Shady Trailers, Hats off To Thee

About the presenters: Russ Hicks has stuttered significantly all his life. He lives in Dallas, Texas, and joined the National Stuttering Project (now the National Stuttering Association) in 1985 and Toastmasters in 1988. He has had great success in Toastmasters, winning the Southwestern United States Regional Humorous Speech Contest in 1996, and recently attaining the rank of DTM, a Distinguished Toastmaster, the highest rank in Toastmasters International. He is currently the president of the Dallas Chapter of the NSA. Attended Shady Trails Speech Camp the summers of 1950, 1951, 1954, and 1957

Bernie Weiner is 53 years old and has been stuttering since the age of 5. He has gone through most traditional speech therapies and a few not so traditional. At the age of 17, he attended Shady Trails Speech Camp, sponsored by the University of Michigan. This camp made a lasting impression which is still with him today. Bernie is currently employed at General Dynamics Land Systems, in Sterling Heights, Michigan, where he is an Engineering Records Specialist and group leader. He is currently the cochairman of a National Stuttering Association Stuttering Support group in Royal Oak, Michigan, and was recently awarded as the co-chapter leader of the year by the NSA, of which he is quite proud. Bernie is married, has two grown children and lives in Troy, Michigan. Stuttering is still a part of his life, but he has learned to deal with it and move on.

Shady Trailers Hats off to thee....

by Russ Hicks from Texas, USA - summers of 1950, 1951, 1954, and 1957
Bernie Weiner from Michigan, USA- summer of 1965

Summers of 1950, 1951, 1954, and 1957

by Russ Hicks
from Texas, USA

Shady Trails is near and dear to my heart. I hardly know where to begin... I spent four - count 'em, 4! - summers at Shady Trails back in the prehistoric times: 1950 Park Avenue (the youngest group), 1951 the Neophytes, 1954 the Wolverines, and 1957 the University Club (the oldest group). I think I'm one of the few people ever to have gone through the whole gamut of cabins there, even though I missed the Roost and the Cavemen. (That only means something to other Shady Trailers.) BTW, the sessions were 8 weeks long in those days. Two months, almost an entire summer. I think they were compressed to 2 weeks later in the 80's.

I really grew up there. I think the camp itself started in the mid 40's (maybe earlier?) and I knew one other fellow, Rocky Duke, who was there in about 1948. They had very simple tee-shirts in those days, a brown circle with "Shady Trails" in it. In 1950 they adopted the blue University of Michigan seal with "Shady Trails" around it. You could tell the real old guys who had the brown tee shirts. (smile)

The director in those days was John Clancy. He and his wife. During the daily mail call, he could spin/throw envelopes to the far corners of the huge dining hall. That was so cool. He was the director every summer I was there. I thought he invented the place. (My/our friend Gary Rentschler was the director in later years, and it's fun to reminisce with him.)

The speech therapy at Shady Trails when I was there was entirely mechanical and we never once discussed openness and acceptance. It was a primitive fluency shaping system with no regard for any of the psychological aspects of stuttering. They just didn't know any of that in prehistoric times. My speech was always near perfect fluency immediately aftercamp when... I... would... talk... slow... like... this... (gasp) but it invariably reverted to my old stuttering patterns within a month after camp. Both my parents and I were SURE it was because I wasn't working hard enough or didn't want it bad enough. Well maybe NEXT summer would do the trick (sad face). So, speech-wise I was no better off when I left there in 1957 than I was when I started in 1950. But the seeds were planted.

However life itself was really spectacular up there. My swimming coach, Ron Gora, whom I remembered as having won a silver medal (free style) in the Helsinki Olympics in the early 50's. He could outrace a shark. In July 2000, I received an email (via Judy Kuster) from Ron! It was amazing - and truly wonderful - to hear from him after over 40 years! In the very self effacing letter, he told me that he was in rather poor health and still living in Michigan. He also admitted that he really didn't remember me as an individual as he was a counselor in the Roost (which I was never in) during the one summer he spent at Shady Trails. He also said that he wasn't an Olympic Silver Medalist, but something else... gobble, gobble. He was wrong on this. He WAS an Olympic Silver Medalist - maybe even Gold...! Yeah, that's the ticket! He'll always be a Gold Medalist to me! <smile!>It was wonderful hearing from him, and we've exchanged several emails since that time. However Ron Gora remains the only person that I have ever talked with who was there at Shady Trails the same time I was.</smile!>

Below is an old photograph (probably taken in 1954) sent to me by Ron Gora. I added the numbers and the names of some people I recognized. Memory fades faster than the pictures, however.


One of my "speech correctionists" as we called them back then, was Jeannie Blatchford, who took a week out of camp to become Miss Pennsylvania in the Miss America contest. (And she was only the "third best looking" speech correctionist there according to informal poll of the hormone-filled teen age boys there! - And that tradition carries on to this day where modern day SLPs are the most beautiful women in the world!)

We had absolutely world class people there. A counselor from Sweden introduced us to soccer before anyone had ever heard of the game over here. A paraplegic counselor (both legs amputated but arms like Arnold Swartzeneger) could climb a rope like a rocket. One of the cooks, Bob Benson, was a concert pianist. These kinds of people were everywhere. Talk about inspirational!

