Decades later, a different kind of camp meeting lives on in Dedham

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Half a dozen Alton alumni have made the Dedham continuing care community their home. On a Zoom call, Rosenthal joined Peter Shapiro in reminiscing about their camp days and reflecting on why their summers long ago on this 60-acre stretch of New Hampshire still figure so prominently in their lives. .

“It’s eight weeks of living together, playing together, working together, singing together, eating together,” Rosenthal said.

“And multiply that by five or 10 years [as campers and counselors]and we saw each other from time to time after the camp was over,” added Shapiro, who is 85. “We all went our separate ways, but we seem to be getting back together.

Shapiro, who attended the camp for a decade beginning in 1945, remembers Rosenthal’s father taking him in.

“David’s dad helped me get my trunk down to the bunk,” he said, “and it was great from there.”

Rosenthal’s father was invited to join the camp staff in 1942 by fellow Boston teacher Philip Marson, who had opened Alton five years before. Four-year-old David stayed with his parents during their first summer while his older brother started as a camper.

World War II barely intruded on camp life, except for occasional static-filled radio reports. Counselors’ claims that Japanese submarines were patrolling Winnipesaukee did not deter campers from soaping up in the lake for their Sunday morning baths (at the time, the camp had no showers) or bathe at night. The campers that came closest to military action were the snipe hunts and the annual flag rush.

As of today, Rosenthal can’t tell what a snipe is, but he can tell you how to hunt these camp lore creatures. “We had to cover our faces and go out in the middle of the night and put stones together to make noise to wake up the snipes” for the councilors to catch them, he said.

The flag rush was another Alton tradition, the culmination of a season-long rivalry that pitted half the side, the Grays, against the other, the Greens. Each team competed for points in everything from swimming to singing to cleaning their berths. The Flag Rush required a combination of strategy, stealth, and speed, with each team invading the other’s territory to capture pennants while trying to thwart attacks on their own. Consider capturing the flag in an area equal to three football fields.

But camaraderie, not competition, made the most lasting impression on Rosenthal and Shapiro. Campers cared for each other; no one was intimidated.

“Camp taught me how to live with people,” Rosenthal said.

The NewBridge-Alton connection is not surprising. NewBridge’s parent organization, Hebrew SeniorLife, and Camp Alton have Jewish roots.

Rosenthal, who grew up in a predominantly Jewish section of Roxbury, remembers being chased by non-Jews when he ventured out of the neighborhood. “At camp, I felt very safe in the culture of being with other Jewish children,” he said. “At home, we were a minority; here, we were in the majority.

Shapiro grew up in Concord, NH, where “there were like six Jewish children in the whole temple”. At the camp, he said, “I got a different perspective on what Judaism means.

Aside from Friday night services and a daily Bible reading, Camp Alton did not emphasize religion. Yet Shapiro, who made a career as a lawyer at Concord and became a secular leader of the Reform movement, points to studies that link Jewish camps to a lifelong commitment to the Jewish community.

When camp counselors traveled to nearby Wolfeboro, they took on “town names” to disguise their religion. “My name was David Stanley,” said Rosenthal, who simply dropped his last name.

At the same time, campers from Alton were welcome at Marist, a Catholic camp about 35 miles away on Lake Ossipee. The camps regularly competed in swimming, track and field, and baseball. “Brother Tim was great,” Rosenthal said of the Marist coach.

Beyond the sport, the campers gave concerts and staged plays. With Rosenthal on saxophone, his father on drums, and others on woodwinds and strings, “We played symphonies,” Rosenthal said. “Music has become a real specialty.” So did the theater, including a lakeside performance of “Moby Dick”, complete with a fake whale.

Rosenthal also made a name for himself as a wrestler – or, more accurately, a nickname: Young Bull Walton, named after a professional wrestler at the time.

Rosenthal first attended Alton as a camper and then a counselor from 1942 to 1956. He served as camp physician from 1976 to 1992, when the camp closed due to changing demographics and high maintenance costs . His daughter became the first training counselor in Alton and later ran the waterfront business.

Like Rosenthal, Shapiro has occasionally met the Alton alum in his professional life.

“I was sitting in court one day as a special petty officer, and this guy walks in and introduces himself. I said, ‘You went to Camp Alton, and you’re the guy who pulled up in the middle of an athletic competition to tie your shoes,’” Shapiro recalled, adding that three campers passed him.

“He said, ‘Oh my God, I hope you don’t blame me.

“I said, ‘No, don’t worry, you were on the other side. “”

Steve Maas can be contacted at stevenmaas@comcast.net.

A photo on Peter Shapiro’s cellphone shows Shapiro, now 85, and David Rosenthal, 83, in an old camp photo with the two standing next to each other (Peter is third in from right and David is second from right in the top row.) They attended Camp Alton in New Hampshire as children and are now good friends in their senior community in Dedham.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
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