Patricia Ford, born 1958, raised in Cedar neighborhood, attended Camp Mueller from age eight to thirteen. Ford relates her experiences at camp, which she attended as part of her care at Antioch day care. She was apprehensive about leaving home at first but learned to love camp. She remembers the good food and the counselors who used Indian names, and the freedom to run and play outdoors.


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Ford, Patricia (interviewee)


Epps, Michelle (interviewer)


Phillis Wheatley Association



Document Type

Oral History


24 minutes


Michelle Epps [00:00:00] Okay. Hi, my name is Michelle Epps, and I'm here interviewing Pat Ford. It is May 7, 2010, and Pat, I'm just going to start out with some warm-up questions just to get you comfortable and acclimated to the interview. So if you could tell us your full name, what year you were born, and where you were born.

Patricia Ford [00:00:22] My full name is Patricia Annette Jackson Ford. I was born in 1958 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Michelle Epps [00:00:32] Tell us about your neighborhood growing up.

Patricia Ford [00:00:37] I grew up in the Cedar area, 86th and Cedar. Predominantly African American neighborhood, mostly single mothers in that area.

Michelle Epps [00:00:51] And tell us about when you went to Camp Mueller, what dates did you go and how, roughly how old were you?

Patricia Ford [00:01:00] I started going when I was eight years old. So, what is that? 1964. I went in 1964 and I went every year until I turned 13.

Michelle Epps [00:01:13] And did you have any siblings that went to camp with you?

Patricia Ford [00:01:15] Yes, I did.

Michelle Epps [00:01:16] Brothers or sisters or?

Patricia Ford [00:01:17] Brothers and sisters.

Michelle Epps [00:01:21] And who made the decision for you to go to camp?

Patricia Ford [00:01:24] Well, actually, I attended Antioch Daycare Center, and so some kind of way they were in affiliation with the Phillis Wheatley Association and they allowed us to go to camp for two weeks every year.

Michelle Epps [00:01:35] Oh, okay, and roughly, when was that in the summer? Was it like early summer?

Patricia Ford [00:01:43] In the early summer, yeah. Early July.

Michelle Epps [00:01:47] And how did you get to Camp Mueller?

Patricia Ford [00:01:49] On the bus, on the rental bus?

Michelle Epps [00:01:54] Did that meet at Phillis Wheatley, then?

Patricia Ford [00:01:56] Yeah, we met at the Phillis Wheatley.

Michelle Epps [00:01:59] And in addition to Camp Mueller, what other activities did you do during the summer besides the camp?

Patricia Ford [00:02:09] Amusement parks, zoos, museums, and just outdoor play at the daycare center.

Michelle Epps [00:02:23] So you already said you went to Camp Mueller a couple times during the summer. Tell us what your initial response was when you got to camp, like your very first time.

Patricia Ford [00:02:31] Scared. Yeah, I was scared because I was really a mama's girl and I was afraid to leave my mother and afraid to be out there in the dark. But [I] loved it. It was a great experience. My baby sister, she cried every day and had to go home after the first two days.

Michelle Epps [00:02:54] And how was your brothers at camp?

Patricia Ford [00:02:56] Oh, they were, they were fine. They loved it.

Michelle Epps [00:02:59] Are they older or younger?

Patricia Ford [00:03:00] Older.

Michelle Epps [00:03:02] Did they go to camp first, then you kind of?

Patricia Ford [00:03:04] No.

Michelle Epps [00:03:04] Or did you also?

Patricia Ford [00:03:04] It was co-ed. It was co-ed.

Michelle Epps [00:03:07] And what did you have to prepare in order to get ready for camp, like the night, like the couple weeks before? Was there a list that you had to, you know, make sure you pack certain things?

Patricia Ford [00:03:17] Your raincoat, your blanket, your clothing, your flashlight. That's about it. And your boots.

Michelle Epps [00:03:30] And what were the accommodations like at the camp? Did you have to sleep in a tent or a, or a cabin?

Patricia Ford [00:03:35] The first two years I slept in a cabin and then the last couple of years we slept in a tent. The younger children slept in cabins. The older children slept in tents.

