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Purchase$

The Gory Details

The following is a one-sided account of the events which followed the 1962 sale of the camp from its founder, Mr. Robert T. Smith, to Mr. Kenneth E. Schroder.



When I first decided to buy my own camp, I checked with some of the Camp Brokers listed in the New York Times. Among these was, Mr. M. Otto Berg, of the National Bureau of Private Schools. Among the listings he sent was one which appealed to me, but which sounded as though it would be more than I could pay. On checking with him however, he encouraged me to look into it. Accordingly, my wife and I made arrangements to visit Mr. Smith at Camp Susquehanna in the fall of 1962. We were shown about the camp, were much impressed, and discussed financial details with Mr. Smith. He said that he was asking $175,000.00, exclusive of his residence, that the gross income for the camp had been approximately $106,000.00 per year for the past five years, that $30,000 of this was profit, of which $12,000 was plowed back into depreciation, leaving a net profit of $18,000.00 per year.

Joy and I went home feeling that it was beyond our grasp financially, but feeling also that it offered excellent facilities, and was an ideal location for us. I spent some time going over possible ways that we could handle the purchase, and finally made another trip to camp to talk with Mr. Smith. He invited me to the camp reunion in December. I attended, was impressed with the campers and staff, and set about drawing up an offer for the camp. On my next visit I proposed that I pay Mr. Smith the $175,000 for the camp, with $50,000 as down payment. I further suggested that we operate the camp for three years on a partnership arrangement. The first year, 1963 I would receive 25% of the net profit, he would receive 75%. The second year we would each receive 50%, and the third year I would receive 75% while he received 25%. The following year I would be completely on my own. I agreed to start paying $15,000 per year on the mortgage at some date to be agreed upon. This seemed agreeable to Mr. Smith, and we started working with our lawyers to draw up the final contract. Mr. Smith's lawyer suggested that there would be many problems incurred in deciding what improvements to make versus repairs, and what equipment to buy during such a partnership arrangement. He further suggested that instead of such an arrangement, I work for Mr. Smith during the first year at a salary equivalent to the arrangement, and that he work for me during the following years on such an arrangement. I realized that there would be problems, and agreed to the arrangement. For some reason that I no longer recall, my salary was to be $4,500 (25% of $18,000) the first year, to be increased to $5,000 should I bring in five new campers. Mr. Smith's salary was to be $10,000 for 1964 and $5,000 for 1965. I would take complete title in the fall of 1963, and would begin mortgage payments of $15,000 per year on the mortgage in 1964. I paid $50,000 down, and Mr. Smith took a first mortgage on the remaining $125,000 at 6% per year. Payment is by November 1 of each year.

As the camp season approached, we had nothing except the verbal agreement, and I was unwilling to commit any of my potential campers until we had a signed contract. Consequently I did not bring any new campers for 1963, and my salary was $4,500. We finally reached a signed contract just before the end of the first half-season of 1963. Mr. Smith suggested that he wanted to have two campers in camp each of the 1964 and 1965 seasons, and that this would balance the fact that my family was living and eating here, with a baby sitter, at no cost. (When I discussed this point with him at a later date, he said that there was no such balancing arrangement, that he simply wanted to continue to have two campers here tuition free, and that I had agreed.

Starting with Parent's Weekend in 1963, Mr. Smith introduced the tentative enrollment plan that he had been using the last five years of his operation. With the tentative enrollment was a deposit of $25 toward the next season. I suggested to him that we put these deposits into my account, as they represented payment on the 1964 season, but he refused, insisting that they were part of the 1963 business. Argument proved unsuccessful, and I realized that the only way that I could have this deposit money transferred was to take the case to court. I did not wish to have a court case affecting the camp, so I dropped the subject. He subsequently received and kept deposits for 43 campers, representing a loss to me for approximately three of those campers who canceled their enrollments. I am not certain how much was refunded, as he has those records, but according to our records, it was for three campers.

