Eliza Phillips: Assistant Program Director

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To want to work at Great Camp Sagamore, you have to be a specific type of person: enthusiastic, diligent, and willing to go six months secluded in nature with no cellphone service and limited wifi. Eliza Phillips, Assistant Program Director of Great Camp Sagamore, is this person. 

Born and raised in Lancaster, New York on a beef farm, Eliza practically grew up outside. She was “that kid,” who was always outdoors and climbed trees to read her books. Growing up far from cities, Eliza was always able to see clear night skies full of stars. While in high school, Eliza attended a summer camp in the Adirondacks alongside numerous New York City students. That summer, she was stunned to learn that none of them had ever experienced the stars like her before. Spending the summer watching these kids experience the outdoors for the first time inspired Eliza to be an outdoor educator, and introduce people to the environment who may not ordinarily have the opportunity. 

To make this dream a reality, Eliza studied Environmental Interpretation at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and picked up a minor in Recreation Resource and Protected Area Management. When she started college, Eliza’s mother joked that she should join ESF’s illustrious timbersports team. Having never tried timbersports but wanting to play along with the joke, Eliza signed up to join. Much to her surprise, Eliza fell in love with the sport and continued on with it for all four years of college.

Her first semester, Eliza spent her time learning the ropes of lumberjacking and timbersports. By her second semester, Eliza had earned a spot on one of the ESF teams and started competing. To start, Eliza’s team stuck her on the events no one else wanted to compete in: standing block and burling. As she practiced these events they quickly became her favorite, and best, events. Eliza excelled at competitions. Thanks to countless days of hard work and practice, Eliza is now one of the top timbersports competitors in the state of New York. 

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Now graduated from college, Eliza spends her weekends competing in timbersport competitions as a professional lumberjack. Not only does she place at competitions, but she wins money for competing. Eliza says it’s incredibly rewarding to not only compete in her favorite hobby but also win money for something she loves doing. One day, Eliza hopes to compete at the Stihl Timbersport Series, the biggest lumberjack competition in the U.S. which attracts competitors from all over the world. 

While she loves the sport, Eliza’s biggest complaint about timbersports is the gender divide between men and women. Just a few years ago there was no women's division in the sport; the women had to compete alongside men. Now there is a women's division, but there are discrepancies between the events that are offered to men and women. Historically, women have not competed in standing block- Eliza’s favorite and best event. Eliza has experienced people say that “women are too weak, they get too tired.” At the few competitions that do offer standing block for women, Eliza proves these people wrong every time. She explains, “that’s the fight now, trying to get the events that men can do that women have not been allowed to do in the past.” 

In between chopping wood and fighting for equality in timbersports, Eliza found her way to Great Camp Sagamore in 2018 as a summer intern. Eliza knew she wanted to be in the Adirondacks and teach people about the environment, so Sagamore seemed like the perfect fit. Back for her second year, Eliza now works as the Assistant Program Director and helps plan activities for guests to participate in to help enhance their experience in the great outdoors. When asked about her job, Eliza says she loves “teaching people and being with them as they experience the wilderness, sometimes for the first time.”

Eliza Phillips actively makes Great Camp Sagamore a better place. Between her excitement over and knowledge of different types of plants and animals around camp, dedication to her job, and enthusiasm for timbersports, Eliza serves as a role model for all of the younger interns at Sagamore this 2019 season. Wherever her career takes her, whether she continues to teach and inspire younger generations about the environment or advances her professional career as a lumberjill, Eliza’s impact at Great Camp Sagamore will last forever.

Dan Duggan: Musician

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At Great Camp Sagamore, Dan Duggan is an icon. Every staff member, guest, and instructor knows his name. From calling out directions in barn dances, to playing magnificent melodies on his hammer dulcimer, to grooming his ever-growing mustache, Dan certainly makes an impression. Sagamore especially would not be the same without frequent performances by the Jamcrackers, a music trio comprised of Dan Duggan, his wife Peggy Lynn, and longtime friend Dan Berggren. Although Dan Duggan plays his music seemingly effortlessly, he worked hard to achieve the fame and success he now shares with the rest of his musical trio. 

