As the Park School Summer Day Camp wraps up its 82nd season, campers and staff are saying farewell to longtime Camp Director, John Mirand. He has led Park’s popular day camp for 22 years. To him, the Park Summer Day Camp is like home, and the people are like family.
Mirand is retiring at the end of this year’s session and it’s bittersweet.
“I’m ready to do this but I’m proud of the program we have created,” said Mirand. “The passion and creativity of the staff, the commitment of the families…. It’s been great watching campers grow up and then send their children to Park Camp.”
Mirand’s first experience with the camp was in 1977 when the 16-year old was an assistant counselor for the second grade boys. “It was my first paid job! We had a blast. It was a united place.” He went on to become head counselor two years later. He worked as head counselor until 1990. Six years later he was back as Director.
He felt a profound sense of responsibility when he took over as Camp Director 21 years later. “As a new hire, I looked around and felt an overwhelming responsibility to make this camp magical.”
Mirand reintroduced hiring teachers as counselors, something that was common in the 1950s but had slipped away by 1996 when Mirand was hired as director. “I brought back teachers as counselors. They have so much talent. We helped define the camp and I’m proud of that.”
Camp families say he succeeded. Why else would generation after generation attend?
“It’s rewarding when campers come back. I run into Grandma at the meet & greet – all three of her sons came, and now her granddaughter is here. There have been at least four couples who met here and are now married. It’s more than rides or attractions,” said Mirand. “It’s a family. The staff is a family to me and my children. I cherish these years.”
Both of Mirand’s daughters attended camp (and Caralyn is a Park School graduate). Both went on to be counselors. “I made them go through the complete interview process,” said Mirand, with a chuckle. “And they both did great.”
Mirand takes special pride in the quality of his staff. “The camp’s history is a long one. It opened in 1935 and for two years operated for 3 hours per day. There were 50 campers and tuition was $20 for six weeks. In 1937, the camp grew to a full day with more than 150 campers a day. (Now, the camp hosts approximately 400 campers per day!)
Lynne Smith has been Mirand’s right hand since the beginning and she will be retiring on Friday as well. “Lynne is honest, loyal, hard working, and dedicated to the camp and school,” said Mirand. “She has been my right arm assistant and friend throughout the years. She’s been with me for 22 years. Her sons attended camp.” Again, the theme of family.
The war years were tough. Fathers were at war and working mothers needed a safe place for their children. Park Summer Day Camp filled that void. 1943 saw the Day and Night Camp where campers slept on campus and grew Victory Gardens to support the war effort in World War II. A group of boys ages 14-18 formed the “Work Squad” and in return for their school tuition, they worked five hours per day taking care of the grounds.
In 1947 a pool was constructed (in front of Hamlin Hall and now filled in) and it quickly became the “most popular part of the camp program.”
A series of camp directors led the camp from 1950 through 1996, when Mirand came aboard, including a 12-year stint under Charlie Wolfer from 1966-1978, and 13 years under Frederick “Fritz” Kuhn from 1979-1992. Former head of school Eric Korvne was director for two years in the early 1990s and current director of college counseling Karen Miller headed the camp in 1995.
But Mirand has been here the longest… 22 years as director, and as a counselor in his teens. That’s 35 years.
“The camp was running alright when I came in but it was in a bit of trouble. I knew I could make it better. I felt like I had to prove myself. I give Eric (Korvne) and (current head of school) Chris Lauricella a lot of thanks for understanding that the camp is good for the school. We’re all working together in different ways and different roles to help Park grow.”
“I have worked with John for 10 summers and have always marveled at the amazing job he does as camp director,” said Lauricella. “He has dedicated 35 years to the camp and watched many children grow up during that time, all of whom I’m sure have wonderful memories of their summers under his care. On behalf of all of us at Park, I extend my heartfelt thanks to John for making the Park Summer Day Camp the premier summer experience in WNY!”
Looking to the future, campers and counselors alike can expect the camp’s DNA to be carried on. “Spending summers at camp is a beautiful gift,” said Director of Enrollment Management, Marnie Cerrato, who, as a former camp director, will shepherd the camp going forward. “I love that our campus continues to thrive with joyful campers all year long. Friendships, laughter, and adventures are part of the magic of camp and we look forward to continuing these traditions for many years to come.”