I was given no specific job nor any authority for the 1963 season. The camp secretary showed me the chart that had Been used to draw up the master program in the preceding years, so I worked with that, arranging the same program for 1963 that had been used the previous year. This program was arranged for all Divisions, and was subsequently typed for the program office. It is this program that was followed in 1963 with slight modifications for weather and special events. I told Mr. Smith about this, and he said "Fine". When staff would come to me with suggestions, I would listen to their reason, and then would present the suggestion to Mr. Smith for his approval. If he approved it, it was followed. Otherwise it was dropped. One morning during the latter part of the 1963 season, I learned when I arrived in camp for breakfast that Mr. Smith had fired the Senior Division Head Counselor and the Head Waterfront Instructor. Eight other members of the staff insisted that the firings were unfair, and I took the matter up with Mr. Smith. I told him that he could not do such a thing without consulting me as I was an equitable owner of the camp. I had paid him $18,000 toward the down payment with the signed contract of sale, and had the rest of the down payment guaranteed for delivery with the transfer of title. Mr. Smith relented in his firings, but from that time on I was just a guest of the camp, with no recognition and no duties. I had planned to accompany the Horsemen group to Cornell University on their annual trip, but was told by Mr. Smith that I could not go, that I must remain in camp to supervise the program. I might add that during the 1963 season no arrangements were made for time off for me, and I did not take any days off. During the Post Season Trip I supervised the servicing crew, not by any authority, but because I needed something to do.

Following the 1963 season, Mr. Smith informed me that he thought that we should tear up our agreement, that he would refund the $18,000, and we should call it quits. By that time I had thoroughly committed myself to Camp Susquehanna, had invested a great deal of time and money in it, and was not interested in dropping the purchase. I told him so, and he said that he thought that I was unsuited to being a camp director. I asked him what he thought the requirements were, and he said that a camp director should be: 1. Diplomatic. (He agreed that I seemed to be diplomatic.) 2. He should be able to type. (He also agreed that I could type.) 3. He should be a good photographer. (I had never shown him any of the pictures I had taken, but promised to show evidence of my ability as a photographer.) These struck me as rather strange requirements for a Camp Director. No mention had been made of ability to understand and deal with both children and staff, not to mention parents. No mention of experience in camping or on camp program. No mention of any of the truly necessary attributes of a Camp Director. I told Mr. Smith that I was thoroughly committed to the success and continuance of Camp Susquehanna, that I had been welcomed by many parents and staff, and that I had no intention of not carrying through with our contract.

For reasons which were undefinable and could not be pinpointed, the enrollment was down in the 1964 season. As no announcement had been made of my purchase of the camp, and as Mr. Smith's name was still carried, I attributed the drop to two things: 1. Dissatisfaction with the 1963 season, when there had been much staff unrest and very poor food as well as a very poor dining hall situation. 2. Confusion in the minds of many families as to just who or what was going on at camp. I had been able to secure a near record number of campers, but the re-enrollment was down 44% from a previous year 65%. During the 1964 season I did not undercut Mr. Smith in any way, but allowed him to continue as he had done the year before. He continued to run the haunted house trips, and continued to lead group one on the horseback overnight trips. I did not have difficulty with some of the staff who undermined my operation of the camp with some of the campers. They kept insisting that the camp was better in the old days under Mr. Smith, until some of the campers took up the same song. I also had difficulty with the State Police because of Mr. Smith's conduct of the haunted house trips. I shall illustrate.

I was visited one day by Corporal Davis of the New Milford Barracks of the Pennsylvania State Police. He wanted to know who owned a white Rambler with Connecticut license plates. I told him that it belonged to one of our staff. It seems that the car in question, loaded with young men had stopped in a local gasoline station for a dollars worth of gas a few nights earlier. While pumping gas in the car, the attendant saw one of the men loading a revolver. When the car was gassed, the driver sped out of the station, and another car that tried to follow them to see where they were going, was left behind. They reported the incident to the state police. I explained that Mr. Smith often had a group of staff "haunt" the houses that they visited, and that they often used blank revolvers. I also explained that Mr. Smith often sold "Acorn" guns or starter pistols to the campers. I then learned that supplying anyone under eighteen years of age with blank or other type of revolver was illegal. Corporal Davis explained this to Mr. Smith, and I explained it. The State Police even sent us a copy of the law. Mr. Smith reused to believe that there was such a law, insisting that the boys had a right to learn about guns. I agreed that they had such a right, but that they learned about them on our rifle range under proper supervision, not with illegal acorn guns. Mr. Smith refused to accept this, and I ordered him not to sell any more guns to the campers, and not to use them on haunted house trips. I subsequently learned that some of the campers did acquire them after that from Mr. Smith. He denied this, but one of them was sold to the son of one of my very good friends, a boy who was not a camper, but a visitor.

