Tall Timber Tales
Thanks for the Plaque
by Jay Leites
August 17, 2003

Thirty years after the final rendition of “Day is Done” at Tall Timber, I still know that song, and all the rest of “Uncle” Mel’s camp songs by heart. I can’t listen to Taps without hearing at the end: “Talllll Tim-berrrr — walk, walk, walk.”

My father Aaron, mother Frieda, and brother Brian spent about a dozen summers under the Club House’s penthouse. They were the happiest times I have had. That’s saying a lot, as rest of my life has been fairly happy.

But if I could once more, spend an entire summer, with good friends, in a country setting, with no duties or responsibilities, except to have fun. Well, that would be swell indeed.


I suppose my nostalgia for those time grows stronger this time of year. On August 16, 2003, it occurred to me to type “Tall Timber Bungalow Colony,” for the first time, into a search engine. I clicked on the first result, “Summer Camp Emergency,” and gasped at seeing the photos of the steps leading to the front lawn and “Main House” [now on the “Tall Timber Tales” page], Fran, and other councilors and campers.

[sung to “On Top of Old Smokey”]

On top of the Club House, a penthouse so swell,
Lives our camp director, his name’s Uncle Mel.
                [lyrics by Irving Broz circa 1962]
In many ways, Uncle Mel was Tall Timber. His camp was probably run more professionally than any other in the county. It really wasn’t merely the baby-sitting service often provided by other camps.

We truly loved the camp and it’s, sometimes off-beat, activities like “Camper-Counselor Day,” “Carnival Day,” and “Backwards Day.” Also fondly remembered are the end-of-summer banquet and gifts, and most of all, the “Color War.”

Of course, Demian deserves credit for making the “big” shows surprisingly entertaining productions. If nothing else, those shows instilled in us kids an astonishing familiarity with show tunes of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. As Billy Berkrot remarked recently: “There is no reason someone my age should know all the words to ‘The Last Time I Saw Paris,’ but I do.”

A reunion might be fun. While I’ve lost touch with all my wintertime, 10-months-a-year childhood friends, to my great good fortune, I’m still quite close to my best Tall Timber friends. To be 48 years old and have several friends of 40+ years standing is quite wonderful and extraordinary.

Here is news about some of my friends:

My friend of greatest tenure, Billy Berkrot, and I have worked for Reuters news service for about 25 years. He as a journalist doing mostly sports, but lately financial reporting. I work in technical operations, mostly network management these days. Bill is married and lives with his wife, daughter and son in Stanford, Connecticut. His parents, Bob and Shirley, are both doing well and living in the Bayside section of Queens, NYC.

Marge Famularo (nee Givertz) is married and lives with her husband, son and two daughters in Great Neck, NY. Her parents, Lenore and Sandy, have divorced. Both re-married and are doing well. Marge often asks me to recall, for her kids, lyrics to “I’m a Texan,” “Said a Thousand-Legged Worm,” etc. I still know ’em all by heart, and would go head-to-head with anyone in T.T. trivia.

Ira Levine is married and lives with his wife, two daughters and two sons, in Great Neck. His father, Eli, died a few years ago. His mother, Selma, is fine.

Ellen Barras is married and lives with her husband, two daughters and son in the Washington, D.C. area. She was born rather late into her family, so her parents were about the age of our grandparents. They both died quite some time ago.

Rich Levy tragically committed suicide in 1987. His parents, George and Joan still live in Great Neck.

My brother, Brian, is well, single, and living on Long Island. He has worked for many years as a vendor for a large commercial catering company.

Peter Berkrot is married and living in one of the Boston suburbs with his wife Karen and son Misha. He is an actor. His most famous roll was that of Angie D’Annunzio in Caddyshack. He also teaches acting and does a bit of writing.

Mark Levine is married and lives with his wife and two kids in NY. He is a VP at Merryl Lynch.

Barry Levine is a software developer. I still call him “The Bruiser” as I did when he was a councilor. He was a very pugnacious camper.

Neil Givertz is married with children.

I live in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, NYC, and have managed to stay single. My Mom and Dad retired to Las Vegas in the mid 80s. Frieda died about 10 years ago. Dad re-married about a year after she died, and is doing well and enjoying life in Vegas. I visit him at least twice a year. Quite a bit more than if he had retired to, say, Phoenix.

At Tall Timber, the camp day started promptly at 9:25am when perhaps 100 children would gather to watch the raising of the flag, and solemnly recite an oath of loyalty to our nation.

