Bowen Country Club: The Hull House Summer Camp

Bowen Country Club: The Hull House Summer Camp

Bowen Country Club: The Hull House Summer Camp

Vince Romano, et al.

Symbolic Interactionism

In 1912, Jane Addams and Mrs. Louse DeKoven Bowen purchased the 72-acre site on the north end of Waukegan, IL, to add to the recently completed 13 building Hull House complex on Chicago’s near-west side.

Jane Addams, who had become one of the premier sociologists of her day (symbolic interactionism), recognized the potential of a summer camp that could provide a meaningful change of environment for the inner-city dwellers that made up “The Hull House Neighborhood.”  

You are my Gemba.

In India, they have a saying reserved for those individuals who had influenced and reshaped our lives. That saying is, “You are my Gemba.” The Gemba is a  tributary to the Ganges River. From the point at which the Gemba flows into the Ganges, the Ganges is no longer the same river. Its course is forever influenced by the Gemba as it winds its way down to the ocean–ultimately influencing and shaping the landscape of distant shores. 

“You are my Gemba.” A tribute reserved for those who had become our Gemba’s during our personal journeys through life. A tribute reserved for those who made us something different, something more than we would have been had we not met them. If we became something different than we would have been because of our experiences at the Jane Addams’ Hull House Bowen Country Club (BCC), then, by definition, Bowen Country Club was a Gemba to us. (For some of us, our early childhood experiences had inoculated us from what could have been our latter-day Gemba’s.)


The players

Many of us have praised the directors, Bob and Ada Hicks, for the experiences we encountered at the Bowen Country Club. Both campers and counselors have done so with thoughtful eloquence as attested to by their writings, which they graciously shared with us. Most of us had not, however, openly expressed the impact the Hicks’ and the other ingredients that made up this phenomenon we know as the Bowen Country Club had upon our lives. Our silence does not mean that we were/are oblivious to the impact of the Bowen Country Club in shaping and defining us.

Each of us came away with our own set of BCC memories. Some were vividly imprinted upon our senses and emerge as the cognitive memories of recognizable people, places, and events. Other memories, not so easily identifiable and not so easily described, are those affective memories that travel the back roads of our minds. Those affective memories, blurred feelings of bliss, are periodically awakened within us, Pavlovian style, by a thought…a sound…a word…a summer breeze. Those memories were imprinted upon us by that complex pool of Gembas that made up our Bowen Country Club world of campers, counselors, staff members, directors, and the physical setting of BCC— (not necessarily in that order). 

The metamorphosis that occurred on those 72 acres was subtle. Recognizable or not, seeds that were planted decades earlier at Bowen Country Club contributed to what we, both individually and collectively achieved during our lifetime and all that we eventually became. 

For many of us, it was only after we had settled into our 3 bedroom suburban air-conditioned homes or only after we celebrated our children’s breaking the blue-collar cycle that we paused to reflect upon the course our lives had taken and the impact our BCC experience had upon us. Not only had our Bowen Country Club experience been a Gemba to us, it also afforded us the opportunity to become Gembas to the lives of those whom we, in turn, later touched. Like Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull, we did not remain “pages in search of a word.” We became, in due course, “words in search of a page.”

A Bushel Full of Memories 

“We welcome you to BCC; we’re mighty glad you’re here.”

Was it the song that made us feel so special…or was it the singers?

Each of us, as in the classic Japanese novel, Rashomon, had come away with our own perceptions of what Bowen Country Club meant to us. They came to us in a variety of shapes and forms. 

“Those were the best years of my life” … “I can never forget that place and all the people who meant so much to me” … “Simply and purely, Bowen Country Club was Shangri-La for those of us who grew up on the streets of our Little Italy (The Hull House Neighborhood)” … “How can you measure bliss?” Comments such as these are heard repeatedly from those who were both participants in and beneficiaries of this phenomenon called Bowen Country Club. 