Group pictures were scheduled in the 1964 season exactly as they had been scheduled in prior years. They were scheduled for Wednesday, with the following day, Thursday an alternate day in case of rain. It did not rain on Wednesday, and the photographer came on Thursday. Mr. Smith knew of this, and knew that the pictures were to be taken after lunch. Instead of being here for the pictures, however, Mr. Smith mad his usual Thursday trip to Binghamton, presumably to visit his broker, and returned at supper time. He was absent from the pictures by his own volition. I had not thought it necessary to tell him to be here for them, and they were taken without him. Later, however, I was criticized by some parents for cutting Mr. Smith out of the camp and out of the pictures, a criticism that I had no opportunity to answer as it was not made directly to me.

I felt that the effects in the drop in enrollment should be shared by both Mr. Smith and myself, although in varying degrees. As the income in 1964 had not been the expected income, and was down due to lack of re-enrollment rather than new enrollment, I suggested to Mr. Smith that I would appreciate it very much if I could just make the interest payment in 1964 rather than interest and principle. This would mean that I would pay him his $10,000 salary plus $7,500 interest on the mortgage. He took some time to decide, but then said that instead of just interest he would settle for the interest plus one half the normal payment principle. This meant that I paid him $11,250 plus his $10,000 salary in 1964. He further stipulated that the remaining $3,750 from the 1964 payment be made in two installment payments, half in 1965 and half in 1966. I had no choice but to agree.

The 1965 season saw improvement in the re-enrollment picture. It was up to a little over 60%. However, new enrollments were harder to get in 1965, and we ended with just about the same size camp in 1965 as in 1964, possibly a little smaller. (exact figures are available, but I do not have them on hand.) During the 1965 season my problems with Mr. Smith increased. He got into trouble with the police near Lawsville over a haunted house incident in pre-season. He had to go to a Justice of the Peace with a counselor and some of the boys. I learned very little about the incident, but the end result was that he was told to stay out of the area with his haunted house trips, and we were no longer allowed to use a campsite that we had been using for some years.

During the Post Season Trip of 1965 his riding group broke into a house near Gelatt belonging to a Mr. Reed Berman. The state police visited with me on this trip, and I discussed the matter with Mr. Berman. Mr. Berman recognized my problem and took the case up with Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith tried several different stories, but ended by paying Mr. Berman $25 damages to the house, and Mr. Berman did not take the case to court. Mr. Smith insisted that he had been trying to get the boys out of the house, and that the door was broken in before the group got there. (He also said that they were in the house when he got there and that he was dismounting to get the boys out. Mr. Berman's brother who caught the boys and Mr. Smith in the house, said that Mr. Smith was in the house all the time with the boys, and that he was not trying to get them out until he, Mr. Berman, arrived to find out what was happening.

Two of my campers were beaten during Haunted House trips during that season. I ruled that not more than two counselors be at any house to haunt it, and that they not have campers with them. I also insisted that the names of counselors haunting the house be submitted to me for approval. This rule was followed by virtue of the fact that I kept a very close eye on the haunting of houses for the rest of the season. However, Mr. Smith said that I made so many rules that the men became frustrated and got into trouble elsewhere. One of the men who had regularly haunted the houses before I eliminated him from the list did get into trouble with the police in Susquehanna.