Dan grew up in a small town just outside of Syracuse, New York. When he was a child, he was fascinated by music and often listened to his parents’ records. At an early age, he learned to identify the different instruments he heard in the records, demonstrating a growing musical talent. Wanting to turn his passion for music into something he could use, Dan’s parents signed him up for piano lessons. 

Although Dan loved listening to piano music, he didn’t excel with the lessons. He was bored by his teacher, who would teach using flashcards rather than actually playing the instrument. So, Dan quit piano lessons and focused on teaching himself the guitar instead. He immediately loved his new instrument! He played the guitar throughout high school and college, and his passion for music kept growing. 

During his last year of college, Dan took a TV and radio course taught by Dan Berggren. One day, Dan skipped class and went to a folk music gathering that night. Across the room at the event, he spotted none other than his professor, Dan Berggren, and immediately thought he would get in trouble for skipping class! Rather, the two bonded over their love of folk music, starting a friendship that would last a lifetime. 

Dan passed Dan Berggren’s class, despite skipping it once or twice, graduated from college, and moved out West. While there, he caught Valley Fever. When Dan was sick, a friend came to visit him and brought a hammer dulcimer for Dan to borrow while he recovered. In college, Dan had played guitar in a bluegrass band and one of the band members had introduced Dan to the hammer dulcimer, but he never had the chance to play. Remembering the tunes his band played, Dan taught himself all kinds of hammer dulcimer songs and melodies. After his recovery, Dan moved back to New York and purchased his own hammer dulcimer. It was the instrument that “changed my life in many ways,” he said.

In 1985, Dan won the national Hammer Dulcimer competition. This victory pivoted him in a whole new direction and opened a lot of doors for him. Behind one of these doors was the opportunity to record with Paul Simon, gaining him further recognition and fame. Recording with so many different musicians allowed Dan to make lifelong relationships with amazing individuals. Looking back, the competition was one of the most defining moments in his life. 

Dan Duggan and Dan Berggren had some mutual friends who were interning at Great Camp Sagamore. After coming to visit them, Dan and Dan fell in love with the place. The two had been playing music together for a while and decided to create their own music program at Great Camp Sagamore’s Grandparents & Grandchildren Camp. A few years later, Dan Berggren’s father passed away, and at the funeral Dan Duggan met one of Dan Berggren’s bandmates, Peggy Lynn. The musical duo turned into a trio, and  Peggy Lynn says when the three started performing together at Great Camp Sagamore in the 1990’s, “the music brought Dan and I together.” Sagamore was the place where Dan and Peggy fell in love, and it continues to hold a special place in their hearts.

Despite Dan’s career and personal successes, his life has not been without difficulty. Ten years ago, Dan was diagnosed with neck cancer. Radiation was his main method of treatment. Five years later, he developed an infection in what was left of his jaw, and the doctors had to use Dan’s fibula to completely rebuild his jaw. This ordeal caused Dan’s voice to change, and it still fades easily. Although the cancer created some hardships Dan says, “[it] hasn’t defined who I am, but rather makes me adjust what I do.” Today, when Dan comes to Great Camp Sagamore to lead barn dances or perform, he uses a tiny microphone to help his voice last longer. 

Dan Duggan has one of the biggest personalities at Great Camp Sagamore. He doesn’t work at Sagamore full time but has made an effort to get to know every interns’ name and talk to everyone when he is in camp. Not only has Dan made a great impact on Great Camp Sagamore, Great Camp Sagamore has made a great impact on him. He and Peggy Lynn return every summer with their granddaughter, and Camp has become like family to them. Every time he leaves, he thinks “I hope I get to come back next year!” 

I think I can speak for all of the staff here at Sagamore when I say that we hope he comes back too.



David Armbruster: Kayaking the Adirondacks

David Armbruster described his life to me in chapters. At 74 years of age, one would expect him to have tens of chapters to describe his life. Yet, highlighting his ruminative and humbled personality, David has only three.   

Chapter One: Killing of the Spirit

From watching David talk about this chapter, I know why it has its name. David was born in Wisconsin on a dairy farm to a strict and religious family. During his childhood, he was a victim of abuse. It was hard for David to embrace himself and fully grow into who he was, and he was never given the chance to truly just “play” like the other kids. Although David was affected by sensitive events in his youth, it is clear from talking with him that he seems to be at peace with his past. Yet, it is still apparent that both visible and invisible wounds once dampened David’s spirit. 

