. The Furmans have returned more than 20 times, bringing kids and grandchildren.”It’s a wonderful place,” says Joyce Furman. The Alumni Association of the University of Michigan owns Camp Michigania. It opened in the summer of 1961; initially based at the U-M Biological Station, it was nicknamed “bug camp.”

Like the Furmans, generations of U-M alumni flock to Camp Michigania each summer. Strangers become friends. Memories are made. The camp is in such high demand that not everyone lands a slot, though as of this posting space is available for “week 11” this summer, August 28 – September 4.

Part of the reason for its popularity is the community spirit. “It’s a place where everybody knows your name and everybody loves your kid. It’s hard to find that concept in today’s society,” says Debbie Furman (’86), daughter of Joyce and Herbert. “In today’s day and age, where can you go with your kids and say to your kids, ‘See you in four hours and have fun’? You know they’ll be safe.” But there are plenty of places to take a safe vacation with kids and friends. Why does Michigania inspire so much passion?

Says one frequent visitor, 'Where can you go with your kids and say to your kids, See you in four hours and have fun? You know they'll be safe.' (Photo courtesy Alumni Association of U-M.)

Says one frequent visitor, ‘Where can you go with your kids and say to your kids, See you in four hours and have fun? You know they’ll be safe.’ (Photo courtesy Alumni Association of U-M.)

It all began a half century ago.When the Furmans took their canoe trip, the Alumni Association leased what was then a children’s camp—Camp Huntington/Sherwood—during the post-camp season.That fall, the Association learned the owners wanted to sell the 377-acre property, provided the buyer kept the camp intact to prevent development. The Alumni Association bought the camp for about $250,000 and later renamed it Camp Michigania. The property includes woods, panoramic lake views, and more than 1-1/4 miles of lakefront. Summer, fall and winter programs are offered for U-M alumni. In summer, campers can spend a week enjoying activities such as sailing, riflery, tennis, horseback riding, arts and crafts, and more.

They also hear U-M faculty speak on topics from jazz history to hydrogen-cell batteries. The speaker series has been a long-time highlight—for campers and faculty.

The arrival of The Unicorn is eagerly anticipated by children.

The arrival of The Unicorn is eagerly anticipated by children.

Hazen Schumacher (’50), retired director of broadcasting at U-M and one-time host of the NPR radio program “Jazz Revisited,” has given upwards of 30 talks since 1968. He’s discussed jazz history and media technology, including the emerging development many years ago of cable-TV and satellite.”What I love most is how nice people are,” says Schumacher. “The whole week is a big love fest.” Many campers return the same week each summer, such as “fourth week.” “We’ve got a family who bought a house a quarter mile away and they still come back to camp their week.” says Mitch Rosenwasser, camp director since 2002. About 100 families visit Michigania weekly during the popular summer period. Nearly all eleven weeks of summer camp sell out by early January. More than 100 families are wait-listed yearly. The Alumni Association also operates a summer camp, Michigania-East, in upstate New York.

old photo of a homemade parade at camp michigania

Even adults find that camp brings out their playful qualities. Above, a hand-fashioned parade. Below, tug-of-war. (Photos courtesy Alumni Association of U-M).

Camp Michigania is the brainchild of Bob Forman, head of the Alumni Association when it bought the Walloon Lake property. “It was created to connect alumni to each other and to U-M,” says Rosenwasser. Forman succeeded. Friendships begin.”That’s how we’ve built lasting friendships to this day,” says Helen Kerwin (’57), who met Joyce Furman at Michigania in the seventies. “She and I have been close friends ever since.”Much has changed since early on. A new dining hall was just completed, and campers have more meal choices. The cabins offer one- and two-bedroom units, hot showers, desks, a common room, and a porch. A new arts and crafts center and nature center have been built. It wasn’t always that way. A shower, for example, required a quarter-mile walk. “There was little privacy. Some parents would hang sheets across the rafters of the cabin to separate their bed from the rest of the family,” recalls long-time camper Edie Resnick (’48). “Old timers used to complain camp had gotten too fancy. I, for one, don’t miss seeing the ground though the floorboards.”Legends, too, have developed—such as the Unicorn. The horned, horse-like creature appears near the end of each week in summer, galloping by the arts and crafts center. A wizard on top dispenses goodies to kids awaiting the Unicorn’s rumored arrival. At other times, hoards of three- and four-year-olds will sail out onto the lake in search of “Puff the Magic Dragon.”And stories abound of pranks by campers—and even camp staff.Faculty speaker Schumacher recalls that many years ago the camp staff asked whether he wanted a glass of water on the lectern for his talk at that evening’s Faculty Forum presentation. “Sure,” responded Schumacher. During the talk, Schumacher lifted the glass to take a gulp.”I smelled it. It was pure gin,” he says. “Fortunately, I didn’t chug-a-lug it.”

the beach at camp michigania on a sunny day with several sailboats on the sand

A lot has changed at Michigania over the years, but the essentials remain the same. (Photo courtesy Alumni Association of U-M.)

