SOUTHINGTON - The local YMCA cooked up a picnic for donors and members Thursday as they inducted past Sloperians into the camp’s Hall of Fame.
Director of Operations Mark Pooler and Executive Director John Myers welcomed the guests as they gathered under the shade of a pavilion at Camp Sloper and enjoyed hot dogs and burgers hot off the grill.
Myers, who will retire later this year, took a video of the crowd saying in unison “I love the YMCA.”
“Tonight is a night for reconnecting and making new friends,” said Myers. “It is also a night to recognize a lot of awesome people in the community who made this place great over the years.”
Justin Hubeny, outdoor center director, noted that YMCA Camp Sloper is serving 3,200 children this year and this Monday saw a record enrollment of 801 kids.
Prior to introducing the inductees, the Y leaders recognized George Geyer as the “most frequent Y-er” and Clara Bellman,95, as volunteer of the year.
Myers said the YMCA recognizes those who come to the Y 200 times a year as part of their “200 Club” and they get a T-shirt. There are also 250, 300 and 350 club members who were invited to stand and be applauded. Geyer, he said, came to the Y 479 times in 2017. She has been a member for 17 years and regularly shows new members around and makes them feel welcome.
“She comes twice a day sometimes to work out and socialize,” he said. “She knows the importance of keeping her mind and body strong and healthy.”
Bellman, Myers said, has been a volunteer with the Y for 30 years.
“She still comes in every Monday to help the administrative assistant file and organize things,” said Myers. “She is a real salt of the earth, sweet woman and she has been a true blessing for this Y.”
The inductees, Kurt Johnson, Jim Putnam, Arielle Celliers-Gionfriddo and Chuck Schall then stepped up one at a time to be honored. Johnson’s younger brother, Marc, was also inducted posthumously.
Past inductees were also invited by membership director Jackie Cyr to stand and be applauded.
Kurt and Marc Johnson were two of the earliest campers in the 1950s.
“Kurt remembers being the first camper to arrive because he was so excited to go to camp that summer he ran out of the house, down East Street and beat every other kid to camp that day,” said Pooler. “Kurt spent many summers out at camp with his brother Marc. He has been a faithful member of the YMCA for years and a great neighbor for decades after purchasing his parents’ house. He continues to be an advocate, donor and supporter of our youth development efforts here at Sloper. Most recently he enjoyed keeping the family tradition alive while watching his grandchildren attend Camp Sloper for the last few years.”
Pooler said Marc Johnson, who died in 2006, was an avid outdoorsman and forester. After his years at Camp Sloper he went on to become an Eagle Scout and a Sloper counselor. He wrote in his high school yearbook that the camp was one of the biggest influences in his life.
Celliers-Gionfriddo got her start as a camper, became a counselor in 1997 and was voted counselor of the year in 2000. Celliers-Gionfriddo was the longest running camp director, leading kindergartners and first-graders for six years.
“It was during this time that we were really able to see Arielle develop into an amazing leader,” said Pooler. “She was dedicated, hardworking, creative, inspiring and most of all patient.”
Celliers-Gionfriddo then became a special needs coordinator for four years. She retired from the camp in 2010 to focus on her career in Orange, Conn.
Putnam, an outdoor center committee volunteer in the ’80s and early ’90s, was credited for building and shaping the face of the camp. He secured a donation from Tilcon to install the current main entrance and replace an old, winding road. Decades later, he helped restore the Sloper barn and rebuild the barn bathrooms.
“That was the kind of leader Jim was,” said Myers. “He was a man of action and integrity; someone who backed up his words and got the job done.”
Schall, an outdoorsman who volunteered at Camp Sloper and Sleeping Giant State Park, joined the camp’s outdoor committee in 2003 and became its chair in 2004. He was credited for organizing trails, carving new ones and closing those that were outdated.
“He has singlehandedly maintained the trail markings around the property, making them easy to read and safe for hikers of all ages,” said Pooler. “Chuck has been a faithful and dedicated volunteer. He is as gentle and kind to others as he is to mother nature. He is wise, helpful, well-intentioned, dedicated, hardworking and generous and we are very lucky to have him as a volunteer and friend at YMCA Camp Sloper.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or .