Michelle Epps [00:03:46] And did you have any chores while you were at the camp?

Patricia Ford [00:03:49] Make your bed. That's all.

Michelle Epps [00:03:53] And what kind of activities do you remember?

Patricia Ford [00:03:56] Swimming, hiking, outdoor games, singing, eating.

Michelle Epps [00:04:10] And what was your favorite activity?

Patricia Ford [00:04:17] Hiking, I guess. Yeah, hiking. I always swam and hiking.

Michelle Epps [00:04:22] What was it about the hiking that you liked the most?

Patricia Ford [00:04:26] Getting lost.

Michelle Epps [00:04:29] And do you remember the kinds of noises that you heard while you were, you know, either hiking or, or sleeping? How was it different from home?

Patricia Ford [00:04:39] You heard the animal noises. You heard the water flowing. Loud noises from the other cabins. And that's.

Michelle Epps [00:04:53] And what do you remember about the food?

Patricia Ford [00:04:59] It was pretty good. It was pretty good. We ate three meals a day. Had to get up real early to go to breakfast. Did some outdoor cooking over campfires.

Michelle Epps [00:05:20] And was that, that was all co-ed?

Patricia Ford [00:05:23] Mm-hmm.

Michelle Epps [00:05:24] Okay. And some of the people we talked to mentioned that there was synchronized swimming. Do you remember any of that?

Patricia Ford [00:05:29] I wasn't a good swimmer, so. But I, yeah, they had swimming activities.

Michelle Epps [00:05:36] And did you have a best friend when you were going to camp?

Patricia Ford [00:05:42] No.

Michelle Epps [00:05:42] Did you see the same people every, every time you went?

Patricia Ford [00:05:47] Not really. A couple, but not, not like always all the same people, except for the kids that came from the same daycare that I came from.

Michelle Epps [00:05:55] And do you remember anything about the counselors that really stuck out?

Patricia Ford [00:06:00] They all had Indian names. They were all young adults in their early 20s. And they were all very nice.

Michelle Epps [00:06:14] So you mentioned being scared like your very first time. Did that fear then turn to like anxiety, like anticipation every year after that or, or was it still like, you know, this kind of feeling of you don't know what to expect every year?

Patricia Ford [00:06:29] No, after the first year, it was like just excitement about going, you know, getting ready and knowing that we would, you know, be leaving in a couple of weeks when school was out.

Michelle Epps [00:06:41] Do you remember telling any ghost stories?

Patricia Ford [00:06:45] Mm-hmm. Moho.

Michelle Epps [00:06:46] Does the, do any stories stick out in your mind? Do you remember any of them?

Patricia Ford [00:06:51] Not really. Just that's what they did. They took us to his grave and they used to tell us if we were bad that he would come and get us.

Michelle Epps [00:07:00] So this is the camp counselors that are telling you this?

Patricia Ford [00:07:03] Mm-hmm.

Michelle Epps [00:07:04] Okay. And do you remember what the situation was like when you had to use the bathroom or shower? Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Patricia Ford [00:07:12] I, I do believe in the cabins, they had bathrooms and showers, but in the tent, you had to go around the corner to the bathroom and to the showers. And it was just a big open shower stall with a bunch of showerheads, and everybody showered in there. All the girls anyway, not the... Showered in there together.

Michelle Epps [00:07:33] And was the toilet like a [latrine] like was it, you know, no plumbing? Like, really?

Patricia Ford [00:07:38] Yeah. No plumbing.

Michelle Epps [00:07:41] And how was that for you? Like, had you encountered that before or is this the first time for you that you?

Patricia Ford [00:07:47] It was okay. I'm, a probably at a park, you know, during the summer. But other than that, no.

Michelle Epps [00:07:55] And your camp experience is that? Was that your first time going to any camp at all or had you done other, like, outdoor activities before where you were away from home for a little bit?

Patricia Ford [00:08:05] That was the first camp I ever went to.

Michelle Epps [00:08:10] So tell us a little bit about the environment when you got there. What, what do you remember the most? What stuck out the most in your mind about the physical structure of the camp?

