By Cassandra Donahue
Special to The Alpine Mountaineer
It was 80 years ago that Fred Ohlendorf established what came to be known as the Arrowbear Music Camp. On Sept. 4, 2022, approximately 150 “Arrowbearites” had the opportunity to reunite with campers and staff members and celebrate those 80 years.
The attendee who traveled the furthest was clarinetist Alan Black, traveling from almost 3,000 miles away, and guests’ first session dates ranged from 1943 to 2022.
The day was filled with nostalgia, laughter, joy, love and, of course, music as 80 years of ABMC history was brought to life. Arrowbearites reminisced on distant and recent memories, told their stories, and had the opportunity to perform together once again in a choir and full orchestra. After only two hours of rehearsal, a final concert was given to spectators and these beautiful melodies floated through the air down the familiar mountain.
“Be at the right place, at the right time, with the right equipment, and the right attitude,” is what ABMC’s Fred Ohlendorf was best known for saying.
In 1942, Ohlendorf was supervisor of music for the Long Beach School District. He wanted to celebrate a successful summer season of wartime effort performances with his All City Junior High Orchestra.
Years earlier, the family of Fred’s wife, Edna, had established a church camp in the remote mountain town of Arrowbear.
For one week in late August, he brought the 56 musicians to Arrowbear. They played concerts for local vacationers and enjoyed camp activities in the extremely rustic outdoor mountain setting.
Campers had a very worthwhile experience, and parents and teachers saw the value of a musically oriented vacation. The seed was planted and the next year everyone wanted to return. The retreat grew into a multi-session summer camp with full activities and the camp is now run by Dennis and Larke Dockstader.
Throughout these last 80 years, many people who attended ABMC have gone on to become professional musicians, playing in symphonies all around the world. As important and influential as this musical aspect is, camp activities are also focused on guiding campers to discover, develop and embrace their best selves. Camp philosophy goes far beyond music and, between the two, ABMC stands out among other summer camps as one of the best in the nation.
Almost every person who has attended a summer session has had to go through the process of explaining to others why this music camp is so much more than just a music camp. We’ve all had to search for the right words to help people “get it.” As a 13-year camper and staff member myself, the best words I can put together to describe my time at camp is this: “ABMC has and continues to play a heavy role in helping me to develop every good and wholesome part of myself that I have today.”
To further reinforce the idea that Arrowbear is able to create lifelong relationships within the space of just one session, here are two stories I had the honor of hearing:
The oldest campers who attended the reunion were Paul Feller (age 92) and Shirley Feller (age 91).
They came to camp for their first sessions in 1943 and 1944. They met for the first time in 1946 when Shirley was in middle school. They have now been together for 76 years and have been married for 71 years. Nowadays, they always look forward to coming to camp.
Jane Franklin (who attended 1955-1956) and Margaret Souter Urke (1955-1960) both came to ABMC during their first year of playing the string bass. It’s been 67 years and they have remained each other’s closest and oldest friends to this day.
If you need more than just these stories to understand what happens in this one-of-a-kind camp, see what others have to say when they were put up to the challenge of explaining the camp in just a few words:
“At Arrowbear, lives are changed by making music, friendship and an agreement to be understanding.” Ross Durand (1982-2022)
“Unconditional embracement.” Rebecca Waldorf (2006-2010)
“It was a safe haven for me.” Melissa Wey Castro (1987-1995)
“Arrowbear has been educating humans through music and amazing social experiences for 80 years.” Jonathan Talberg (1984-2008)
“Inspiration. I came up as a camper and didn’t think I stuck out at all. By the end of the session I was asked if I was interested in being a counselor. I asked: ‘Why me?’ They saw in me what no one else did.” Cameron Keys (1968-1978)
“The influence of the camp is still happening. It’s shaped me as a camper and it’s still shaping me as a music educator.” Val Jamora (1982-2022)
“Unencumbered compassion.” Charlotte Papp (2006-2017)
“I would not be the person that I am today without Arrowbear. And I mean that as a musician, a person and a mom.” Kari Stebbing (2010-2017)
“Here I am playing in an orchestra with incredibly talented people, some of which I taught in elementary school. I’m no pro, and I’m looking around at the professional musicians I am playing with. Where else can you get that experience?” Todd Johnson (1978-1991)
If you “get it” after reading the above and are interested in supporting ABMC, there are many ways you can do so. First off, enroll your kids in your local music program! This is where it all begins.
If you are able to help make a positive impact financially, please go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/arrowbear to help fund maintenance of the camp facilities. In addition to this, you can go to https://www.arrowbearmusicassoc.org/ to donate and assist with scholarship funds (tax deductible) for young musicians who would otherwise be unable to attend. The Arrowbear Music Associates were able to raise $54,775 in scholarships in 2022 that affected 52 musicians.
Lastly, please visit either of the above sites to find out more about the positive impact these organizations make in our community and to learn about other ways you can help.
Cassandra Donahue attended Arrowbear Music Camp as a camper from 2006 to 2011. She was a counselor for several years after that. The former Running Springs resident came up through the strings program in the Rim school district and was then accepted into the Orange County School of the Arts, from which she graduated in 2012. During that time, the violinist played in the Orange County Youth Orchestra. She received her degree in Music Education, with a concentration in violin, from CSU-Fullerton in 2016.