Resiliency Exemplified

A Slice of Heaven

A pristine lake, tall pine trees and crystal-clear air greeted me as I walked though Camp Woodstock in up-state Connecticut. Camp Woodstock is a YMCA Camp that was first opened in 1922.

For the past several years, I have been traveling to Camp Woodstock to provide leadership training for the young staff there. Most are college students with hopes of a promising future and all very willing to learn how they could develop into effective leaders. Many are from foreign countries. All of them are intelligent, positive, and energetic. It is a pleasure to work with these young people.

The first time I visited Camp Woodstock I was drawn to a lodge at the camp’s center. It is an impressive structure, made of rustic pine boards with two majestic fireplaces adorning each end of the structure. All paths in the camp seem to lead to this lodge.

I noticed a plaque hanging on a wall inside the lodge. It told a story about the man the lodge was dedicated to. His name was Elmer “Pop” Thienes. 

The Storm

In the summer of 1938, a devastating hurricane hit the east coast and the storm tore through Camp Woodstock. It destroyed every building in the camp and knocked down over a hundred trees.

The Board Meets

About a week later the camp board of directors met in an emergency meeting to determine what to do. There was only one item on the agenda for that board meeting. The agenda read: “Whether to Go On, or Not?” 

Each board member got up and spoke. Not one thought they had the resources or energy to go on with the camp. The reasons were many including that the country was still in the depression, the economy was bad, and they would never get enough donations to rebuild the camp.


Finally, the last board member got up to speak. He was also the camp director. His name was Pop Thienes. He looked every board member in the eye and then he spoke very loudly and slowly. He said, “We are asking the wrong question. We should not be asking whether to go on or not. The only question we should be asking is, how do we go on.”

Pop Thienes continued by saying there was an evil that was gripping Europe in the person of Adolf Hitler, and the hatred he was spreading. Pop said that if ever there was a time where the YMCA values of Honesty, Caring, Respect, and Responsibility should be taught to young people, that time was now. There was no question – the camp had to go on. 

Pop’s remarks inspired the other board members, and after a brief discussion, the board voted to continue the camp. The board was able to raise $4,000. 

Even in 1938 this sum was not large enough to rebuild Camp Woodstock. The Camp Woodstock Board of Directors were stymied, but due to Pop’s leadership, they were determined to find a way to continue. This crisis called for imagination, creativity and it called for action.

Soon there was an idea about how to use the $4,000. The team decided to purchase a portable sawmill. Using that sawmill, a group of volunteers transformed the trees knocked down during the storm into lumber and the lumber was used to construct new buildings throughout the camp. These volunteers rebuilt the camp using the very trees that were brought down by the hurricane. 

The very lodge I was standing in as I read this inspirational story of resilience was built by the downed trees that were converted to lumber in that sawmill. If overcoming adversity is the act of transforming from a current state to a preferred and better state, then the lodge I stood in was a monument to the resilient spirit. It was a monument to Pop Thienes himself. 


Since 1939, when the camp was reopened, tens of thousands of young people have made the journey through Camp Woodstock. These young people learned the YMCA values of Honesty, Caring, Respect, and Responsibility. They also learned about resiliency. Because of their experience in the forests of Camp Woodstock these young people have become better American citizens for the lessons they learned at the camp.

Pop said Camp Woodstock should pledge itself to loving everyone regardless of creed or color.  He concluded that this was, “The highest moral act of which we are capable, and the surest witness of our purpose to emulate the character of Christ.”

 The bronze dedication plaque on the building reads:

                                     Pop’s Lodge

                    Dedicated to Elmer “Pop” Thienes,

Our first director, whose vision for Camp Woodstock preserved us in our darkest hour following the devastation of the hurricane of 1938.

What Is Servant-Leadership Anyway?

Servant-leadership emphasizes a leader's responsibility to serve the needs of their followers, prioritizing their growth, well-being, and success. Here's a breakdown of key points: Providing Training and Resources: Servant-leaders recognize the importance of equipping...

Consistency is the Cornerstone of Success

I had a friend who was motivated to compete in an IronMan triathlon. He trained hard, watched his diet, stopped drinking alcohol, and slept eight hours every night. His motivation paid off. He ran his first and only IronMan distance triathlon and he was very proud of...

Lead By Asking

I have a question. What is a powerful leadership tool that can enhance team dynamics, promote growth, and drive success? Good leaders are good communicators and good communicators are good listeners. Good leaders must ask their teammates and other stakeholders...

Penn State Great Valley Commencement Speech

On Friday, May 3, 2024, I had the pleasure of delivering the commencement speech for the graduate student graduation at the Penn State Great Valley campus in Malvern, Pennsylvania.  View the speech here   Following is the text of the speech I delivered to the...

Developing Resilient Teams

Photo credit: Smithsonian Magazine Teams do not rise to the occasion; they perform at their level of training. This was demonstrated very clearly in April 1970 when Gene Kranz and his team at NASA mission control successfully brought the astronauts of Apollo 13 back...

Motivating Others – A Guide For Leaders

When I speak to junior leaders someone usually poses the following question: How do I motivate those I lead? When I ask groups of leaders about some of their biggest challenges, motivating others is always on the list. Leaders must have the ability to motivate their...

What Attribute Do You Look For in a Leader?

What attributes do you look for in a leader? I asked this question of a group of aspiring leaders I recently spoke to and here are the top five attributes this group said they look for in their leaders. Call it like it is. Provide direct communication and feedback....

What Good Leaders Do

Millions of Americans watched the women's NCAA Final Four basketball game between UConn and Iowa on Friday, April 5, 2024. With seconds on the clock and UConn behind by one point and making a run at going ahead with a game-winning bucket, a referee stopped the game...

Civilianizing Mission Command

The Army does a great job of training leaders who are both competent and display character. To be effective, leaders must demonstrate both. General Norman Schwarzkopf made this crystal clear when he spoke to the corps of cadets at West Point on May 1, 1991. One of the...

Leadership Must Practice Peopleship

I believe Admiral McRaven was spot on when he wrote something to the effect that leading well is simple, but it is still not easy. The reason leadership is simple but not easy is because leadership involves the human dynamic. Leadership is about people. The principles...
Share This