Aside from the Haunted House problems with Mr. Smith, my major problems in the 1965 season resulted from confusion. Mr. Smith continued to use his own letterhead stationery, that referring to him as owner-director, in his personal correspondence, and did not admit to having sold the camp. At the same time all official letters from the camp carried the same letterhead except that my wife and I were listed as directors. When asked we said that we had purchased the camp and that we had hired Mr. Smith for two years as an associate director. I am not certain what he answered when asked, but I gather from reports that it was somewhat nebulous, and indicated that he was still owner or at least part owner of the camp. His understanding of his rights as mortgage holder is rather hazy. I do not have direct evidence to prove it, but the plans for Mr. Smith's subsequent venture in travel camping were laid during the 1965 season with some of the staff and ex-staff. The man who subsequently became Mr. Smith's Executive Secretary and Associate Director, Mr. William Deakin, was Head Counselor of our Senior Division that year. I subsequently notified him (prior to the announcement of his new position) that I was not re-hiring him because of the tremendous amount of undermining that he had accomplished during the year, and because he was drinking in his unit during the season in direct defiance of my policy.

November first of 1965 I paid Mr. Smith $5,000 salary, $15,000 in interest and principle on the mortgage, $1,875 principle from the delayed payment, and $112.50 in interest on that delayed payment for a total of $21,987.50. This brings the total paid to date to Mr. Smith to $93,237.50.

Just prior to the end of the 1965 season I received a letter from a lawyer in Wilkes Barre saying that he represented a group who wished to buy the camp, and offering me a ridiculously low sum for it. I replied that the camp was not for sale, and that if it were the sale price would be much higher. He wrote again, saying that his group might pay a little bit more, and that he would call on me with his accountant to go over the books. I replied that the camp was not for sale, and that the books were not available for perusal. I did not hear from him again. However, I thought that he was representing Mr. Smith or a small group of staff members. General indications were that something was afoot.

By this time I had had enough of Mr. Smith and his attempts to undermine my operation of the camp. I met him at camp, and told him that if he was so certain that the camp would be better off under his management, and if he were determined to bankrupt me, he could buy the camp back. He asked how much I wanted, and I said that I would give it back to him for canceling the mortgage and paying me $80,000 in cash. I also told him that this amount represented $71,250 that I had paid to him in cash over the time that we had been associated plus $8,750 to cover my losses. I said that the camp was not for sale, but that I would return it to him for that figure which represented a no-loss no-profit figure for me. He said that he would think it over.

Sometime later he said that it would not be agreeable to him to do that, and I said that was fine. I did not intend to sell the camp, but I wanted him to know that he could get it back, for a sum. Later still he met me with Frank Copolla, a former staff member, and they tried to buy the camp back at a figure which represented a $30,000 loss for me. I told them that the camp was not for sale, that it had been offered to Mr. Smith at the $80,000 figure, but not to anyone else. I also said that since that discussion with Mr. Smith I had paid him an additional $21,987 so the old figure was no longer applicable. Mr. Smith said that to pay that figure would represent an enormous loss to him. I said that that was not my problem, and that I was not interested in returning the camp to him at a loss to me. During the course of that conversation both men insisted that the Lawyer in Wilkes Barre, a Mr. Dempsey, was not representing them, and that they did not know of any other group that was interested in buying the camp.

At the camp reunion in 1965, about an hour before lunch was served on December 27th, I learned that some of my former staff had received a letter from Mr. Smith implying that I was not operating the camp properly, and inviting their interest in a new venture that he was launching. Just prior to serving lunch I learned that the campers had received the same letter, the one dated December 14. After lunch two of the parents, both lawyers, talked to me, said that the letter was outrageous, and suggesting that I would have to sue.

Following the reunion I met with Jack Renninger, and then met with Mr. Smith at Camp. I asked him what he was trying to do to me and to the camp. He insisted that he was not trying to do anything, that he was only interested in the campers who would not normally be returning, and that he had done nothing wrong. I tried to explain to him that using my mailing list and circularizing my campers and staff was certainly wrong. His reply was that I had given the address list to everyone in camp and that they could make any use they wished of it. I tried to explain that anyone else could, but that he had sold that right, but he would not accept that explanation. He said that he had had the letter checked by three Pennsylvania lawyers, and that it was perfectly legal for him to do so. He also said that if I would write a letter for him explaining that he was only interested in those who were not interested in returning, that he would consider sending it. I refused to do so. Subsequently I sent my own letter to the parents, one which I believe you have a copy of. If not, I will supply one.

