Bally’s Kehonka Beginnings

Written by A. Cooper “Bally” Ballentine

 

 BALLY’S KEHONKA BEGINNINGS

Three years of my secondary schooling were spent at Barringer High School in Newark. For my final high school year, I was transferred to a new and luxurious building, devoted entirely to technical courses and nearer my home. Many of my teachers, including Messrs. Stonecipher, McKiney, Webb, Langlas, and Sinclair, were also transferred. All five men came to have a major influence on my future.

 

Under Stonecipher, teaching skilled craftsmanship, I carved a mahogany bookstall and, with supervised accuracy for grades, I made a hanging copper candle holder, a copper bowl formed to a template, and a copper electric lantern with colored glass panels. The last two items became treasured furnishings of my life.

My high school drafting studies took place under Edward McKiney, a man of few sharp words. Somehow my work satisfied him because he soon arranged for me to make several drawings for my geometry teacher, Harrison Webb. With William Betz, a teacher in Rochester, New York, Webb was compiling a new geometry book. The job delighted me; it represented an honor as well as a pinch of income, twenty dollars for 131 hours of work!

Carl Langlas, imposingly tall, was my instructor in woodwork. I was being rated on quality achieved within a specific time. He impressed upon me the value of “The unforgiving minute.” Once, when I stooped to pick up a nail, he said, “Young man, you don’t have time to pick up that nail.”

In the late spring of 1911, McKiney asked me if I would like a job as a chore boy in a camp. Rather abruptly, I said, “No thank you,” because a camping experience in New Jersey had been memorable primarily for its excess of excessive mosquitoes. However, I was finally persuaded to make some interview arrangements with a Miss Laura Mattoon, head of the science program at the Veltin School for Girls on West 74th Street, just off Broadway and director of a camp in New Hampshire. McKiney, whose interest pleased my parents, had summered some in the small town of Wolfeboro on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Because the only reasonable access to Wolfeboro was by a tedious train ride – the last lap seems to include stops at every hencoop – area travelers Miss Mattoon and McKiney in this case met rather readily.

While my first meeting with Miss Mattoon was pleasant, it was obvious I was too young. Besides, she had arranged already for three college students, four to five years older, to help her out. McKiney was tenacious. “Try again,” he said, “if not in overalls, maybe in a full-dress suit,” meaning as a crafts instructor. He knew that Miss Mattoon’s campers had hiked to barns around the countryside to buy 25 cent and 50 cent chairs relegated to the woodpile because the seats were gone. The campers had collected twenty or more antiques by today’s standard. When I said, I don’t know how to weave ash and oak splints, or rush fibres, McKiney replied, “I’ll be nearby and can keep you ahead of the girls.”

So once again, I called on Laura Mattoon at the Veltin School. Her response was courteous but concise; “I can’t afford to feed another person.” Soon afterwards, however, came a letter inviting me to Kehonka for a week. Although my family’s finances were at low tide, the money was scraped together for my overnight boat ride from New York to Boston, the D train trip, four and a half hours, from Boston to Wolfeboro. To save on expenses, my mother packed a carton of food. A family tradition was also to conceal a “hatcher,” a dime, inside the carton. I was chagrined, and am so to this day, that in the excitement of my journey I threw away the carton without finding its hidden treasure!

Ahead of me in the line at the Boston railroad ticket window, a young lady asked for a ticket to Wolfeboro. Today I would inquire, “Are you going to Kehonka?” but not then. We were indeed both headed there. She was Neida Quackenbush one of Kehonka’s pioneer campers.

Once at Kehonka, my first inclination was to get my hands on some tools. There were enough for making crude furniture out of small trees, especially white birch, a favorite of Miss Mattoon. Mr. McKiney also helped, as promised, with the caning of chairs.

Whereas up to this time I had always been known as Almyr, the Kehonka group decided most fortunately, that I should be known as Bally. Miss Mattoon, however, was always Miss Mattoon. I was fortunate in being well received by the three older men who “outranked” me, at least temporarily. Henry Dunbar, Herman Lorenz and John Moore were all thoughtful and helpful. John, the youngest of the three was a Concord, Massachusetts, native and an English literature major at Harvard. We paired early into a strong friendship.

Tents were scarce, so we men slept on rectangular hammocks suspended from the porch ceiling of the lodge. Hooks were inside in case of rain. The inside location by the fireplace was downright luxurious. John was deeply immersed in the classics, including poetry. I had a long-standing aversion to poetry but he converted me. That first summer, I memorized all of Milton’s L’Allegro, and II Penseroso. We sat up late nights by the open fire discussing and reading. Of course, we also spent a little time rating the thirty or so girls!

Before, during and beyond high school, I did my homework. It was, I guess, my nature. My physics teacher arranged a special trip to Columbia University to introduce me to chemistry professors there.

Chemical engineering was the high ranking king of professions in 1912. My teacher said simply, “Take him in.” So after three-and-a-half years, and without a high school diploma, I was admitted. My parents were pleased and, at the time, I was also. But in two years, my liking was clearly for mathematics, not for long formulas of organic chemistry. Meanwhile, my Kehonka experience, especially my friendship with John Moore, caused me to wish I were in a liberal arts college. World War I resolved this dilemma.

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Responses

  1. Ruth Dunbar helped Laura Mattoon get the Camp Started. Henry Dunbar, her younger brother, was there as a counselor. Henry was my father, and I have found in his diaries many descriptions of what it was like at the camp. If anyone knows how Ruth Dunbar, graduate of Smith college, became connected to Laura Mattoon for the camp project, I am very interested to find out. A good biography for Laura might help. We have a letter which indicates that in about 1910? she was at the Jeruselem, American Consulate, Syria.


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