Kokomo resident Marcia Foye paused for a moment as she thought about lyrics to a song she first heard over 45 years ago.
“I can’t recite it, but I can sing it,” she laughed.
So after a quick clearing of her throat, Foye began to sing the same song that has played a role in the summers of hundreds of Howard County children over the years.
“Camp Tycony, what you mean to me. Nature’s all around me, and the air is fresh and free. Learn to live with nature and live with others too. We’ll work and play together and make old friends out of new,” Foye sang, laughing once again at the memory.
It’s been 65 years now since the first campers arrived at that little plot of land located just off of Malfalfa Road called Camp Tycony — named that in honor of the commitment between the Tynan family, First Congregational Church and the Kokomo YMCA to set aside the land in the early-1950s for youth programming.
And in those beginning years, in an era where there were no smart phones or video games fighting for a child’s attention, there was Camp Tycony.
YMCA CEO Trish Severns explained.
“I think the camp was successful in the beginning like it was because there really wasn’t a lot going on in the summer,” she said. “If you look back, the summers were much simpler. And even now, I think what’s really interesting is that there are a lot of children that go out there and have never really experienced nature or camp in a wooded experience. To go someplace for an entire week and be outdoors 90% of the time is somewhat of a foreign concept to a lot of kids.”
And while some of the activities have changed through the years as the camp has evolved, some of the main traditions are still the same.
The day camp is still geared toward children ages 6-14, with activities such as canoeing, archery, hiking and arts and crafts. Campers are also bused to the downtown YMCA facility for swim lessons, and there are still ceremonial events like parent’s night where the campers gather to sing songs for their families.
But the overall camp experience is much more than just about learning how to shoot a bow and arrow, Severns said.
“Camp Tycony is a place where kids can go screen-free and just be kids,” she said. “They can just be out in nature and be able to build relationships and learn new skills. Developing those skills is really important at those ages, and it helps kids just go out and build confidence.”
Foye agreed with Severns, saying that she remembers the excitement she felt when she attended the camp in the early-1970s.
“We played from the time we got there to the time we went home,” she said, “and we were always outside. Whether it was taking a day trip to Mississinewa, hiking Dead Man’s Hill, horseback riding, playing kickball or skipping rocks in the pond that was on the grounds, we were just free to be kids. We never even thought about wanting to just sit inside all day like you see a lot of kids doing these days.”
Foye eventually even became a counselor at the camp, saying that she still runs into some of her former campers from time to time and reminisces about those long-ago experiences.
“I was counselor of the Tiny Tots program, and so it’s weird because I remember telling all the kids to be careful as they were doing some of the same things I was fearless about as a kid,” she laughed.
But having the opportunity to experience those activities and take those risks is what Camp Tycony is all about in the first place, Foye said.
Severns agreed with her.
“I think there’s still value in the simplicity of being outdoors in a traditional camp setting,” she said. “To be outdoors and just be able to disconnect, to master different skills and build camp friendships, to sing camp songs and do sack races, I think so much of that is lost today. Going back to activities like that can be so powerful to our kids.”
And the benefit of having Camp Tycony is powerful for Kokomo too, Severns said.
“I think this city has been blessed with this camp and what we’ve been able to bring to generations of children,” she said. “It’s just a really beautiful place and feels like its own little country. All you have to do is turn off of Malfalfa Road, turn into the drive and up to the lodge, and you’re instantly sucked into nature.
“I also think we’re extremely fortunate for the fortitude of the Tynan family, the First Congregational Church and the founders of the YMCA, that they decided early on that we needed to do this in the community to benefit children across the decades,” she said.
For more information about Camp Tycony and its programming, visit the Kokomo YMCA at www.kokomoymca.org.