Mr. Smith sent three more mailings to the same list. Some of these letters went within the 100 mile radius in the non-competition clause. In one of them he disclaimed interest in those who would normally be returning, but he did so rather inefectually, and went on to describe a very interesting trip. I have the letter from one parent canceling the enrollment for the 1966 season because his son was interested in going on the trip with Mr. Smith. He wanted to be assured that his son could return to Susquehanna the following season. I have another letter from a parent saying that his son would be going on the trip this year, but would be returning to Susquehanna the next year. This boy had not yet been enrolled.

Mr. Smith has continued harassment since the suit was filed. My campers have had cards from his all summer, sent from various points, and mentioning his camp and what a glorious time they were having. These cards were mailed to the campers' and staff home addresses and were forwarded to them at camp. I have one of them. In addition, Mr. Smith approached at least one of my campers at the barn and told him how good the camp was under his direction and telling the boy that he should be going with his trip rather than staying at Susquehanna. Ironically, the boy was a campership recipient, and could not afford any camp. He did not tell Mr. Smith this however.

I believe that Mr. Smith is trying to bankrupt me so that he can foreclose the mortgage on the camp. I think he plans the Western tour this season and a European trip next season. I think that he hopes that by that time he will have crippled me and will have the camp property back with little strain. I believe that he is almost entirely money motivated. I do not believe that he has any concept of ethics or morality. I think that this is borne out not only by his actions in my case, but by the fact that he has taken with him on his trip a man who is currently under indictment for carnal abuse of an 11 year old boy. Not only is he with him, but he is his associate Director and Executive Secretary.

At no time have I broken any of the contracts or agreements with Mr. Smith, either written or oral. There were no oral contracts except agreeing to not make an announcement at the time of the sale. Following the 1965 season, which also followed termination of our employment contract, I did write to the current mailing list of parents informing them of the sale and the date of the sale, and telling them of the employment contract and of its termination. I also said that I had been solely responsible for the camp since November 1, 1963, and that I had full responsibility for the excellent program and satisfactory seasons that their sons had had during the 1965 and 1964 camp periods. I told them that I was sorry that confusion had existed, and felt that it was time to straighten things out with a clear explanation. This was the first time that any formal announcement had been made. I did, when enrolling new campers, and when asked specifically about ownership of the camp, tell them that I had purchased the camp from Mr. Smith in 1963, and that he was still with the camp as an associate director. I also gave this explanation to current and former camper parents when asked. I could not do otherwise and be honest with them.

At no time in our arrangements did I think other than that Mr. Smith would spend the rest of his life in close association with Camp Susquehanna. That is why I voluntarily gave him lifetime use of one stall in the barn, of one stall in the garage, and of one-half the dog kennel. This use became a part of the contract and was extended to his sister and her husband through their lifetimes also. I also agreed to supply water to his residence through the same periods of time. In terms of verbal agreements, he had said that he planned to build a garage and possibly a horse stall so that he would not need the use of our stalls for that period. He has built a three stall garage, but continues to use one stall in my garage.

There are two points in a legal sense that I should add here. I believe that it is now proper to sue Mr. Smith for return of the tentative deposit money from 1963. I did not want to raise the problems of a suit at that time, but I believe it would now be in order. The amount is $1,075 less whatever he refunded for canceled enrollments.

I also question the water supply to the "motel" unit which is attached to his new garage. Our contract calls for me to supply water for domestic purpose to one residence. This unit is a self contained living unit more than fifty feet from his house. It has its own heating supply and bathroom. I do not believe that I am required to supply water to it. I would be willing to trade the water supply of that unit for the stalls in the barn , garage and kennel, and I do not think that this would be unreasonable. I am also willing to enter another suit in this matter.

I realize that there are undoubtedly omissions in this account. If they come to mind I will add them in a later letter. Also, I apologize for the overstrikes and the extra letters 1's in this. My fingers sometimes rest too heavily on the keys of an electric typewriter. Consequently I get extra 1's and ;'s.