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Chapter Two: Professional Years

Daivd didn’t let his tough childhood deter him from working hard and becoming successful. Wanting to give back and use his education to teach others, David became an educator. He taught high school for six years and at the college level for thirteen. Wanting to move from academia to the corporate world, David accepted a job from the manufacturing company 3M where for five years he designed a staff training curriculum. Having enjoyed that experience but looking for something new, he decided to move over to the Information Technology sector of the company. 

During this time, David did a lot of soul searching and realized he wasn’t happy working with computers. He explained, “I had the perseverance, I could stick with it, but it just wasn’t me.” So David woke up one morning, walked into his boss’s office, and told him he couldn’t do computers anymore. 

Many people in the same situation would expect to be fired. How could someone work in IT, not want to work with computers, and expect to keep his job? But 3M valued David and all of his work so much that they gave him two months to write his own job description. Motivated by his desire to help others, David decided to go into team-building. During his time soul searching he had learned the practice of mindfulness mediation and used this to help employees connect with themselves and with others. 

Finally, David felt like he was doing what he was meant to be doing. 

Chapter Three: Reclaiming of the Spirit

The impetus for David to begin his practice of mindfulness meditation was a Native American vision quest that he embarked on during his time in IT. He fasted for three days and three nights, drinking only water. On one of these days he was told to walk around a field and make observations about the things that he saw. David noticed spiders, nests, and plants that he never had seen before. Despite all of the interesting ecology and wildlife he observed, David fixated on one black-eyed Susan flower. It was in a bed of other flowers of the same type, but this one flower was much shorter and had many holes. 

David took time to examine other parts of the field as well, but he always came back to the black-eyed Susan. When the day was done, he was told that whatever he fixated on the most during his time observing the field was a reflection of himself. David realized that the holes and height of the black-eyed Susan resembled his childhood and the wounds he suffered. Despite the short height of the flower, it was still standing upright, just as David still holds his head high today. 

While this experience allowed David to see how wounded he truly was, David described his imperfect younger years as his biggest gift. Without them, he would never have begun his spiritual journey or embarked on his vision quest. David explained that “there is not a day that goes by that I am not impacted by that vision quest,” and he believes it was one of the most defining moments in his life. The vision quest also stimulated David to begin his study of Buddhism, which he has been practicing for over thirty years. 

The Transition Period

David feels that he can usually sense when his life is transitioning into a new chapter, and that’s what he thinks is going on right now. All his life, David has known how to get things done, how to work, but he has never “played” and acted like a kid. David was forced to grow up at an early age, and now that he is retired with free time, he wants to have some fun. This is what drew him to Great Camp Sagamore. David moved to New York about twelve years ago from Minneapolis and never explored the Adirondacks before his trip to Sagamore. When he found out he could learn about the region while also learning how to kayak, David knew he had to take part in the Road Scholar program, “Kayaking the Adirondacks.”

Upon reflecting on his time here, it was evident that David loved every part - even the black flies! He explained that in Buddhism, they use two arrows to describe “suffering.” The first arrow represents the bad thing, in this case the black flies. The second arrow is what you make of the situation. Often times, it is the second arrow that causes the most pain. David came to Great Camp Sagamore because he wanted to learn about a new place. So, hit with the black flies, David decided not to let them cause him too much pain, instead embracing the situation as a learning experience about the insects and wildlife of the Adirondacks. 

David served as an inspiration to all of the staff here at Great Camp Sagamore, taking the time to talk with us individually and give us wise advice. He told us, “If you can learn how to be present in the midst of chaos, you can navigate life differently.” It is evident that David has learned this great gift. 

By: Alisha Kewalramani

Alisha Kewalramani is the Administrative Intern at Great Camp Sagamore. She is a rising sophomore at Cornell University studying Information Science and Systems Technology. When she’s not at the office, you can find her paddling on Sagamore Lake or playing frisbee outside the Chalet. Check back to her “Voices of Great Camp Sagamore” blog to learn about the individuals that visit Camp throughout the summer.