By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke
At 99 years of age, Jeanie Vezie no longer has the physical energy and spring in her step that the campers and staff of Gold Arrow Camp remember from the 1960s and 1970s. But even at her reduced size and speed, Jeanie certainly hasn’t lost her mental agility, her sense of humor, or her vivid memory of her time at camp. For 30 years (1958-1988), Jeanie was part of the team “Manny and Jeanie,” who owned and operated Gold Arrow Camp and were loved by generations of campers and staff. Jeanie’s accomplishments at Gold Arrow were many. She brought her business sense and woman’s touch to camp, and helped Manny create a successful and world-renown summer camp.
Audrey “Sunshine” Monke & Jeanie Vezie
Gold Arrow Years
Manny Vezie started Gold Arrow Camp in 1933 as a six-week program for boys. Sixty boys attended camp each summer at his remote site on Huntington Lake in the Sierra National Forest. After marrying Manny in 1958, Jeanie gave up her successful real estate career in Los Angeles to join him and serve as Co-Director/Owner of Gold Arrow Camp with him. It was not an easy decision for the self-proclaimed “city girl.” In Jeanie’s words, “It was a pretty big change, but when you’re truly in love, and you have a guy whose charisma is unequaled, you can’t lose.”
“When I first arrived at camp, it was known as ‘The Last of the Rugged Camps.’ In fact, that was the tag line on Manny’s brochure. It was definitely appropriately named. It was for boys only. Manny felt that boys should be given an opportunity to live close to nature, away from city life and the luxuries of home. Not all parents and boys agreed with this concept, but those boys who did attend had an unforgettable experience. Many have said it helped in shaping their lives and character, and gave them an appreciation of nature and great self-confidence.”
Right from the start, Jeanie determined that they would need more campers and a higher income in order to continue operating the camp. After trying some different session lengths, they settled on offering two four-week sessions each summer. Unfortunately, they still did not have enough campers to make the camp profitable. That’s when Jeanie had an idea that would change the future of Gold Arrow.
“I recalled that some parents had asked why we couldn’t have girls at Gold Arrow. I broached this to Manny and, at first, he said it was out of the question. One day he asked me if I thought girls would like Gold Arrow. I said, ‘I’m a girl, and I like it.” Finally, we decided to try enrolling boys in July and girls in August. None of these changes made over the years were easy to get Manny’s approval but, after they were made, he always agreed they were good.”
During the first year that girls attended Gold Arrow, thirty five girls enrolled. “We went with them to every program and outpost to get first-hand knowledge of their reaction. Manny and I always went through the camp at bedtime to say goodnight to the campers. The first night of the girl camp, we came to Holley Rauen’s bed, and emotion ran high when we saw Holley’s cover was her daddy’s five year blanket [embroidered blanket presented to five year campers and staff]. Holley’s dad had signed her up as the first girl camper Gold Arrow ever had.”
In the 1970s, Jeanie was able to convince Manny to allow girls and boys to attend camp at the same time. Gold Arrow Camp became a coeducational camp, and the popularity of the program among Southern California families grew. From the time Jeanie got involved with the camp in 1958 to her final year in 1988, the camp’s summer enrollment grew from 60 campers who attended for one six-week session to 800 campers who attended for two or four week sessions spread throughout the summer.
Asked about how she and Manny worked together, Jeanie responded, “Manny and I were an excellent team. Manny handled the program and equipment and I supervised the infirmary, the kitchen, purchase of food and handled the business office. I also enjoyed acting as summer mom to campers and staff. We worked together in the hiring of personnel.”
Jeanie was known for her “Jeanie Talks,” which were usually held in the Vezie’s cabin near the office. The talks were generally the result of some type of camper or counselor misbehavior, and through her counseling, Jeanie would turn the situation into a learning experience not to be repeated. “Jeanie Baths” were another of Jeanie’s innovations at camp. When Jeanie saw the appearance of a group of campers getting a little too rugged, she would fill several tubs she had lined up in the maintenance area. The young campers would jump in the bath tubs with their bathing suits on, and Jeanie would proceed to scrub the dirt off of them with sponges and brushes. This was done as needed, and especially when preparing the campers to return home.