Following are a handful of our BCC memories…and a glimpse of those memories that became my Gembas:

The exhilaration of packing my suitcase (shopping bags were not an uncommon sight) in preparation for leaving the hot city streets that the lake breezes rarely managed to penetrate. Taylor Street was the only world any of us had ever known until our pilgrimages to BCC began.

The cinders blowing into the open windows of the Northwestern 400 as we sped along the tracks to our BCC destination. 

A Hutchinson boy (pre-pubescent obviously) asking Danny DeFalco, as Danny put on his athletic supporter in the shower, “Why do you wear that?” Equally memorable was Danny’s carefully crafted answer. 

The first glimpse of a “blue” Lake Michigan on our initial hike to the beach. So blue, there were arguments over whether it was the same Lake Michigan whose waves washed over the sands of the Twelfth Street Beach back home in Chicago. 

Frannie (Tarsitano) and Mack leading the campfire songs the last night of our 2 week stay. 

“…and for a while there, we had a chance to be ourselves.”

The Greatest Generation

A banner hung in the BCC dining room to commemorate the 257 known alumni of Bowen Country Club who had gone off to fight in WWII. Those BCC family members, decades later, were recognized, and rightfully so, as the “greatest generation.” One of them, Mike Garippo, one of my early Hutchinson counselors, gave his life in that war. (Mike was one of our homegrown Taylor Street bred counselors.) Later, when his memory continued to emerge, I made a case for his immortality. It went something like this: If he had become a Gemba to us, and one of us, who had become something more than we would have been, had become a Gemba to at least one other person (and on and on), could one not make the case that he is still, and always will be, with us?

Ray DiJulio, best known by the neighborhood as “Shorty Ray” was blinded in WWII. Upon his discharge, he often visited us at BCC. His presence removed any misconceptions about the realities of war. He was a constant reminder of what it took to be a member of that “greatest generation.” Marrying his childhood sweetheart, Ray spent his honeymoon at BCC.

Knock on any Door.

During that time, a resident artist of Taylor Street’s Hull House, Willard Motley, had researched and written a bestselling novel, “Knock on Any Door.” The theme of that 1949 best seller has been included in every enlightened treatise on the development of human behavior. That best-seller served as a prophetic reminder that we had been imprinted by experiences long before our encounters at Bowen Country Club. For some of us, our early indelible experiences had inoculated us against what could have been our latter-day Gembas.

The BCC laboratory that Jane Addams skillfully arranged to counter the profound failure syndrome predictions of our sociological soothsayers included a range of Taylor Sreet bred personas.  From those doing life without the possibility of parole to those who achieved prominence as law school Deans. Vincent Vitullo was a constant reminder of the depth of that gene pool that had emigrated from the Italian peninsula at the turn of the century.

Continue to part two.

Bowen Country Club: The Hull House Summer Camp


We were made of the stuff of stars…star stuff.

Who can ever forget the celestial beauty of the almost touchable sky, with its shooting stars and, if you were lucky to be there at the right time of the year, the northern lights? A billion stars in each of a billion galaxies, as we later learned. During those memorable BCC nights, looking up at the shores of that cosmic ocean, we somehow knew, long before astronomers had discovered, that we were made of the stuff of stars. We were “star stuff!” 

A Nursery of Gembas

Lady Em,” (I believe I gave Emily Wells that name during our first encounter) who along with the other North Shore debutantes to be, was/were important and necessary ingredients to this nursery from which emerged that phenomenon we know as the Bowen Country Club. I always felt that we were as much of a Gemba to those who came from the North Shore as they had been to us, their Taylor Street counterparts. 

Double jeopardy

Vince Vitullo, another homebred counselor (2nd generation Italian-American I later learned), but not your garden variety Taylor Street resident with their “deez and doze.” (Yeah, we said “deez and doze” instead of “these and those.”) Vince was a crucial part of the BCC mix. He was a subtle but constant reminder of the depth of the gene pool that had been imported from the land of our ancestors. He continues to serve with distinction as a professor of law at DePaul University. How ironic it would have been had Vince Vitullo also been involved in the only trial in history in which the double jeopardy protection afforded by the constitution had been challenged. Both parties, sharing the same BCC cottage, would have met, nearly a half-century later, in a history-making trial. 