We had campers there with every kind of speech disorder. Stuttering, articulation, cerebral palsy, deaf, you name it, we had it. One of the CP guys could throw a baseball out of the park! Handicapped? Yeah, right. I never thought of myself as "alone" because I knew there were stutterers everywhere long before the NSA came up with "If you stutter, you're not alone." I didn't realize how lucky I was.

Memories abound... Sleeping Bear sand dunes, Petoski stones, Gull Island (where we could never go!), hikes to Northport where we picked apples along the way, cold water in the icy springs and the smell of mint that went with it (I freeze to this day every time I smell mint!), taking my senior lifesaving test in a veritable hurricane from the off-shore raft in ice water, the rocks in the bay which required slow torture to get into the ice water, trips to the Interlochen Music Camp long before we even knew what a world-class facility that was, snipe hunts in the dead of night, "announcements" in the dining hall, round robins (early Toastmasters?) every week... Wow, as I said, I really grew up there.

One of my major disappointments in later life is that I never, not once, met any of my fellow campers on the outside world that I knew during any of my summers there. Where did they all go? Phil Ryan, Dennis Stalzer, Cunliff MacBee from Mississippi, Amile Crete (a real Cajun from Louisiana), many, many others whose names fade from memory. I've met several people who've gone to Shady Trails (Bernie Weiner, Pat Feeney, Rocky Duke, Gary Rentschler, who else?), but none of them were there when I was there. I thought surely in the NSP and on Stutt-L I'd meet one of these people, but no, not a one...

My wife and I visited Shady Trails one time in the mid 70's I think when it wasn't in session, and it still looked the same. But there was nobody home. What a shame... Gull Island and the mansion on it were still there though. I thought about renting a boat to go out there, but never did...

I thought many times how little I learned about stuttering at Shady Trails. Yes, I learned about LIFE there, but my fluency never lasted more than a couple of weeks after returning home. It wasn't until I joined the NSP in the mid 80's that a lot of what I learned about stuttering at Shady Trails started to come back to me. The seeds finally began to grow after nearly three decades of dormancy. I learned about being open with my stuttering from Dr. Joe Sheehan at Purdue in the early 60's and coupled that with learning how to "control" my speech at Shady Trails and the support of the NSP... That's when everything finally began to all come together. Yes, stuttering takes a lifetime to understand, control, accept, and pass what I've learned on to others. It's been quite a trip. If you've ever been to Shady Trails, especially in the 50's, I'd sure like to hear from you!

Summer of 1965

by Bernie Weiner
from Michigan, USA

When Judy Kuster asked me if I would like to contribute an article for ISAD about the history of Shady Trails, the University of Michigan Speech and Hearing Camp, I wasn't sure if I could really put together a coherent article about my experience there. I had a lot of different little "snippets" stored in my head, that I still think about quite often. The camp had a profound effect on me and left me with both a sense of hope and a longing to stay connected to the stuttering community. I grew up a lot at this camp, and the memories will stay with me forever.

Actually, the first time that I heard about Shady Trails was when I was in the fifth grade, at age 10. My fifth grade teacher sent home a brochure with me about this camp up in Traverse City, Michigan, that was noted for helping kids who stuttered, to learn to speak more fluently. At that time, I was so afraid to be away from home, that I made up every excuse in the world why I didn't want to go. Even in the fifth grade, I was great at avoiding any speaking situation. It was not until I was a junior in high school, that my speech therapist, Mr.Ewbanks, finally persuaded me to take the big step, and go to Shady Trails for the summer. This was in 1965, when I was seventeen years old. Imagine that, going to a summer camp, for the first time, in your late teens.

Riding up to Traverse City, on a Greyhound bus, with my Mom and my sister, I had a lot of mixed emotions. I didn't really consider myself to be a severe stutterer, and it crossed my mind that maybe I was making a big mistake in spending a whole summer at a camp for people with speaking difficulties. After the first few days at Shady Trails, I was forced to face the fact that I did belong there, that my stuttering was severe, and I needed to do something to change it.

It is important that I tell you a little bit about the Traverse City area, where Shady Trails was located. Traverse City, at that time (1965) was one of the most beautiful and least populated areas of northern Michigan, located on the shores of Lake Michigan. At that time, Traverse City, and the surrounding areas, were mainly noted for cherry orchards, and the beautiful Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. The city of Northport, where the camp was actually located, was just outside of Traverse City, and was the perfect place to get away from the "real world" and be with other people who stuttered and for the first time in my life, to just be myself. By the way, the camp also had kids who were deaf, and were learning to speak, kids with cleft palate speech, and kids with other articulation problems. Mainly though, the majority of campers were those who stuttered.

My first summer at Shady Trails, was spent in the cabin know as the Cave. This was for campers who were in the age bracket from about fifteen to seventeen years old. The names of the other cabins were the Park Avenue (PA), The Roost, the Neophytes, the Wolverines, and the University Club. There was also a cabin, affectionately known as the Hen House, where all the women speech therapists stayed. That was one cabin that was definitely off limits to some of the older campers. Can't imaging why. The age of the campers ranged in age from seven years old to twenty- one years old. Some of the people there had never met another person who stuttered, and the bonds that were formed throughout the summer made a lasting impression on all of us, I am sure.

