At Jabberwocky's Celebration, Human Spirit Is Triumphant


The Tabernacle was filled Saturday night. There were speeches and music and a printed program, "David Crohan and Friends, Celebrating 50 Years of Jabberwocky," with pictures and names. Simple.

But simple had nothing to do with it.

Maybe that's one of the things that makes Camp Jabberwocky so extraordinary; everything is more than it seems. No smile, whether quick or extended, is casual, but instead serves as an indicator light signaling exuberance and joy. Results, however ambitious, are always less important than the effort it takes to produce them. And the people with cerebral palsy, some of whom have knotted bodies, some who cannot speak or walk, still soar.

It felt as if most of the audience attending the jubilee concert had some proprietary insight into what to a casual attendee might at first seem yet another eccentric Vineyard activity. People ambled down the aisles, many pausing to greet and be greeted, to shine their smiles and exchange full-body hugs.

Even the orange-shirted ushers were impassioned, longtime volunteers like Susan Halby, whose sons Will and Peter, both counselors, drew her family into the fold - "It's just one of those places," she shrugged - along with a smiling Elaine Klein, who has served for three years as president of the board of directors of Jabberwocky, and whose daughter, Emily, has been a counselor for 15 years.

Referring to the evening's program - coordinated and directed by Jean Kelso - Mrs. Klein explained, "We really could have gotten famous names and we chose not to. We only wanted people to perform and be part of this who love camp, who have been a part of camp for all these years. It won't be as polished as other performances, but it's camp. And we love doing it. And there's such joy."

Ellen Simonson, who sat at a table on the rim of the Tabernacle selling Jabberwocky T-shirts and mugs, is the mother of Ronnie, a camper for the past 40 years. She laughingly recalled telling her son she was planning to remarry a man (now her husband) from New Hampshire. His emphatic response was that, although he approved of the marriage, he wouldn't give his consent unless the promise was made that, no matter where they lived, he would always spend summers at Jabberwocky.

The campers not sitting on stage in the Jabberwocky chorus filled the front rows and acted as ambassadors. They welcomed the people milling around them, shook hands, flashed smiles so bright they had a physical impact, the sensation of being touched.

And at the center sat the legendary Larry Perry, a camper for every one of the 50 years of Jabberwocky's existence, with a smile so broad his face could barely catch up with it.

Dr. Tim Johnson, medical director for ABC News and father of six-year camp counselor Kiplee, began his duties as the evening's master of ceremonies. He cautioned people to be prepared to be flexible, and to expect some changes in the program listing - after all, this was a Jabberwocky celebration. Heads nodded in happy recognition.

First-year counselor Blake Lichterman sounded a ram's horn in a biblically inspired, official heralding of the 50th year since Helen Lamb first imagined and founded the camp.

Dr. Johnson recounted being summoned by his daughter for his first trip to watch a program at camp. "I expected it would be boring," he laughingly confessed, then described how inspired he was.

Special mention was made of the extraordinary work and dedication of Mrs. Lamb's children, John Lamb, director of August camp, and Gillian Butchman, director of July camp, who continue to make the camp possible.

Ursula Dittami Leahy, "the first counselor," who arrived from New Bedford for the first year when she was only 15 years old, shared her recollections. "The whole concept was a sense of adventure and fun," she declared, recalling the night hailstones pierced the roof of the camp's lodgings and the children had to be lifted out of their beds and carried downstairs. She described getting wheelchairs in and out of sailboats and up and down the steps to the Oak Bluffs beaches.

It was a tribute to Hellcat Lamb's fierce determination and her refusal to accept the word "can't," or the concept of "impossible." She repeated Mrs. Lamb's mantra: "There is a way. Find it."

The evening was especially poignant for Island favorite David Crohan. It marked his final appearance as a Vineyard resident. Mr. Crohan, a longtime supporter in all things Jabberwocky, has left to become the resident pianist at Cafe L'Europe in South Palm Beach, Fla. Between his musical offerings, he shared memories - "One of the most rewarding relationships of my life" - and spoke about his friendships with campers.

When camper Sean Wawrzaszek's thoughts on the Jabberwocky were recited by Ben Cavanagh, they were met with loud approval.

Jeremy Vest played drum solos with confidence and style, joining Rick Bausman and a group of Jabberwocky drummers who shook the house as they drummed a Nigerian chant and the Jabberwocky Samba. Mr. Bausman also partnered with Skipper Brook in a demonstration of drumming skill.

As with everything the campers and their counselors did, the audience's delight was matched and heightened by their own, in unselfconscious display. Performers hugged and congratulated each other as applause rolled through the Tabernacle.

It was an evening of favorites all around. Jabberwocky's revered 89-year-old founder, Mrs. Lamb, recited Lewis Carroll's poem, Jabberwocky, with dramatic flair. Patricia Neal lent dramatic interpretation to the lyrics of September Song and Send in the Clowns as Mr. Crohan played the melody.

By the time the Jabberwocky Chorus performed, enthusiasm had spread through the hall like a giddy virus.

Accompanied on trumpet by Island native Ed Rodgers, retired from the Navy Band, the voices brought the crowd to its feet, hooting and applauding after a version of Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art, featuring Ronnie Simonson as soloist.

Mr. Simonson stood center stage, singing out each word with fervor, gesturing, holding notes in full voice and clearly having a wonderful time doing it. And again, the crowd went wild. Yes, Mr. Simonson agreed, giving a two-handed thumbs-up sign.

Said Mr. Crohan, "I'll never hear that song again without thinking of Ronnie."

Other soloists had the same effect. Faith Carter and Kenneth Taylor lent rousing solo voices to the chorus's rendition of Country Roads. Miss Carter's clear, compelling voice performed I Believe in Love from the Broadway musical Hair. Leslie Ellen Moore and Beth Ainsworth's spirited solos brought the crowd to its feet in more of the evening's many standing ovations.

The evening ended with a customized version of I'll Be Seeing You, by Mr. Crohan ("I'll be living in Palm Beach, but I'll remember you"); a sing-along of God Bless America, and finally, Joy to the World, which brought people to their feet in the aisles and on the stage, erupting into dance.

When it was all over, people seemed reluctant to leave the Tabernacle, strolling with their arms around each other's shoulders, smiling those incandescent Jabberwocky smiles.