You’ll boo hoo tonight.

Who could ever forget Tony Barbaro and Jasper in Hutchinson Cottage’s rendition of, I’m a Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch? “Jasper, if you don’t boo-hoo now, you will boo-hoo tonight.” I choose to preserve that memory of Jasper and Tony Barbaro, along with some of my other BCC Gembas. Their names are harbored among the bricks making up the recently dedicated memorial for Bob and Ada Hicks. 

California who?

Had anyone ever taken the time to say, “Thank you” to Mrs. Caruso (and Kirby Caruso for that matter) for that Caruso smile?

We all remember that Caruso smile (Lu, Sis, et al.). Greeting us each day, it seemed to say, “We’re mighty glad you’re here.” You just knew this was going to be a great day. I always wondered whether anyone had ever taken the time to say, “Thank you” to Mrs. Caruso (and Kirby Caruso for that matter) for that Caruso smile. As an aside, who can ever forget Kirby’s reaction when Lu Caruso announced that she was going to California to teach, “California (avenue)…that’s close. You won’t have to travel too far to get to work.” 

Luke Skywalker had Yoda.

On another note, how many of us still remember the botanist, brought into the mix, by whomever, to enhance and elevate our knowledge of nature? As I recall, he, the botanist, managed to get only one tree correctly labeled. But we did not need to know the scientific names of the trees to become aware of our relationship with that ocean of green, which began at the steps of Rosenwald Cottage and reached out to and beyond the physical boundaries of our BCC world…and the cosmos that opened to us on that first overnight hike to those isolated beaches. Yes, Luke Skywalker had Yoda, but we had our Bowen Country Club. 


There are a thousand memories that impacted upon us: Being greeted by the Hicks’ and the emerald blue swimming pool at the end of our long march from the train station…Becky and Goodfellow Hall… The ravines that wound around and through Hutchinson, Mary Smith, Lansing, and eventually beyond the boundaries that made up Camp French (“girls coming”) …Oscar’s first appearance in the dining hall (“Come in, come in…”) …Rose Ann and her gentian violet crusade…and on…and on…and on…and on. Treasured memories too numerous to list here. 

And there were the CDAs awakening every morning long before the rest of the camp to attack the daily repairs and assist in the day’s activities.  Who can forget John Barone, Ralph Maciak, and Mike Vitallo with dresses, lipstick, etc. trotting out to the softball field to bolster the Mother’s roster in their traditional softball game against the Camp French Boys?  

Some of those memories we mutually shared with our fellow campers. Some of those memories were special to us alone and not mutually shared with others. And then there were some memories which we, only later, came to realize were not ours alone but were memories others had also carefully packed away and stored in their BCC treasure chests.

Away from the hot asphalt streets…away from sidewalks shielded from the lake breezes…and away from the mattressed fire escapes, we were afforded the opportunity to grow beyond the restrictions of our isolated and secluded neighborhood. Bowen Country Club, above all else, was a Nursery…a Gemba Nursery. While we sought and received sustenance from it, each of us, in turn, had contributed to and enriched the random orchestration of that cosmic fugue. 

“…remember, when you’re away. For you all belong to Bowen and Bowen belongs to you.”

During our last evening at BCC, the entire camp gathered at the Bowen Field campsite. It was time to say goodbye…not just to the new faces and names we met there, but to the new friends that emerged from old acquaintances. As the flames gave way to the glowing embers, we, reluctantly, began our final trip back to our respective cottages. The words and the melody finally succumbed to the silence of that night. The memories, however, we carried with us…beyond our cottages…beyond those 72 acres…beyond that brief span of time.