Patricia Ford [00:08:22] A lot of trees, lot of hills, a lot of rocks. The big hill that you have to climb to get up to the top of the cabins. It stank. It didn't smell so fresh. The outdoor smelled, you know, but the inside smells stale and.

Michelle Epps [00:08:56] So you mentioned that the younger children stayed in cabins and then the older girls stayed in, in tents. Do you remember that transition from, you know, one year staying in the cabin and then going into the tents? And what was your initial reaction and how did you feel about that?

Patricia Ford [00:09:12] Like you were the ruler of the camp that year because the big girls always bullied us. So now it was your turn to bully someone.

Michelle Epps [00:09:20] Was there a lot of that going on, bullying?

Patricia Ford [00:09:24] Mm-hmm.

Michelle Epps [00:09:24] That's interesting because it's still a positive experience despite the bullying. Did you have, do you have a memory that you're not too fond of about camp? Somebody had mentioned in one of our previous interviews being stung by a hornet and that being, you know, a really painful memory. Do you have anything like that?

Patricia Ford [00:09:44] Somebody beat me up the first year I went, but other than that no.

Michelle Epps [00:09:50] How did the camp counselors handle that?

Patricia Ford [00:09:53] Well, they talked to her, you know, and talked to us and tried to do some conflict management. But it didn't help. She bullied me the whole time I was there.

Michelle Epps [00:10:02] Do you remember what her, why she didn't like you?

Patricia Ford [00:10:08] I think she was just a bully because I end up going to high school with her and she was a bully in high school. And I actually end up being her daughter's daycare teacher because I actually worked for the Phillis Wheatley for 13 years. I was the daycare director at the Phillis Wheatley.

Michelle Epps [00:10:25] And you ended up taking care of her children. Is that what you said?

Patricia Ford [00:10:28] Mm-hmm.

Michelle Epps [00:10:28] Wow, that's really interesting.

Michelle Epps [00:10:32] So how, seeing as you did work with Phillis Wheatley for 13 years. Do you think your camp experience kind of led you to working with the association later on?

Patricia Ford [00:10:44] Yeah. It was just by chance that I work there. I had a relative who worked there and she got me on there.

Michelle Epps [00:10:57] Do you have any children?

Patricia Ford [00:10:57] I have two sons.

Michelle Epps [00:10:58] Did either of them go to camp?

Patricia Ford [00:11:00] Yes, they did.

Michelle Epps [00:11:01] Did they go to Camp Mueller?

Patricia Ford [00:11:01] Yes,they did.

Michelle Epps [00:11:02] And how was their experience?

Patricia Ford [00:11:05] They had a good time. They had, they, they're. They lost all their clothes, all their brand new clothes that their mother had just bought them. But they had a good time. My youngest son, he really enjoyed it because he also later in years went and worked at the camp, so.

Michelle Epps [00:11:26] As a counselor?

Patricia Ford [00:11:26] Mm-hmm.

Michelle Epps [00:11:26] Wow. How many years did they go?

Patricia Ford [00:11:29] Let's see, they went. They started going when they were like seven and eight. They went about four years.

Michelle Epps [00:11:36] And when your, your first son went to camp for the very first time, do you remember him having any anxiety or anything?

Patricia Ford [00:11:44] They went together, but probably so because he's probably a very introverted person. So he has social anxiety, as he says. So he probably had a real hard time.

Michelle Epps [00:11:58] And are there any songs that stick out in your mind from like any because some of the ladies had told us that they remember like the girls' camp song and other songs like that?

Patricia Ford [00:12:07] Let's see what can I remember? I can remember part of the Camp Mueller song, but not all of it. Camp Mueller campers are the campers that are really cool. Camp Mueller. And then they also had another song for, for each unit had their own song. Anywhere you would say your camp counselor's name like one of them... [singing] Little Bear, Little Bear, Summer, summer, summer Wind. Summer, summer, summer Wind. Unit Two, Unit Two, Navaho Nation, Navajo Nation.

Michelle Epps [00:12:44] Did they assign Indian names to all the kids?

Patricia Ford [00:12:46] All the counselors, not the kids.

Michelle Epps [00:12:47] Not the kids.

