“The friendships you made, couldn’t be bought. ”Norton “Norty” Marcus Miller started coming to camp when he was 3 years old. While he wasn’t eligible yet, his family vacationed in Cornish before he came to West End as a camper in 1938, as a 10-year-old. Cornish was not a random place to vacation. Norty’s father (originally from the old West End) and future stepfather both had attended camp and were quite fond of the area.
Norty remembers being driven to camp in the family’s Ford Model T. He did not have to bring too much clothing because they were cleaned daily on the Wash Rock (the Fishing Rock near Bill’s cabin today).” The trees were so dense back then, it was impossible to see into the camp from the dirt path. The “natives” (locals) could only see the campers while on the lake and “The Sheriff tried to shut us down because the campers swam nude” in those days (not anymore). Norty felt the “natives” resented the kids from Boston and he was proud of a successful effort made to make friends with them. The lake meant everything as they swam to cool off each day. But it was also the source of refrigeration, as Allie Evans (the property manager) used to cut logs of ice from the lake, in the winter, carry them into camp and cover them with sawdust for preservation. That ice lasted the entire summer. There were only outhouses back then, including the “6 holer” that still remains, as it later became the old Archery shed.
As with most camp alumni, we are tied to camp by our generation of friends. Norty loved his lifelong friends and was sad to say, “there aren’t many left.” His best friend, who passed away in recent years, was David Krivitsky (uncle of Jimmy and Bob Musiker). Krivitsky was a 3-year high school track state champion in the 400 meters for Boston English High School. One day, Norty and Krivitsky went to visit some girls on West Pond down the dirt road. There was a rumor that some people spotted bears eating garbage nearby. At 12:30 in the evening, while walking back, Norty heard the bears and ran full speed back to camp. “That night I beat him.” By “him” he meant Krivitsky, as it was the only time he ever beat his pal in a race. On those nights out as counselors, they were lucky if there was 1 car on campus, so there weren’t too many options. Norty and Krivitsky would walk 6 miles into Cornish, each way, to go roller skating and walk back into camp at around 2:30AM. Krivitsky became quite an accomplished man. He attended Dartmouth and then become very successful in business, after the former camp doctor, Doc Skvirsky, set him up with a job manufacturing fabric in New York City. Doc Skvirsky (related to Steve and Mike Katzen, Alan Skvirsky, and Rafael Lantz) was the doctor at the state house during the other 10 months of the year.
Norty appreciates how West End House Camp has become more well-rounded since his days at camp. As many people say in that era, the only problem at camp then was if you “were a non-athlete.” “If you were an athlete, it was the best place on earth.” “West Enders then were competitive athletes, we played Baseball, Softball, Volleyball, Golf (driving) and Basketball.” As Ralph Santosuosso would attest, “sports during the day, and if you lost the game, you lost your dessert that night.” Side wagering was a ritual. “Eat and play ball” was the order of the day. “We had the best cooks, from gourmet restaurants, that baked pies and desserts.”
Norty’s path almost went a different way. He was an all scholastic basketball player as a Dorchester native for the High School of Commerce (near the current Boston Latin School). At a modest height of 5-7, he was still good enough to be offered a full scholarship to play ball at Boston College. After his father passed away at a young age, when Norty was only 11, his mother remarried. His stepfather advised Norty that he could not afford the cost of living, while in college. Not surprisingly, given his obvious amiability and charisma, Norty went on to become a successful salesman, selling anything from women’s clothing, to rugs and eventually copper. He was married at the age of 19 and had 2 daughters, Michelle and Martha. Norty and his wife, Rita, will be celebrating their 72nd anniversary on April 3rd!
One of Norty’s favorite stories to tell is how Michelle used to love to visit him at camp during Old Timers Week. One year, the night before he left for Maine, she had a temperature, but she wanted to visit anyway. Norty was scared about the lack of medical care in the local area if she came. However, a couple of days later, she took the train anyway and when Norty met her, she was clearly very sick. However, he realized that “there are 4 doctors at camp.” She was examined, diagnosed with a throat infection, and after Norty took a rickshaw into Cornish for medication, she was healed. “She came up to East Parsonsfield to get cured. It would have cost a ton if she was seen in Boston (there was no medical insurance back then).”
Jack Burnes, the legendary camp director of the time, was a god back then and someone Norty greatly admired. Norty said, “He was the greatest guy in the world.” Jack “taught kids table manners, how to be honest.” He led by example. Nobody dared to clean the “6 holer,” Jack always cleaned it by himself.” Norty and his peers felt “When Jack is not here, it’s all over” for the camp. He was happy to be wrong and he attributes the ongoing success of the camp tohis dear friend Bill Margolin. They meet for lunch during the year and he visits Bill camp once a summer at camp while it is in session.
At the age of 91, Norty remains as sharp as a tack. We ate lunch for 2 hours as we shared our love for camp and basketball as he keeps up to date with both. He’s like the Red Auerbach of West End House Camp, with great basketball tales, but with a stylish little white pony tail. Hanging out with Norty was an honor and I hope we do it again. When asked what his favorite memory of camp was, it seemed like an insulting question. ALL of his memories are his favorite. “Just being there, outside of Limerick, my whole world changes. Each time could be my last.” Thank you, Norty Miller for “Remembering” with me and reminding me how lucky I am to work at West End House Camp. I hope you have many more years of trips “outside Limerick.”