Iggy Pop was my Summer Camp Counselor

I am not kidding you, it’s the Gospel truth. Iggy Pop was my camp couselor. His specialty was turtle-catching, in a rowboat. He wasn’t known by the name Iggy Pop in those days, however. Back then he was just Jim Osterberg. Both he and his father “Jimmy” worked at the day camp my mother sent me to.

I was not raised in a rich household. However, we would not be classified as poor. My mother worked an office job and my father paid child support payments. And when the summer came along, my mother had enough money to get me out from underfoot by sending me to camp every week day throughout the months of June and July. So she picked Varsity Day Camp in Pinckney, Michigan, run by Irving “Whiz” Wiszneuski. Whiz was a great guy, a former football coach who, being Catholic and of Michigan Polish extraction had a very large family which included his wife, four daughters and four sons, all of whom either attended the camp or worked for it (or both). His wife prepared all the food for the 100 or so campers, with help from his older children, Mary, Patrick and Annie. At lunch, they would serve a meat sandwich such as chicken or tuna (or Whiz’s specialty, Sloppy Joe’s!) custom built by a counselor as the campers filed past the picnic tables at noon each day, and you would always have the option of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. To drink? Bug Juice. Actually, Kool-aid in a gigantic glass cooler that would be loaded on the end of the picnic table every day.

If you’d never gone to Varsity Day Camp before, Whiz would make a personal visit to your home sometime in the month before summer vacation, on a sunday night, where he would meet with you and your parents and give you a pep talk about the camp and personally present you with your own Varsity Day Camp Camp Bag. Then he would personally write your name on your bag with a magic marker. The bag was actually a heavy duty cotton laundry bag which had the camp’s name and the picture or a roaring wolverine (for U of Mich.) printed on the front. You would bring your swimming suit and towel and whatever else, in the duffel bag to camp with you when you arrived. Since Whiz wrote your name on it, you wouldn’t get it confused with someone else’s bag. Those bags were also good for bringing frogs back home from camp, although once when I’d gotten home I’d found my frog had been squished in there. Didn’t bring too many frogs home after that. Although I did bring turtles which were a little more hearty travellers.

The campers were all picked up by the staff in their personal cars around Ann Arbor and driven to the camp each weekday morning and returned at night in time for dinner with your folks. The camp would work out a schedule between all the various couselors to drive to each area of Ann Arbor to pick up all the campers each morning and bring them to camp by 9am or so. Once everyone arrived, Whiz would lead the raising of the flag and lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance, after which he would announce activities and you would go stand by the counselor whose activity you wanted to participate in, who would then take you off to do whatever it was. After that would be general swim, lunch, afternoon activities, afternoon general swim. At the end of the day Whiz would lower the flag while everyone saluted, and then you’d be driven home again by the same counselor that had driven you there in the morning.

Pinckney Michigan is about 30 miles outside of Ann Arbor on a small lake called Cordley Lake. There were many stories bandied about the camp of the Monster of Cordley Lake, supposed to be a mutant Gar Pike or something. I never saw the monster, but I did see a lot of turtles, frogs, crayfish, crappies, bluegills, perch, and definitely one or two large gar pike in there. For turtles, there were painted turtles, snapping turtles, softshell turtles (which are particularly nasty) and map turtles. Really any typical turtle you might find at any pet store, plus those other nasties — the snapping turtles had a knotty back shell which was usually covered with algae growth. The softshell turtles looked like large green pancakes, but would attempt to bite your finger off if you picked one up. I saw Jim Osterberg (Iggy Pop) catch one of those once. It was one of those things where he saw the turtle, knew it was his destiny to catch the turtle, grabbed the net from us kids, leapt out on the bow of the boat and manhandled that angry turtle into the boat where he subdued it whilst it tried to bite everything around it. Those softshell turtles are very mean and definitely not a prey for the faint-hearted! Perhaps the self-sacrifice in the face of the ferocious turtle was his prelude to cutting himself on stage, who knew?

I was also picked up by Jim’s dad Jimmy in his blue chevy station wagon many times. Jimmy was the golf counselor at the camp. I took his golfing class a few times. He was a good teacher, but I found the game boring. It was the same way I felt about Archery. In the hot summer sun, I preferred to be near the lake, and since I loved frogs and turtles I invariably ended up with Iggy Pop, err, Jim Osterberg and a few other kids out in the lake in the rowboat, looking for turtles. At age 8 or 9 I’d figured out that Jim Osterberg was my favorite counselor at Varsity Day Camp.

He didn’t stay at the camp more than a couple of years, as I remember, and me only a few years more. The next time I heard about Jim Osterberg, it was from my sister, who, seven years my senior, had been in high school with Jim. She knew about my 8-year-old big brother fixation on the weird turtle-catcher, so she’d kept me up to date on his doings, since, not only was he in my sister’s high school class, but he was also a musician, gaining a reputation around town as a hot drummer. My sister had told me about a great group she’d seen (my recollection is it was the Rationals but it could have been the Prime Movers) and that Jim Osterberg was the drummer. She’d seen them at a school dance, and they were cool. A year or so later, my sister informed me that Jim had dyed his hair blonde and was now playing with a local rock group known as the Iguanas. [This is in fact how the name “Iggy” got started, I guess.] We saw the Iguanas play live between campus and downtown Ann Arbor on Liberty street, on a platform for a street fair that summer. Perhaps it was the Ann Arbor Art Fair that year, I don’t remember, but I do remember Iggy’s bleached blonde hair!