Patricia Ford [00:12:47] The counselors, and the tents, and the cabins had Indian names.

Michelle Epps [00:12:53] Okay. And in your tent, do you remember the, the counselor's Indian name?

Patricia Ford [00:12:56] Yeah. It was Little Bear, Summer Wind, and Sunflower.

Michelle Epps [00:13:01] Wow. How many girls were staying in the tent at one time?

Patricia Ford [00:13:09] About eight, I think was in there. Yeah, it was like eight little bunk beds in there. Yeah.

Michelle Epps [00:13:19] What was it like when it rained?

Patricia Ford [00:13:23] Muddy. Very, very muddy.

Michelle Epps [00:13:26] And do you remember the wildlife or any of the noises that, that maybe, you know, creeped you out or, or you found really pleasant.

Patricia Ford [00:13:37] Birds were pleasant. Nothing really creeped me out that I can remember. Telling us that we were going to see coyotes and they were going to eat us. Lots of skunks did sprayed all the time.

Michelle Epps [00:13:58] Did you go fishing at all? Was there like a fishing pond?

Patricia Ford [00:14:00] There was a fishing pond there, but I didn't go fishing. I don't believe when I went, they were using it. My son's fished when they went.

Michelle Epps [00:14:10] And what do you remember, I don't know if I asked this already, but what do you remember about the food at camp? I think I might have mentioned that already.

Patricia Ford [00:14:18] Yeah.

Michelle Epps [00:14:18] What do you think? If you had to pick one thing that you learned out of your camp experience that maybe changed your life, what would that be?

Patricia Ford [00:14:33] How to make new friends. How to make new friends.

Michelle Epps [00:14:39] Did you attend after your experience with Camp Mueller, did you become involved in any other kind of like outdoor type of activity after this? I mean, did you. Do you feel any need after this experience to go back to like having a nature experience?

Patricia Ford [00:14:53] No.

Michelle Epps [00:14:53] No? But you described it as a very pleasant experience?

Patricia Ford [00:14:59] It was, it was I enjoyed it as a, as a child, but I'm older now and I'm not an outdoor person.

Michelle Epps [00:15:05] Okay.

Patricia Ford [00:15:05] Actually, I went to camp for two summers with the day campers and I stayed in the building on the sunscreen porch the whole time I was there. Not really outdoor person now.

Michelle Epps [00:15:18] So what is it? Is it like the bugs or the?

Patricia Ford [00:15:20] The bugs. The sun bothers me a lot now, so. And just being older and not being able to stay out there.

Michelle Epps [00:15:31] Now, you had mentioned you took a bus down to like a bus that all the kids got onto down to Camp Mueller. Do remember anything about the drive down.

Patricia Ford [00:15:41] It seemed like it was a long, long way. Seemed like we drove for hours and hours. But really, it isn't that long of a distance.

Michelle Epps [00:15:51] And have you been back to that area? I mean, I, I know you mention you went with the day camp. So I guess what I'm trying to get at is have you noticed a change in that particular valley over like when you were a child and, and when you took the day camp?

Patricia Ford [00:16:05] No, pretty much just let this, it just seemed, like I said, like seeing a longer distance than it really is. Now that I know, you know, that it's not that long. But when we were little, it would seem like it took forever to get there.

Michelle Epps [00:16:16] And what was it like coming home for you after your camp experience?

Patricia Ford [00:16:25] You were happy to be coming home because you got to see your mom, and but you kind of, you know, going to miss all the things that you did out there and the fun that you had. So it was a big difference out there. We could just make as much noise and run as free as we wanted, but inside your neighborhood, you couldn't step on your neighbor's grass. You know, you couldn't make too much noise after a certain period of time. So it was like a lot of freedom being out there.

Michelle Epps [00:16:51] And aside from the, the lady you mentioned before where you actually ended up, the one that bullied you. Did you keep in contact with anybody else from camp?

Patricia Ford [00:17:02] Just the people that I went to the daycare with. And like I said later on, some of the people end up going to high school with and, you know, junior high school and high school with me.

