Camp Rising Sun–a most special summer experience by (2 Stories)

Prompted By Camp

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

In  the spring of 1966, while in 10th grade, I was summoned to meet with a guidance counselor who told me about a summer program called Camp Rising Sun.  This program had been started in 1930 by a philanthropist names George Jonas, who had no children of his own, but wanted to do something to provide a summer opportunity for promising youngsters.  The focus is on leadership, scholarship, and cross-cultural interchange, as campers are selected from various parts of the US as well as a number of countries overseas.  Mr. Jonas established a Foundation (the Louis August Jonas Foundation, named after his father), and supervised the operation of the Camp until his death in 1978.   The Foundation Board now consists of alumni and friends who not only continue the program, but who added a parallel program for girls beginning in 1989.   The two campsites are about 10 miles apart, near Rhinebeck, New York, in the Hudson Valley area.

My most important summer experience was at Camp Rising Sun--a program devoted to scholarship, leadership, and international cross-cultural exchange. It was a life changing experience for me, and I am doing my part to keep the program going for future young people.

Each camper is selected through an application and interview process, conducted by local alumni groups in the various states and countries.   There is now also an “at large” application process for those who would like to apply but who do not live in an area with an established alumni group.  There is no cost to attend–the Jonas Foundation itself funds the program through its endowment, as well as through contributions of alumni and friends of the Foundation.  I have remained active with the program since my own summer experience in 1966, working both on camper selection and as a Board Member for a number of years, and the experience of today’s campers is very much similar to what I experienced now 50 summers ago.   I have recently returned from Alumni Weekend at CRS where we had a number of my friends from the summer of 1966 at a 50th Reunion.

What I experienced was truly a transformational summer.   Although I was raised in New York City, I found, as did many others, that my social milieu as a child and young adult was made up of people mostly similar to my own family.   Even in a city of eight million people, one tends to live and function in a fairly homogeneous environment.  How amazing it was, therefore, to come to know intimately young men from Finland, from Japan, from Nigeria, from Singapore, from Utah, and from Mississippi, to name a few.  The CRS program fosters leadership, and the campers themselves are put in charge of the day to day operations, with of course staff backup.   Each day a different camper serves as “Sachem”, or servant leader, and is responsible for running all the activities for that day.   Campers perform “teamwork” each morning, where they help in the kitchen, clean the toilets and buildings, chop firewood, and perform most of the other daily maintenance of the buildings and grounds.  Each day includes two hours of “Instruction”, during which staff, and campers, propose, organize, and present discussions and seminar-type presentations on topics from computers to astronomy, to history, to art, music, etc.  The campers also spend two hours each day on “Construction”, which includes campers themselves conceiving, planning, organizing, and recruiting colleagues to build projects for the improvement and beautification of the camp sites.  Each evening has an evening program, typically revolving around the various cultures represented by the campers.   A drama production is done once per week, with campers doing the directing, costumes, set design, and acting.  A weekly newspaper is produced and edited by campers, with two editors assigned each week.  And the climax of each week is the Saturday evening “Council”, where the entire camp–campers and staff, solemnly convene around a large bonfire in the middle of the forest, and hear talks concerning philosophical or moral topics which the speakers feel merit serious discussion.  And we still make time for swimming, tennis, soccer, hiking trips, and other more traditional summer pursuits.

Alumni of CRS (who now number nearly 6000) have gone on to careers in the professions, academia, public policy, the arts, diplomacy (including several Ambassadors to the US), clergy, non profits, etc.  Many have been inspired by the CRS experience to enlarge their horizons beyond what they would otherwise have been.  The continuing engagement and substantial volunteer effort of hundreds of alumni throughout the world who devote time and financial resources to making sure that CRS is sustained for future generations is a testament to the large impact the program has had on so many of us.

Profile photo of Carl I Carl I

Tags: Camp Rising Sun--a unique summer experience
Characterizations: right on!


  1. Susan says:

    Awesome first story Carl!
    The camp was an amazing concept, that has proved its staying power through so many years. How wonderful that you continue to volunteer, to keep the experience alive for the next generation(s). Thanks for sharing, look forward to reading more from you.

  2. John Zussman says:

    What an extraordinary experience, and how fortunate you were to attend! Other than your continued involvement, I’m curious how you think it shaped you personally.

    • Carl I says:

      The immediate effect was turning me toward Harvard College, as one of the counselors that summer was a Harvard student, and I became very close with him (and continue to be, 50 years later). Another counselor and I did a trip to Europe in the summer of 1969, visiting our Camp friends and their families in 10 countries. I developed an international perspective which would never have happened had I stayed on the “New York-focused” track I was following in high school. I would have stayed in New York, most likely gone to Columbia, and would have stayed there with the classic New York-centric view of the world for the next 50 years. Rising Sun also led me initially to renounce religion as a divisive force among people. However, on the European trip, I experienced a religious reawakening after experiencing the religious heritage of the continent. Working as a physician, the awareness of cultural diversity has been a great asset as one encounters patients from all parts of the world, and all points of view.

  3. Suzy says:

    Carl, this camp sounds like it was a terrific experience for you! How amazing to be summoned by your guidance counselor and have it be for something so great. And I’m impressed that you have stayed involved for all these years.

  4. Constance says:

    Wow, Mr. Jonas had a cool dream and spent his money on something that really helps make the world a better place. No wonder you still support it.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Carl, what an amazing experience for you in so many ways. It is clear that it shaped your life and you continue to pay it forward. Thank you for sharing this story with our community.

Leave a Reply