South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Brashear campers will get-together to talk over old times

Reunion in the works for August 2017


In this vintage postcard, mothers and their children were among those who spent time at Brashear Camp outside of Zelienople over the last 80 plus years. Former campers and staff are working to get those with fond memories of the camp together for a reunion in 2017.

My first experience with Brashear Camp didn't come during the summer in the 135 wooded acres outside of Zelienople, it came on the second floor of the Brashear Center in what is now the Birmingham Foundation's conference room.

There, on an early spring evening in 1972, I would meet what would become life-long friends, learn to build a fire using tinder, kindling and fuel and master making a bedroll from two blankets. It would be several more months before I would finally make it to camp in early June as a Counselor-In-Training (CIT).

I would spend the better part of seven summers over eight years at camp in a variety of positions: CIT, counselor and handyman. Everyone who went there just called it "camp," not Brashear Camp or Claudine Virginia Trees Camp its original name. "Are you going back to camp?"

The center of activity at camp was the Barn. The main floor was a meeting and event space big enough to hold all campers and staff along with the camp office, camp store and canteen. The basement held the dining hall and kitchen.

By the time I started going to camp, the platform tents used by the older boys had been retired and campers stayed in six cabins on top of the hill and girls in five cabins parallel to the Barn. Male CITs stayed in a small cabin at the edge of the tree line on top of the hill (The Pit), while female CITs and the Waterfront Director were housed in their own building (Keeler) with running water adjacent to the Barn.

The camp and program directors, along with the camp nurse stayed in the big farm house on the other side of the Barn. The infirmary and the girls' washroom were also located in the house.

The staff lodge where counselors and CITs gathered after campers were fast asleep was located below the Barn and a stand of pine trees. A hand painted map of Brashear Camp now sits in the Museum Room of the Brashear Center.

Regular camping sessions were 12 days long and there were three a summer. My 1974 Counselors' Manual says each session would have 88 campers, but there were years when I was there the number of campers was exceeded by a dozen or more.

In addition, during my tenure at camp, the summer camping season ended with a 12-day session for mentally handicapped adults. This session required additional staff and it was considered an honor by staff to be asked to participate.

In addition to the eight weeks of summer camp, there was also a "work week" for staff to prepare the camp for campers and Football Camp after when teams would use the camp to prepare for football season.

Although several teams used the camp, Monaca and McKeesport schools were there for many summers.

Prior to summer camp and following football camp, the Sportsmen, a group of South Side businessmen and boosters, would come up to the camp to do the heavy lifting of getting the facilities ready for the season. Some of the tasks they undertook were to put up and take down the platform tents, any major repairs to the buildings and the placing of concrete pillars at the corners of the camp property.

The Sportsmen were responsible for building an elevated deck off of the main floor of the barn and constructing a new Boys 4 cabin. Boys 4 would later be dedicated to the memory of long-time caretaker Tony Pankowski.

Prior to my time at camp, Mothers' Camp was also popular with South Side mothers attending camp with their children.

According to John Pankowski, son of Tony, who grew up on the camp grounds, the camp was also used by other groups.

"The sisters from St. Joseph Church on Ormsby Avenue came to camp for their vacation. That was always over a free weekend. They stayed in the lodge. Dad had to hang canvas around the perimeter of the pool so they could swim without people seeing them in bathing suits.

"The only people in camp were the sisters and the four of us in my family. Also, the sisters of St. Gregory, in Zelienople, did the same thing at least once," John Pankowski said.

He said in the 50s and 60s hosteling was popular and travelers would come by the camp out of season and be permitted to camp, for a 50 cents a night donation. He said in the dead of winter his father would sometimes take pity on the travelers and allow them to stay in the lodge for the night.

Another vintage postcard from Camp Claudine Virginia Trees (Brashear Camp) shows campers cutting wood and preparing breakfast outside of their tent.

What's the point of this little trip down Memory Lane? Since the land was donated to the Brashear Association in 1930 by Joseph G. Trees in memory of his wife, Claudine Virginia Trees, there have been thousands of mothers and their children, staff, campers, Sportsmen, football players and hostellers who have spent time at Brashear Camp (or Claudine Virginia Trees Camp) and have fond memories of their camp experiences, a favorite counselor or camper, s'mores and Trail Packs, sleeping under the stars, or first loves and summer romances.

Whatever their relationship, all Brashear campers are welcome to come and share their stories and memories at a Brashear Camp Reunion on August 5, 2017. Details are still in the planning stage, but if you would like to be kept informed fill out the form at or email Tom Smith at

As time goes on, hopefully some former Brashear campers will share their memories of Bob and Gina, Council Ring and Yugamutz.


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