Michelle Epps [00:17:16] Okay. Let's see. You mentioned going to an amusement park when you were a kid, you know, during the summer, like your other activities. What amusement park did you go to?

Patricia Ford [00:17:24] Euclid Beach and Geauga Lake.

Michelle Epps [00:17:28] I didn't realize that Geauga Lake was open that long.

Patricia Ford [00:17:28] Mm-hmm.

Michelle Epps [00:17:28] So. I thought it was an '80s thing.

Patricia Ford [00:17:34] Huh-uh.

Michelle Epps [00:17:34] So. What were the nights like at camp for you?

Patricia Ford [00:17:42] A little bit scary, a little bit scary, especially when I got older and we had to go out to go to the bathroom. You know, you had to take your flashlight because it was so dark out there. You know, you could hear all the animals and the noises from outside. So it was kind of a little, kind of scary, you know? But we make jokes about it, and teased each other, and we got through it.

Michelle Epps [00:18:06] Did you ever get homesick while you were gone?

Patricia Ford [00:18:08] Not really.

Michelle Epps [00:18:11] Now, you mentioned that you grew up in a, in an area where you said it was probably single mothers. Was your mother a single, single parent?

Patricia Ford [00:18:18] Yes, she was.

Michelle Epps [00:18:18] And how did she handle, you know, having her kids go away to camp?

Patricia Ford [00:18:23] I think it was probably the best two weeks of her life every year. No, [I think] she probably enjoyed that time to herself.

Michelle Epps [00:18:37] And contrasting between, you know, your, your neighborhood and Camp Mueller. What were the really noticeable differences for you as a child, like that made it such a memorable experience? You know, from both environments.

Patricia Ford [00:18:53] Like I said, in your neighborhood, you kind of had, you know, houses and trees, and out there is just land and a cabin, you know. The cabins weren't that close to it, you know, like your house is right next door, your next-door neighbor, but the cabins were farther apart from each other. And they were, you know, they weren't painted all nice. It was more rural out there. So it was a little bit different.

Michelle Epps [00:19:20] Were there any neighborhood parks that you could go to, like playgrounds or anything like that around?

Patricia Ford [00:19:26] At the elementary school. But it wasn't nothing like going to the camp.

Michelle Epps [00:19:33] Mike, do you have any questions?

Michael Rotman [00:19:35] Yeah. Yeah. Sorry. What, what did your friends who didn't go to camp, what did they say when you came home and, and you told them about your experiences? Do you remember anything about that?

Patricia Ford [00:19:55] Well, you know what? Most of the people that lived in my neighborhood, you know, on the street that I lived on, we all went to camp together because we all went to the same daycare. We all went to the same elementary school. And my mother didn't allow us to go off our street. So.

Michael Rotman [00:20:16] I see. And were you able to go for free? Is, is that how it works?

Patricia Ford [00:20:17] Yes.

Michael Rotman [00:20:18] Okay.

Patricia Ford [00:20:19] I don't know if the daycare paid Phillis Wheatley something for us going, but I don't think my mother paid any out-of-pocket expenses for it.

Michael Rotman [00:20:30] Okay. Just out of curiosity, what? Why did you decide to send your children to camp?

Patricia Ford [00:20:35] Well, I was working there at that time.

Michael Rotman [00:20:38] Okay.

Patricia Ford [00:20:38] And the guy who was the camp director, he kind of convinced me because I said I wouldn't allow them to go.

Michael Rotman [00:20:46] Oh, really?

Patricia Ford [00:20:47] Yeah.

Michael Rotman [00:20:47] Why, why didn't you want them to go at first?

Patricia Ford [00:20:49] I was kind of a little bit more overprotective as a mother. I really didn't allow my children to get dirty.

Michael Rotman [00:20:57] Oh, okay.

Patricia Ford [00:20:58] So going out there and I knew how dirty they would get out there.

Michael Rotman [00:21:03] Sure. So you think it was, it was a good experience for them to go?

Patricia Ford [00:21:05] Oh, it was, it was a great experience for both of them. Yeah.

Michael Rotman [00:21:09] Do you think more kids would benefit from, from going to camp? I, I mean, at present, I don't know if a lot of the kids from your neighborhood go to camp or what they do during the summer, but do you think it would be a good thing for, for more kids to go to camp like you did or, or like your sons did?

