Camp Oneka Sign. Photograph by Louise Feder.
In our previous entry we talked about Grace’s time spent in Ocean City, New Jersey, during the summer as a child and her devotion to the family tradition later on as an adult. However, spending time at the family vacation house was not the only summer tradition Grace, along with a multitude of other Kelly women, were passionate about. Just like many other girls in the Philadelphia area, Grace spent a number of weeks during her summers at Camp Oneka. Before we go any further I have to admit, I also went to Camp Oneka for a number of years, so this entry may be one of the more personal pieces of writing I created for this blog; just like Grace Kelly I have a deep and abiding love for camp.
Camp Oneka is located on Fairview Lake in the Pocono Mountains and has been in existence since 1908, making it one of the oldest summer camps still in operation. It has always been exclusively for girls and is in almost every way a traditional summer camp. Campers sleep in cabins and tents, go hiking and swimming, put on plays, learn camp songs, wear uniforms for special occasions (red shorts, white shirt), and take part in a camp-wide, summer-long “color war” or “Red/White.” Red/White divides campers into two teams named for the colors in Camp Oneka’s logo, red and white, and pits the girls against each other in friendly competition. Once a camper is sorted onto a team she remains on that team for the rest of her time as a camper. Then, if that camper has sisters, daughters, nieces, or granddaughters who also attend Camp Oneka, they are immediately sorted onto that same team. These team allegiances are taken seriously and borne proudly by families for generations – the fact that Grace was on the white team has been a team claim to fame for years now.
The Kellys were a long term, multi-generational Oneka family. Margaret Majer attended in the 1920s and then sent her daughters, Peggy, Grace, and Lizanne, who later sent their daughters, Princesses Stephanie and Caroline included! Since the camp is small and located on a lake without a public beach, Oneka is very private and proved to be a treasured getaway from the public eye for the Kelly and Grimaldi campers. When at Oneka, these girls could take part in camp activities just like their peers, learning self sufficiency, independence, and bonding with other campers without any worry that they would be carefully watched by tourists or the press. According to Oneka alumna Ginny Jackson Gilroy in one of CampOneka’s anthologies of memories, she once overheard a young camper ask Princess Stephanie if she got special treatment as a princess to which Stephanie responded, “Not really…I have to eat my peas just like any other kid!”
Grace and her family have since become completely treasured as special alumni among current campers. Stories about the girls at camp have been passed down over generations of Oneka women. At nearly every campfire you will find someone talking about how John B. Kelly, Sr. flew over camp one summer to drop a pair of much needed socks down to Grace, or that Lizanne won the role of “Ponemah the Sun God” in the annual camp pageant through a series of rigorous tryouts, or how one alumna stole ice cream from the kitchen with the princesses, and that on certain occasions the princesses had to show photos of themselves at the palace in Monaco to visiting boy campers to prove that they actually were royalty and everyone was not just making up stories. Every time Madonna’s “Vogue” comes on at camp dances, everyone gleefully screams out “Grace Kelly!” at the appropriate time and I can, with serious embarrassment, remember being convinced to stay at camp by a bunk mate despite my homesickness because, “Grace Kelly would never desert Oneka and neither should you!”
Oneka is still in operation and has not changed much since Grace’s days as a camper. As it is still a vibrant and functional camp, if you’re planning on visiting please be sure to contact the camp directors before showing up – you don’t want to interrupt Red/White after all! If you’d like to visit or learn more about Camp Oneka be sure to take a look at the information listed below.
Many thanks to Barb and Dale Dohner, camp directors, as well as Becky Mackrell for their help with this entry.
Be sure to check in soon to learn about Grace Kelly’s relationship to another summer camp: Camp Tecumseh!
Can’t wait until October to see what the James A. Michener Art Museum has to offer? No problem! Visit our website at michenermuseum.org to see what we have on exhibit currently, learn about memberships, programs, upcoming events, and find our hours to schedule your next trip. We hope to see you soon.
-Louise Feder, Membership and Special Events Coordinator
325 Route 390