In April 1975 I attended my first LRY* conference, the NERO* Spring Conference, which was held at Rowe Camp in the little town of Rowe, MA in the Berkshires of north western Massachusetts. I remember it was a lot of fun, and while I don’t recall the actual workshop, I do remember that I attended a workshop led by Rev. Douglas Wilson, who was then the Executive Director of Rowe Camp and Conference Center. And I remember well that a couple months later I got a call at my home in West Hartford, CT from Doug, inviting me to come be a counselor at Rowe Junior High Camp that summer. I happily said yes, and those three weeks in July of 1975 (between my freshman and sophomore years in high school) were a wonderful experience and the beginning of my long association with and love of Rowe Camp and Conference Center, sometimes affectionately referred to as “Rowe Cramp and Confusion Center,” which I believe was courtesy of Douglas’ clever and snarky sense of humor.
I worked at Rowe each summer from 1975 through 1982, and served as Counselor, Senior High Spirit, Assistant Director and Director of either Junior High Camp or Senior High Camp. And I have stayed connected to Rowe Center (they simplified the name from RC&CC to Rowe Center a few years ago) ever since, as well as close personal friends with Doug and his wonderful wife (and Co-ED of Rowe for many years) Prue Berry. (Doug let the Board know in 2010 or so that they would be retiring as EDs on 12/12/2012, a date he chose because that was the end of the Mayan calendar. In lieu of any real pension plan or salaries sufficient to have accrued much a nest egg for retirement, Doug & Prue asked the Board to help finance the construction of a home for them, on a parcel they purchased in the town of Rowe just a few miles from Rowe Center, and they now live there, having retired in 2012 as planned.)
The Birth of the Archives Project
Rowe Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and therefore has a board of 7–11 members and meets every other month. The September meeting each year is known as the “Annual Meeting” and all members are invited to attend. (Make almost any donation [annually] to Rowe and you are considered to be a member in good standing, though they do suggest levels of membership.) The weekend of the Annual Meeting is also the annual “Friends of Rowe Gathering,” in lieu of a weekend conference with a guest presenter. Well of course, like everything else across the US and around the world last year, Rowe Conference Center shut down and went all-virtual last spring; summer camp sessions were cancelled and replaced with virtual camp sessions, and this of course continued through the fall, winter and spring of 2020–2021. (Great news: The board decided at their April 2021 meeting that the Covid-19 situation has improved enough that summer camps will again be held in person at Rowe Camp! (They have a thorough Covid plan and Covid FAQ in place.)
Like so many groups and organizations, there are several Facebook groups of various “generations” of Rowe campers and staff; I am a member of the private Facebook group “’70s Rowies and Friends” and as the annual meeting was approaching last fall, there was discussion about the meeting and the weekend (a few people could spend the weekend at Rowe if they wanted), and discussion of having a ’70s Rowies reunion on Zoom following the meeting. Since I have a Zoom Pro account, I offered to create the Zoom event, and so on Saturday September 12, 2020, around 40 of us gathered online and had a couple hours of really fun reminiscing, catching up on what we’re doing, etc. (Around 20 or so met online again the next day.)
It was during the Saturday Zoom Reunion that several people were lamenting the fact that there are hundreds of old photos and documents, some going back to the 1920s, there at Rowe, but they are not being properly cared for, preserved or protected. Being the techie that I am, I said “It should all be scanned and digitized,” to which my dear friend Anna Hurwitz (fellow camper/staff from the ’70s and now an MLIS professional archivist in Seattle area) said, “You should go to Rowe and do that, Ted; you can be their ‘Archivist in Residence,’ just like they have occasional artists in residence.” Hence this idea was born! I spoke with Rowe Center ED Ben Werner a couple days later, and he loved the idea; he immediately started talking about where Jody and I could live for the summer, how we could eat with campers/staff at the Rec Hall or not, and more.
In the intervening months since last September, I have been in touch with Ben at Rowe, and Anna Hurwitz in Seattle; I read most of the book she recommended, Developing and Maintaining Practical Archives (Gregory S. Hunter, 2003; the 2nd edition was way cheaper on Amazon than the newer 3rd edition, so I decided that’d be good enough); and Anna gave me some great advice about how to approach this huge project, both at the “mile high” level of overall planning, organization and execution, and down to some of the nitty gritty details… As I write this on July 10, I am 10 days from flying SFO (San Francisco) → ALB (Albany, NY); I’ll spend a few days with sister Beth (who lives between Albany and Schenectady) then be at Rowe Camp by 7/24 or 7/25.
This is an initial post to provide background and how this exciting project came to be. I will do my very best to post several updates over the coming months. Stay tuned!
* About LRY and NERO
LRY was the high school-aged youth group of the Unitarian Universalist Association for many years; LRY formed in 1953 (as explained in this article from 2003), when the separate Unitarian and Universalist youth groups merged — 8 years before the two denominations themselves merged! (I’ll have to do more research to learn when it was reconfigured and renamed; there’s not much at their current website about LRY.) Officially, LRY stood for Liberal Religious Youth, but of course we also called it “Lesbian Refugees from Yugoslavia,” “Little Red Yo-Yos,” “Leftover Roast Yams,” “Luscious Raspberry Yogurt,” but the most accurate was “Lots of Rowdy Youngsters.”
Many UU Churches had LRY “locals” and LRY had statewide and regional organizations as well. During my 4+ years as an active LRY member (1975–1979, when I left CT and New England for undergrad studies at UCSC), I attended many weekend LRY conferences; most of them were organized by a local at a UU Church or fellowship, and dozens–scores of UU youth would descend on the church/fellowship on Friday evening and spend the weekend sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags, hanging out, attending workshops, and enjoying ourselves as marginally chaperoned teenagers…
NERO was the NorthEast Regional Organization of LRY, and the spring 1975 conference that I attended at Rowe Camp was one of two annual NERO conferences.
(After graduating high school in June 1977, I moved to Boston in August or September, shared an apartment with 2 LRY friends, and in addition to flipping burgers and smoking pot, I was the volunteer NERO regional coordinator, or director; I don’t recall my title. As such, I helped organize the fall 1977 and spring 1978 conferences, and I recall I sent out a few newsletters as well.)
Sometime after LRY was reconfigured/rebranded (I think because its reputation for lots of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll — at UU churches!), the HS-aged youth group for a while was named YRUU: Young Religious UUs, and a great question to ask: Why are you you? I don’t know how many iterations there have been in the intervening decades, but the current iteration is YUUP: Young UU Project.