Stories like these are the hallmark of all summer camps. Generations of kids have returned to their homes and neighborhoods with funny tales and lasting memories. But for most people, the memory-making ends at about age 16, when they stop attending camp. After that, they’ve got a lifetime to look back at increasingly distant good times. But Michigania offers space and activities for adults as well as kids (and even for hard-to-please teens, who end the week-long sessions with a “Last Chance Teen Dance” on Friday.) The camp gives parents and grandparents an opportunity to play, to goof around and play pranks and get back in touch with their own most playful selves. Or in the words of Steven Furman—the same Steven who played a role in his parents’ canoe-tipping—”Camp has always been a way to get away from the day-to-day activities of life.” In these fast-paced and stressed out times, the chance to do that, surrounded by family and friends, is a real treasure.

Have you been to Camp Michigania? What are your favorite memories? Share your stories in the comment section below.


  1. Robert Resnick - 1983 MBA

    There were two summers at \”bug camp\” (1960 and 1961) before the first summer at what became Michigania. I have some fond memories from them. I was 5 the first year. I have too many memories to list any individual one. We have been taking my kids since they were very young (the youngest was about 6 weeks old her first time).
    Robert Resnick (son of Edie Resnick)


  2. Penny Papadopoulos - 1988

    It is a special place! Lasting friendships have developed over years—and it is truly beloved by our whole family. We have “camped” there for 22 years and we still want to go every year.


  3. Jonathan Greenberg - 1988 2001

    Nice primer, but many of us who started camping as kids have continued long after 16 to both work on staff as well as continue as campers with our families.
    Jonathan Greenberg Camper 1975-? Staff ’85-86


  4. Amy Roy - 1991

    I was first introduced to Camp as a counselor in the late 80s. Many of my fellow counselors had grown up going to camp and would get excited when their “week” was camping since family and old friends would be around. It was the best job I’ve ever had and I never got tired of seeing Walloon, whether I was getting up in the morning or returning to Camp after spending time in town. I’ve been camping with my family for 6-7 summers. I can’t imagine spending a week anywhere else.


  5. Jennifer (Jonas) Carlson - 1995, 2002

    We started going to camp when I was seven (and you still had to walk from the showers), took a break in the college years, and now have returned twice with our kids and the entire Jonas family. We have always been third week campers. I think my favorite memories are from the years my Uncle Steve put on Fourth of July fireworks shows for the whole camp. Michigania is simply, for me, the happiest place on earth!


  6. Lois Santalo - 1943

    I didn’t discover Camp Michigania until I had grandchildren, but as soon as I did, I started traveling to Michigan every summer from my home in California, riding on Amtrak so I could rent the family room and take four or more grandchildren with me. We attended for ten or twelve years, until travel became too much for me. My grandchildren are adults now but they still urge me to take them one more time. Maybe next year I’ll brave the elements and do that. I get very homesick for Michigania when Second Week rolls around.


  7. Mitch Rosenwasser - 1985, 1990

    Chuck Hutchins, a camper for many years beginning in 1963, has let me know that additional credit should go to Jack Schuler, as a volunteer leader with the alumni association, as being a driving force behind the creation of alumni family camping at the University of Michigan.


  8. Marvin Sonne - 1973

    We began attending Michigania in 1978 (known as Camp Michigania then) and fell in love at 1st sight. Our family grew up on Walloon Lake in the summers that followed and two of our children (Amy & Jeff) became camp counsellors for a number of years. Amy then became Assistant Camp Director for two years. The beauty of Northern Michigan is displayed without comparison on the hallowed grounds along Lake Walloon. We\\\’ve witnessed the amazing development that has occurred over the last 30+ years and couldn\\\’t be prouder to call Michigania our home away from home. Unfortunately, we\\\’ve not been at Michigania these last few years but look forward to returning soon. We love ya and miss ya. GO BLUE.


  9. Peter Pickus - 1989/1994

    Just got home from my 43rd year at Camp including four on staff. Each year is special and too many vivid and glorious memories to count. Now seeing my own kids (ages 6 and 2) loving the place with the same conviction is heart-warming. Thanks to my mom and dad who started the family tradition in 1968.


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