Jeanie had many more accomplishments at Gold Arrow Camp. After a fire destroyed the original camp “cook house” (dining facility), Jeanie sketched on paper her idea for a state-of-the art kitchen with separate baking room and dish washing areas. Her building included a second floor for offices. The camp architect drew up the plans, based on Jeanie’s design, for the dining porch facility that is still being enjoyed to this day.
One of Jeanie’s favorite camp memories is of having the oldest cabin of girls serenade her and Manny with “Edelweiss” at the final banquet of the camp session. Even today, the song remains Jeanie’s favorite. But Jeanie’s camp years and business acumen are just one chapter in this strong woman’s life story.
Manny & Jeanie Vezie (Circa 1980’s)
Jeanie was born on a ranch in Western Nebraska on February 17, 1913. “We lived on this ranch, and in February out west the weather can get pretty bad. There was a big blizzard. The doctor couldn’t make it. My father sent a team to go to the farm next door to get the midwife. When the midwife arrived, she found me all cleaned up and my dad holding me by the pot belly stove. “I suppose there was a little whisky in it too,” was what my dad said about the bottle he had fed me. My dad had delivered me. He took me with him when he was going to work. He took me everywhere with him. I was my dad’s favorite from the beginning.”
Jeanie’s most vivid childhood memory is of the tragic deaths of her two sisters. “The big, terrible flu epidemic came in 1918 along with the war. We had a family doctor who came to see us and saw how terribly sick everyone was. I was five and I had a little sister Charlotte, who was three. We were very sick with the flu. The doctor brought us two registered nurses to live with us, and they did the best they could. First my seven year old sister died. I still remember, as little as I was, they took me down stairs and let me kiss her on the cheek to say “good bye.” The next day, I did the same to my older sister.”
Jeanie also had an older brother and younger sister, Juanita, who was born after the deaths of her two other sisters. Jeanie’s brother was her protector who chaperoned her at high school dances and always looked out for her. The person who had the biggest influence on her, however, was her mother, who Jeanie describes as “the strongest woman ever created.”
As a young adult, Jeanie found herself living in Los Angeles due to a job opportunity. “I had a gorgeous apartment and with the war [World War II] happening, there was an influx of people on the west coast, soldiers by the score, and nobody could find a place to live. A real good friend of mine who worked at the lumber co said, ‘Why don’t I give up my apartment and come live with you?”’ And she did, then my sister’s husband was a pilot, so she moved in with us, then there were four of us. We had a great big living room, we assigned two to do the cleaning and two to do the cooking each week. We just had a ball. We had the best time. It was getting to be Christmas time, and we got the bright idea that we would look for some GI’s that looked forlorn and lonely. I just had bought a beautiful brand new car the day before Pearl Harbor, and I got in this car and drove around, and every time I saw a GI leaning on a wall, alone, I would say,
‘How would you like to have Christmas dinner with four adorable and beautiful girls?”’
‘Finally, I had the car so jammed full that I couldn’t get any more in. By this time, the girls were cooking dinner. We told the boys, ‘Look, if you wish, you can go in the bathroom and shower and shave.’ We had bought a whole bunch of toys, and put them under the tree. We had a bar at one end of the room. Then, they didn’t know quite what to do when the evening was over. We said, Look, boys, do you have a place to stay?’
The neighbor from upstairs came over, and we were worried that they would be upset at us for making too much noise and having men over, but they said, ‘Our son’s overseas, and we just hope there’s someone like you girls over seas.’ Their son never came home.”
With almost a century of life’s experiences and adventures, one thing is certain: Jeanie was never too scared to take a risk or to take charge. The positive influence Jeanie had on the lives of the campers and staff at Gold Arrow Camp is something impossible to measure. The thankful phone calls and letters Jeanie continues to receive offer her just a small glimpse of the impact she had on countless campers and staff.