Why Grandparent Camp is a winner

Campers Reece and Andrew enjoy their time at Camp Mimi, family fun time hosted by Terrelia Ogletree. CONTRIBUTED

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Campers Reece and Andrew enjoy their time at Camp Mimi, family fun time hosted by Terrelia Ogletree. CONTRIBUTED

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Spending quality time together and making memories is the goal, but it also gives mom and dad a break

I was first introduced to the idea of a Grandma and Grandpa Camp at a meeting of Walk of Fame judges, where I was sitting next to a lovely lady by the name of Terrelia Ogletree. Known to her nine grandchildren as “Mimi,” she began telling me about Camp Mimi, which she hosted for 19 years.

Each summer, her grandchildren were invited to camp out at Mimi’s Dayton home for a fun-filled week. Outings were planned for each day — to the Air Force Museum, the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, the Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati. Time at home was devoted to activities ranging from talent shows and craft lessons to fashion shows.

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It was such a wonderful idea that I told Ogletree I’d like to write a story about it someday and that I’d also like to copy the idea with my own grandchildren.

This summer turned out to provide the perfect opportunity for both. With families more isolated and many parents working from home, a grandparent camp is a great respite for moms and dads and a special treat for the grandparents and kids.

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Terrelia Ogletree plans special time with her grandchildren each year and calls it Camp Mimi. CONTRIBUTED

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Terrelia Ogletree plans special time with her grandchildren each year and calls it Camp Mimi. CONTRIBUTED

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Terrelia Ogletree plans special time with her grandchildren each year and calls it Camp Mimi. CONTRIBUTED

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Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Safety first

Doing it this particular summer, of course, means adhering to strict safety guidelines amid the coronavirus. If that isn’t possible, it’s better to tuck this idea away for a future time.

In our case, my New York son and his family decided to spend part of the summer in Dayton. Before Camp Dayton started, (they call us Grandma and Grandpa Dayton), we quarantined for the first two weeks, each in a separate home.

“I think if the parents and grandparents are doing safe distancing, wearing masks and have no fever or symptoms of illness, it’s probably safe,” says Dr. Steve Swedlund, a gerontologist and assistant professor at Wright State’s School of Medicine. “But we still don’t know all of the data about COVID-19.”

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Swedlund says if there is any chance that anyone is going to be seeing other people, he would advise wearing a mask and removing it only to eat. Because 2-year-old children can’t really wear masks, he doesn’t advise a grandparent camp for them this summer. “The older children,” he adds, “can do a lot outside — bicycling, hiking.”

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Terrelia Ogletree, her grandchildren and other family members visit the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force for a Camp Mimi outing during a previous year. CONTRIBUTED

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Terrelia Ogletree, her grandchildren and other family members visit the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force for a Camp Mimi outing during a previous year. CONTRIBUTED

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Terrelia Ogletree, her grandchildren and other family members visit the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force for a Camp Mimi outing during a previous year. CONTRIBUTED

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Camp Mimi

Ogletree says as a child she didn’t know a grandparent. “I promised myself that if I ever had grandchildren, I would be the best grandmother I could be,” she says. Her oldest grandson, Anthony Thompson, says she fulfilled that promise.

“As a person, Mimi is a walking human embodiment of love and pride,” says Thompson, now 24, living in Los Angeles and working for a major record label. “Every museum and park and destination she took us heard her lively and excited voice explain what her camp was and how blessed she was to be gifting these memories to her grandkids, and herself, too. She encouraged us to take pictures and record and journal our memories often. Even if we as a family meet for a holiday on a cruise or at a relative’s house, she calls it ‘Camp Mimi: Offsite.’ Making memories was never confined to her Dayton home. She’s basically the human version of, ‘Let’s make it a great day together.’”

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One activity at Camp Mimi involved playing with homemade musical instruments. CONTRIBUTED

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One activity at Camp Mimi involved playing with homemade musical instruments. CONTRIBUTED

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One activity at Camp Mimi involved playing with homemade musical instruments. CONTRIBUTED

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Credit: CONTRIBUTED

In addition to outings and at-home activities, Ogletree expanded her grandchildren’s world by introducing guests at camp: Dayton Opera’s marionettes; friends who hosted a progressive dinner for campers; an etiquette expert to teach the placement of dinnerware, silverware and crystal and jump-ropers to demonstrate their artistry. One night, everyone got dressed up and attended a show at La Comedia. On Sundays, everyone went to church.

“One day we grandkids woke up to a tour bus in front of Mimi’s house,” Thompson recalls. “It took us from her driveway to The Wilds outdoor safari, which felt like a day trip to Africa and we were back in Dayton before dark. That was a wild and unforgettable day!”