Patricia Ford [00:21:26] I do. I do. I think camp is a good experience. It gives them a chance to be a little bit independent. You learn a little bit of independence because at camp you have to pretty much take care of yourself. Keep up with your own things, you know? So I think it's a good experience for children. And they, it gets them out of their neighborhood and seeing other places and other things. So, yeah.

Michael Rotman [00:21:47] Sure.

Michelle Epps [00:21:50] Now, I understand, and maybe as a child you don't remember this, but I understand from some of the camp counselors we've talked to that the camp is actually really close to Blossom Music Center. Do you remember anything about maybe hearing some music through the, the trees or anything like that?

Patricia Ford [00:22:05] No, because as a child, I didn't know it was that close. I just realized it as an adult that it was that close. So I didn't pay any attention to whether I heard it. If I did, I don't have a memory of hearing any music.

Michelle Epps [00:22:22] Okay. I think we covered a lot of the questions, but you mentioned, you know, your brothers went to camp and you would check on them. And, and you said a younger sister as well.

Patricia Ford [00:22:34] I had a younger. I had two older sisters, two older brothers, and a younger sister.

Michelle Epps [00:22:38] Was there a lot of interaction between, I mean, did they separate you pretty much by age or did you, were you allowed to?

Patricia Ford [00:22:44] We were separated by age. Basically, the only time that we all got together was in the morning when they raised the flag. And in the evening, you know, right before bed when they had their little canteens. But other than that, they pretty much stayed apart. But my younger sister and I, we stayed together because we're so close in age.

Michelle Epps [00:23:04] So now I know we already covered this, the topic of food, but I know the boys that are actually doing the, they're supposed to be doing the interviews. They're really interested in that because apparently, the food is really good at Camp Mueller. So if you could just tell us how, did the food differ between home and the camp?

Patricia Ford [00:23:21] It was pretty much the same. It was, you know, pretty much the same because they give, you know, three great meals. You had breakfast, you know. Except for maybe as a kid, we had more cereal. We had more pancakes and waffles and things at camp. But at home, we probably had more cereal than we had anything.

Michelle Epps [00:23:40] And getting to your, your own personal history a little bit. Where did you go to elementary school at?

Patricia Ford [00:23:45] I went to Bolton Elementary School.

Michelle Epps [00:23:53] That's right. I think you did say that. Do you have anything else? I think we pretty much slammed.

Michael Rotman [00:23:54] Yeah. I think we covered it all.

Michelle Epps [00:23:56] Okay. Is there anything that you'd like to add that maybe we didn't cover?

Patricia Ford [00:24:05] Huh-uh. Huh-uh. I think that's it.

Michelle Epps [00:24:06] Well, I guess maybe. Like currently, what, what do you have any? Like you said, you don't like to, to get around bugs and, and be at an outdoor situations, but do your children continue to, to enjoy the outdoors, as well?

Patricia Ford [00:24:20] My youngest son does. My oldest son, he doesn't. He's not an outdoor person, but my, my youngest son, he, he goes. What do you call it when you go in the boat with the kayak? Kayaking or whatever you, you call it.

Michelle Epps [00:24:36] Where does he go to do that?

Patricia Ford [00:24:37] Somewhere in Columbus. I don't know. Somewhere in Columbus. He lives, well, he lives in California now, but up until a couple of months ago, he lived in Columbus.

Michelle Epps [00:24:45] Do you think the, the camp experience, you know, affected his enthusiasm for nature?

Patricia Ford [00:24:53] I don't know because I think maybe he might have been an outdoor person anyway cause he's very active.

Michelle Epps [00:24:59] Well, I think that pretty much covers everything. Thank you so much for your time.

Patricia Ford [00:25:03] Okay.

Michelle Epps [00:25:03] And like I said, you'll be getting a copy of the interview in the mail probably over the next couple weeks.

Patricia Ford [00:25:07] Okay.

Michelle Epps [00:25:08] All right. Thank you so much.

Patricia Ford [00:25:09] All right.

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