The Kitchen Crew.


It has been said that an army travels on its stomach. Guess what?  So does a camp for boys.

During all the years I was at camp we had great cooks. Joe Shaw, Helen Shaw and Louie Warren were really the greatest when it came to making our meals taste like they were home cooked.

But it took more than the cooks to feed some 200 to 300 hungry mouths on a daily basis, it also took the Kitchen Crew to work their wonders. As I remember it, our unsung heroes of the kitchen floor were always a group of high school guys from somewhere in the mid-west.  During my first years at camp, most of the Kitchen Crew came from Center Line, Michigan . These guys were football players, who when they weren't in the kitchen helping Joe and Helen, were working out and practicing for the big games to come in the fall.

In the early 1950s, Larry Bielat, John Skirchak and Bob Price were part of the Kitchen Crew.  Also, Larry was an Assistant Counselor one year. The Center Line guys, according to Larry, were coached by one of the counselors, Jerry Planutis, who was the starting Full Back at Michigan State University during those years.  The Center Line guys went on to win TWO state Championships after spending summers at camp working and training.

In hindsight, it may have been the Kitchen Crew who worked the longest and hardest hours at camp. This was a fact of life that was well recognized by Ken Smith when he was recruiting for these positions at camp.  John Skirchak shares with us his two "Welcome" letters from Ken from 1955 and 1956.  Note that the salary for these unsung heroes back in the mid-1950s, was $20 a week.  Yes, that's right, $20 a week.

Skirchak Letters

Larry Bielat and John Skirchak have found some of their camp photos and memorabilia. Larry found a Staff and Cabin photo, some snapshots of he and John Skirchak and posters of the camp Rodeo and the Venetian Night events in Charlevoix.

Larry coached football for 35 years at the high school, college and professional levels. He has been a motivational speaker and is the author of six books.  Also, he was the Michigan State University Assistant Alumni Director and for 10 years he has been the voice of MSU football on the radio.

Winning Words of Champions  by Larry Bielat

John Skirchak found a number of snapshots of himself and others in the Kitchen Crew, a photo of the complete kitchen crew from 1955 and a staff photo from that same year.  By way of background, John went to Butler and played football there. He was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame at Butler University. John went into the Air Force and flew photo reconnaissance missions in the RF-4C Phantom jet, racking up 100 missions over North Vietnam and numerous combat awards.

1955 Kitchen Crew: Starting from the left…John Orris, Andrea Shaw, unknown, Elmer Obanion, John Skirchak, Helen Shaw, unknown, Joe Shaw, Jim Hough, Ron Cronkhite, and Gary Vettraino.

1954 Venetian Night Poster: Note the listing on the poster of the The Squires . This was a BeBop group comprised of camp Kitchen Crew from Center Line, Michigan.

           John Orris - Lead
           Gary Vettraino - high notes
           Ron Cronkhite - high notes
           Larry Bielat - Base

According to Larry Bielat, The Squires had 4 songs they could sing and at Venetian Night they ended up singing them 4 to 5 times each before the screaming girls in the audience would let them leave the stage.

1955 Rodeo Poster:  Note that Larry Bielat was a "Clown" headliner on the poster

1954 Staff Picture:  In the staff picture , Larry Bielat is standing next to Jake Whitecrow (the head Cowboy) in the first row of those standing. John Skirchak is standing in the top row and he is the third person in from the right.

Jerry Planutis, the Michigan  State Full Back who coached the Center Line  football players at camp, is seated on the ground with Rusty Smith (as a very young boy) on his left.

1955 Staff Picture:  In the staff picture , John Skirchak is the person knelling at the start of the second row on the left hand side.  Larry Beilat is standing in the top row and he is the third person in from the right, standing next to Barney.

Snapshots:  There are several shots of Larry and friend John Skirchak, Larry coaching football (something he apparently liked to do early on in life), and Larry and his cabin in 1955.  John found shots of Jerry Planutis, Ralph Moore, Kyung Mo Huh (Kim) and others.

Bielat Snapshots

Skirchak Snapshots

More Kitchen Crew Photos: Through the work of Russ Washburn (who scanned these photos) and generosity of the Charlevoix Historical Society (working with Dave Miles) I now have more photos of various fabulous Kitchen Crews to share on the site. Unfortunately, I don't have the years that the photos were taken.

More Kitchen Crew Photos

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