But Uncle Mel’s day started quite a bit earlier than that.

[more singing to “On Top of Old Smokey”]

He rises at seven, what more could be said?
By ten in the evening he’s ready for bed.
At 8:30am, Uncle Mel’s voice would come booming over the colony-wide PA system. The daily proclamation went something like this:
“Tall Timber, good morning, Tall timber! Oh, what a beautiful Tall Timber summer day camp day it is today! The sun is in the sky, and the dew is on the grass. If you don’t believe me, wake your parents and ask them. The oldest boys group is playing softball against Lakeview this morning so don’t forget to wear your Tall Timber T-shirts. Tall Timber, GOOD MORNING, Tall Timber!”
Now, I was never a “morning person,” but I always got a kick out of those daily announcements.

Uncle Mel founded the camp Kovad (Hebrew for “honor”) Society as a way to give recognition to “good campers,” rather than to gifted athletes or winning teams. The Society met and voted in a new member each week. The awarded plaque, at that time, was a splendid, shield-shape item, perfectly stained, with precise, white, Gothic lettering.

Well, I may never have been a first pick for softball or football, or won a bowling trophy, but god damn it, I was a good camper. My 1966 “Kovad Society” plaque had been stored in a closet for 30 years. In 1996, I cleaned it off and hung it in a place of honor. It is still proudly displayed in my apartment.

This acknowledgement is 37 years delayed: “Thanks for the plaque.”

There was about 10 different musicals; so during my 12-14 summers, some were repeated.

I remember Mitchell Schecter’s outstanding performance “Goodbye Cruel World” as if it were yesterday. [For more on Mitchell’s performance, see Tall Timber Drama] Billy Berkrot sang the same song about a decade after Mitchell. Rather than pathos, Billy went for comedy. At the line “step right up and take a look at a fool.” Billy would point at someone in the audience.

When I was 12, Uncle Mel asked me to sing “The Ballard of Irving,” which is about a Jewish cowboy. He said that when he heard the song that winter, he immediately thought of me as the one to do it for the camp show. He explained it was rythmically spoken along with the piano music, rather than sung.

The first verse went:

He came from the old Bar Mitzva spread,
Schlepping a salami and pumpernickel bread.
He always followed his mother’s wishes.
Even on the range, he used two sets of dishes.
The chorus went:
“Irving. Big Irving. Big fat Irving.
The 132nd fastest gun
[sound of gun shot]
in the West.”
Even with Andrea Elburger’s best efforts at the piano, I had no clue how to perform the number.

Then, a couple of weeks before the show, my family visited the Malowitz’s at their new Spring Valley house. I mentioned the Ballard to Mark who knew it.

It was from a production called “When You’re in Love, the Whole World is Jewish.” He had the cast recording. A few moments after hearing it, a light went off in my head. I understood the timing and emphasis needed to make it work.

In all modesty, I must say that my rendition brought the house down. Uncle Mel had me reprise it after the next Sabbath service.

Article © 2006, Jay Leites

Jay Leites - 1955-2011

— Tall Timber Tales —
            Tall Timber Tales - An introduction by Demian
            My Dad - by Demian
            An Exhausting Winter’s Tale - by Demian
            Summer Camp Emergency - by Demian
            Tall Timber Drama - by Demian
            Thanks for the Plaque - by Jay Leites
            Indifference to Poison Ivy - by Bob Solomon
            A Boy Called Jacob - by Peter Berkrot
            The View from Far Right Field - by Peter Berkrot
            The Time of Our Lives - by Debbie Levy
            The Choice - by Jeff Gilbert
            Tall Timber Alumni - Notes from the campers
      Photo Galleries
            Summer Camp Kids - Photos by Demian
            Jack’s Kids - Photos by Jack Ritterman
            Roza Photos - Photos from Barbara Roza Iannotta
            Rucker Photos - Photos from Brian Rucker
            Arthur’s Photos - Photos from Arthur Marder
            Robin’s Photos - Photos from Robin Melasky Sloma
            All-Camp Mug Shots - Photos of the entire camp
                    1961 All-Camp Mug Shot - Who’s Who - Indentities
            Group Mug Shots - Photos of individual groups
      Reunion - Aug 15, 2009
            Reunion 2009 Photos by Jon Broz
            Reunion 2009 Photos by Jay Leites
            Reunion 2009 Photos by Michael Melasky
            Reunion 2009 Photos by Gary Solomon

Entire contents © 2015, Demian
Seattle, WA