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Terrelia Ogletree, aka Mimi, volunteers at the House of Bread where her family of young campers learned about volunteering. CONTRIBUTED

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Terrelia Ogletree, aka Mimi, volunteers at the House of Bread where her family of young campers learned about volunteering. CONTRIBUTED

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Terrelia Ogletree, aka Mimi, volunteers at the House of Bread where her family of young campers learned about volunteering. CONTRIBUTED

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Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Ogletree involved the community as well. Campers served at the House of Bread and made cards for nursing home residents. “I wanted them to know that sometimes people need help in their lives and that could be us,” Ogletree explains.

Thompson says Camp Mimi brought grandkids and cousins together from multiple states, summer after summer. “Being adults and young adults now — especially living still in different states and during a pandemic — I feel like we cousins still understand what it means to be close and to be family across the miles,” he says. “We share a common childhood of memories and connectivity.”

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Dan Sauer and his granddaughter Lila mix concrete. CONTRIBUTED

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Dan Sauer and his granddaughter Lila mix concrete. CONTRIBUTED

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Dan Sauer and his granddaughter Lila mix concrete. CONTRIBUTED

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Grammy & Grandpa Camp at the Sauers

Susan Sauer of Dayton got the idea of a Grammy Camp from a cousin visiting years ago.

“It sounded like so much fun that we started doing it five years ago when Lila was 10 and Ruthie was 4,” she says. “We do an outing in the morning, have lunch and then do something at home in the afternoon. They live in town so it’s a day camp, but the last night is a sleepover at our house where we have a cookout and make s’mores.”

Her grandchildren are involved with the planning. “We pull out craft ideas from Pinterest and magazines and get together to discuss our ideas,” Sauer explains. “On the first day of camp, we all go out to buy the supplies we’ll need.”

Lila says craft days are her favorite. “Typically we choose a variety of crafts in different difficulties,” she explains. “We’ve done everything from carved rubber stamps and concrete planters to simple tie-dye shirts. My favorite crafts are the ones I get to use in my everyday life, like the paint poured canvases and confetti bowls.”

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Lila and Ruthie enjoy doing crafts and other fun activities, like making slime, while spending time at their grandparents' house. CONTRIBUTED

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Lila and Ruthie enjoy doing crafts and other fun activities, like making slime, while spending time at their grandparents' house. CONTRIBUTED

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Lila and Ruthie enjoy doing crafts and other fun activities, like making slime, while spending time at their grandparents' house. CONTRIBUTED

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Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Ruthie looks forward to mini-golf. “We’ve tried different places, but the best place I’ve discovered is Trails Mini Golf,” she says. “My favorite project we’ve done is ice-dye tie-dye sweatshirts.”

Sauer outings range from canoeing to trips to visits to Aullwood Audubon Farm. Because of the pandemic, this year many of the activities were held outside; the family went fishing, for example. Instead of going to restaurants for lunch as they’ve done in the past, each day featured a different ethnic meal — Indian, Japanese, Mediterranean — which was picked up from local restaurants, then eaten at home. “We all wore masks anytime we were out and we were much more careful,” Sauer says. “We skipped the overnight.”

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The family always has an evaluation on Friday evening. "We review the week, talk about what we liked and didn't like, what worked and didn't work and ideas for next year," Sauer says. "I write it all down so we can refer to it when we plan next year's camp."

Daughter-in-law Meridith Sauer says this summer’s Grammy & Grandpa Camp was especially appreciated. “It was a nice change of routine for all of us,” she says. “Even though some of it was stuff we could have done at home, having it be a certain week gave structure to our unstructured life right now.”

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This photo of their visit to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati is just one of many memories that Terrelia Ogletree and her grandchildren have of Camp Mimi. CONTRIBUTED

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This photo of their visit to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati is just one of many memories that Terrelia Ogletree and her grandchildren have of Camp Mimi. CONTRIBUTED

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This photo of their visit to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati is just one of many memories that Terrelia Ogletree and her grandchildren have of Camp Mimi. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Give it a try

If you’re thinking of hosting a grandparent camp, consider the advice my son offered — be sure to share your own interests and passions with the kids. In our case, I wrote a short chapter each day for a family story book, taught the kids new words, engaged them in a lot of imaginative play. Others might be inclined to include more sports, art or cooking.

Mimi, who turned 85 last May and asked each of her grandchildren to write her a letter for her birthday, concludes with this advice: “Whenever grandchildren show up, call it Camp Grandma or Grandpa. Make it something special they will remember.”

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