One of the first things that I did when I arrived at Camp Shady Trails, was to make a tape recording of my speech. I think that it was the worst that I had ever stuttered in my entire life. It was also the first time that I had ever heard myself on tape, and it certainly was a shocker. I might mention, that when I was riding into camp, after being picked up at the Greyhound bus station, I was in a car with four other stutterers. I actually felt that they were much worse than me, and that I still didn't belong at camp. How wrong I was.

Most of the speech techniques that we learned at camp, such as prolonging vowels, bouncing through blocks, and practicing light contact on hard consonant sounds, I think still are being used in most of the fluency shaping courses and in most other forms of stuttering therapy today. Maybe the names have changed, but the basic ideas are still the same. Looking back on my two summers at Shady Trails, it has often occurred to me that at that time, not much emphasis was placed on the emotional aspects of stuttering. Most of the therapy was geared towards becoming a fluent speaker. I might add, that each summer, I would come home totally fluent, and I felt that my stuttering was "cured." Unfortunately, there was no follow up after camp and I soon began to stutter again and was left without any type of support group. I think that was one of the major failings of Shady Trails.

I still remember a lot of the different activities that were a part of Shady Trails. A lot of them were geared towards improving our speech, and some were geared to the more typical aspects of camp life. Each year, each cabin would put on a play, known as a "miffler" for the rest of the camp. My first summer at camp, 1965, our cabin put on a play based on the movie, Mary Poppins. We changed the name to "Harry Moppins" complete with some snappy dialogue and even a couple of songs. This was just one more way for us to stretch our boundaries of our speech and do things we had never done before.

One of the things that I will never forget, is getting up in front of the entire camp, in the dining hall, and saying my name for the first time. It was at the same time the hardest thing I had done in my life and also the most liberating. I could feel every person staring at me (about 150 people) and I could also feel the love and understanding that came from each camper and speech therapist. As the summer went on, most of us were able to talk quite fluently and for once in our lives, feel that we were accepted for who we were.

I fondly remember some of the more humorous things that happened in my two summers at Shady Trails. As I said before, Shady Trails was also a place for people with other types of speech impairments such as deaf children learning to articulate sounds and lip read. Being a stutterer, it was easy for me to drive the deaf kids nuts by stuttering on purpose. It was almost impossible for them to lip read what I was saying, which to me was pretty funny. They caught on after awhile and would laugh along with us. We all became a little less sensitive to our problems at camp. One of the highlights of camp, was the annual trip into the town of Frankfort, to practice our newly learned stuttering control techniques. My "assignment" the first summer at camp, was to make a phone call to the local library. Naturally, as I was introducing myself on the phone, I had a huge block on my name. In the middle of my block, I heard the lady on the other end say, "Hey Marge, it's one of those campers from Shady Trails." I couldn't stop laughing for the rest of the conversation. Relieved the tension right away.

When I returned home from my first summer at Camp Shady Trails in 1965, I didn't really know how to tell my friends and fellow students where I had been for the entire summer.

As I said in the beginning of my article, I didn't know if I could write eloquently enough about Camp Shady Trails, to do it justice. I could probably go on for pages, writing about how Camp Shady Trails, has stuck with me throughout my life. I still sometimes dream about the beautiful lake, the peaceful surroundings, the cabins, the great food, and the people who I spent two of my summers with back in the mid 60's. At the National Stuttering Association Convention, in Seattle, in 1999, I was fortunate to be reunited with the Director of Shady Trails, Dr. David Prins. We talked about those two summers of 1965 and 1966 and what it meant to both of us. The old memories came flooding back . I also had a chance to go back to visit the camp in 1999, but was not able to actually get on the old camp grounds. Unfortunately, the University of Michigan decided that the camp could not financially remain viable, and the grounds were sold to Tim Allen, star of Home Improvement, in 1998. He now uses it as one of his private getaways, believe. Also, the area around the camp is now filled with condominium developments, golf courses, and a bunch of casinos which are owned by the local Indian tribes in Northern Michigan.

I want to thank Judy Kuster for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this history of Shady Trails, and to once again revisit some of the old memories I still have of the camp. It will always hold a special place in my heart. It was there that I learned a lot about myself, as a person who stutters and how to be a more caring person. I will never, ever forget that place. I would also like to dedicate this article to my fellow Cave members of 1965: Dan Belesky, Sandy Shershel, Mike Johnson, Corky DeLaney, Bob Barker, David Seipke, Tony Greco, Charlie Tony, Kim Adderman, Butch Mason, Kevin Murphy, David Steen, Bob Slade, John Salkeld, and Paul Williams. ( I think I have all the name right), and also to our cabins two graduate student SLP's, Bob Boessler, and Jeannie Davis. Also to the cabins head speech therapist, Dr. Irv Midas, who passed away shortly after I had attended Shady Trails.

If any of my fellow campers read this article after International Stuttering Awareness day, please contact me at:

September 5, 2001