On Monday afternoon we lost a dear friend to a yearlong battle with cancer. Randy Parsons was the first employee of URJ Camp Kalsman. He was the camp’s caretaker; his calm and gentle demeanor hid the towering giant of man that I knew.
Many of you may not have met Randy. Maybe you knew him as the nice man with a white beard in the blue camp pick-up truck on the opening and closing days of camp. Randy was a far more complex man than I think most people will ever realize.
I first met Randy in the summer of 2006. Before coming to Kalsman I was the Associate Director of Camping for the URJ. The summer before Kalsman opened we ran a summer program to transition between the local synagogues’ “Temple Camp” and Kalsman. Randy came to the site of the program and built a temporary ga-ga pit. I remember then being struck by how friendly and personable he was. That first impression of Randy held true until the end, six years later.
It takes a certain type of person to be a camp caretaker. They have to be the perfect mix of hermit and individual that thrives on social interaction. Randy loved the property; he relished the time he spent at camp. He had an absolute love for the outdoors. It shows at camp today in the gardens and in the orchards. It shows throughout the camp. The property was a source of constant conversation between the two of us; there is a lot to discuss when you have 300 acres. We spent time talking about where new buildings would go, how to deal with the beavers at the lake, wetland mitigation, religion, family, no topic was off limits. On one of my visits with Randy this winter though he shared with me something I haven’t told anyone until now.
As much as Randy loved the property and the beauty of nature, the part he loved most about his job was interacting with the campers and staff members. He saw camp as a way to create good in the world. He was excited at every opening day of camp and sad at the close of the season. On more than one occasion over the last year of his life he told me that his time at camp was his happiest and what he was most proud of in his professional life.
There is a small garden and sitting area between the office at camp and my house. It was one of Randy’s favorite places here. We often spoke about cleaning it up and putting in some benches. At the beginning of this summer we did just that. There are new paths, new plantings, and two benches that Randy made of fallen trees from the property. Kyle (our new caretaker) and Steve (one of our other maintenance men and Randy’s dearest friend) have created an area in the garden as a memorial. Burned into the sign post commemorating Randy is the word “Grow”. Its simplicity is its beauty. Everything Randy ever spent time on was encouraging things to grow- the plants and trees, the campers and staff, even me. While Randy was never well enough to make a trip back to camp to see his garden in person I was able to show him photos. He was moved to tears.
He was a dear friend and will be missed and remembered by many.
May his memory forever be a blessing.
David Berkman, Camp Director