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YMCA Camp Onyahsa
The sound of Reveille cuts through the morning mist
as it rises from Chautauqua Lake. The sounds of waking
children fill the campsite as the dew on the field sparkles.
Another day has begun at YMCA Camp Onyahsa; and, like
any other day in its 112-year history, children will
experience the friendships, create the memories, and
learn the values that will shape their lives.
summer of 1898, along the lake’s shore, a group of young
men experienced the first season of YMCA camping in the
area. The goal of the experience was to give young men
a respite from the city and factory through a values-based
During the first half-century of Onyahsa’s
history, the program was informal. The original Camp
was located at Prendergast Point, but property was acquired
in Dewittville in 1926. Shortly after, the camp was named
"Onyahsa" by director Roy Wagner.
Wagner served as the
Camp Director from 1924 to 1946. Remembered by alumni
are staff, such as Cook Belcher, the "Tarzan Swing,"
the camp monkey, and facilities such as "Shadyside."
Wagner built the Camp program and the character of its
participants. A pious man, he was greatly saddened as
many of his young men were sent to World War II. He left
the Camp in 1946.
Among these young men was Spiro Bello,
a child from Jamestown’s Albanian-American community,
who attended Onyahsa on a scholarship in 1932. After
service as a Marine in the South Pacific, Bello returned
to Jamestown. He re-connected with the Y and Camp, and
was named Director in 1962.
Under his leadership, Onyahsa
acquired property, cabins replaced tents, and other improvements
were made. Moreover, families, handicapped youth, and
coeducational groups were served. Spiro was a father
figure to many kids. In 1985, Mark Eckendorf became Director
and worked to provide new and innovative programming.
One of Spiro’s "kids," Jon O'Brian took the helm in
1987. He began at Onyahsa as a child in the 1970s. Under
his leadership, the Camp has come to serve children from
a wide variety of backgrounds and abilities. Building
on a defunct north county YMCA Camp, Day Camp in the
Woods was added to the offerings, and the curriculum
has gone year-round.
This program expansion is a result
of a major fundraising effort, the Centennial Campaign.
The plan will create a premier, year-round facility while
preserving a beautiful, wooded natural asset on Chautauqua
Lake for the region. Major renovations and property acquisitions
have already been made.
Today, while the facility and
program have adapted to changing community needs, the
Onyahsa mission remains, "to foster the Spiritual,
Mental, and Physical well being of Camp Participants
of diverse backgrounds and abilities within a nurturing
outdoor environment, while creating a meaningful sense
of Community among them." As it moves into its fantastic future, Onyahsa
continues to build upon its proud past.