Kenneth E. Schroder



ADDENDA

During the meeting with Mr. Smith and Frank Coppola in the Fall of 1965, I tried to find out what Mr. Smith objected to in my operation of Camp Susquehanna. The only thing he would say was that the grounds were filthy. This is not borne out by Board of Health examinations and comments of visitors including those from the Camp Agencies of Parents, Redbook, The New York Times and Vogue. When pressed further about this he said that the toilet in the 18 horse barn was stopped up and filthy and unusable all season. I asked him how long he knew of this situation, and he replied he knew it all year. I further asked if he had brought the matter to my attention or had taken any steps to have the situation rectified, and he said he had not. This despite the fact that he was hired as an Associate Director, and would ordinarily be expected to correct such situations.

Further investigation into the situation has shown that that particular toilet situation has existed from the time that Mr. Smith had the 18 horse barn erected, and he has known of it, and knew it existed. The inexpensive commode that he purchased for the toilet has too small a throat, and usually plugs when any thing other than water is flushed through it. I can understand his not calling that situation to my attention when I was considering purchasing the camp, but he can hardly criticize me for failing to act on a situation that he was aware of and did not act on.

When questioned about most any situation, Mr. Smith will change the story every time he goes over it. If it is a situation in which he is wrong, he will usually revise the story until he is shown as the hero, not the culprit. He becomes confused and angry when questioned closely. An example follows.

During our conversation at his home following the reunion in 1965, when I tried to reason with him concerning the damage he was doing to the camp by starting his travel venture on my mailing list, I asked him about one of the haunted house trips on which one of my campers was beaten. He said that he knew of it and disciplined the staff verbally about it the next day. I asked him who he disciplined, and he said "the staff on the trip". I asked him who they were, and he said that he did not remember. I asked how often he had done this, and he said only once. I pointed out that since there were relatively few staff on those trips he should remember whom he had disciplined on the only occasion calling for such action. By this time he was quite red faced and changed the whole story. I am certain that he will do the same thing under close questioning on any point that is doubtful in his testimony.



MAJOR POINTS

  1. Refusing to turn over tentative enrollment deposits for 1964 season.

  2. Decision after signed contract that I was not suited to camp directing. This was the beginning of lack of support of me in the operation of the camp. To have dropped the purchase at that point would have resulted in a loss to me of several thousand dollars in legal and title insurance fees, plus the time and money spent in making my assigned living quarters livable for my family and myself. There was also the interest lost in money already paid to Mr. Smith.

  3. Difficulty with the police through Mr. Smith failing or refusing to maintain the standards of morality and legality required in the leadership of boys.

  4. Undermining with the staff during both the 1964 and 1965 seasons, much more pronounced in the 1965 season. Rumors of Mr. Smith foreclosing the mortgage were rampant in 1965, and could only have been brought about through his knowledge and possible consent, if not originating with him.

  5. Disclosure of the full details of our financial arrangements for former staff and current staff, without regard to the invasion of privacy, this being my personal business as well as his.

  6. Alienation of the campers from me using the fact that he was not involved with them in any but a recreational way. He treated them on haunted house trips, joined in their forays on horseback trips, and in general was only with them as a buddy while I was involved in the operation of the camp. He later traded on this relationship in enticing their enrollment in his travel camp.

  7. Solicitation of my campers and staff through the use of the mailing list. Although this list was given to all, it would not have been necessary for him to have been given one, as he had full access to all records of the camp during both summer seasons and the winter period . He had the keys to the office through September 1965, received all his mail through the camp address, and made use of the camp secretaries in handling his personal affairs. He had full access to all records at all times. One file, the file of counselor applications from former seasons, disappeared completely with the file case coincidentally with the moving of his personal possessions from the administration building.

  8. Continued harassment after the suit was filed. In all there were four mailings to my staff and campers. These letters and a booklet and an application form. During the camp season many of my campers received post cards and an Adventure Camping newspaper from him. These were mailed to their home address, but were forwarded to camp. These mailings were to my enrolled campers of the 1966 season, even though he professed to be interested only in campers who would not be returning to Susquehanna.

  9. Use of his sister's New York address while carrying on all operations from his residence in New Milford. His "Executive Secretary", a resident of Kirkwood New York visited him at his residence daily before leaving with him on the trip.



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