“I learned how to be with people who AREN’T LIKE ME and people learned what it was like to LIVE WITH ME.” Mark Sands reflects on his 45+ years as a West Ender through the lense of a Special Education teacher and years working with Emotionally Behaviorally Disabled Middle Schoolers in an Outdoor Environmental Program called SAVE (School of Alternative Valued and Experience). He first came to camp in 1974, 4 years after his older brother Alan. Their grandfather, Jack Silverman, was one of the original campers in the 1920s. He was one of those guys playing cards during Old Timers week with Hy Escott. When Mark came to see his brother on Visiting Day in the early 70s, he remembers thinking “I’m going here, its beautiful.”
Mark was a 5 year camper and spent 2 summers as a counselor. He had to clear up the confusion on his nickname “Little Abbott.” As a bigger, young camper, his brother Alan was sarcastically given the nickname “Abbott” as in “Abbott and Costello.” Abbott was the thinner one in the famous comedy duo. So, when a young Mark came off the bus, some kid said “Little Abbott,” a nickname that stuck forever. “Little” is not how anyone would describe Mark Sands. Sarcastic nicknames were in vogue in the 70s.
Mark met one of his best lifelong friends immediately in 5A, fellow big guy, Kenny Klapman. Mark is from Randolph and Kenny from nearby Milton. After camp, Mark ran into Kenny at Brodil’s Bootery in Randolph. They were super tight and hung out during the offseason for many years. It wasn’t easy being a large camper, “My mom didn’t pack shorts, I had tough skins from Sears, that you’d wear if you were living in Siberia. With the red and white pattern, I looked like I was wearing a tablecloth at an Italian Restaurant.” One summer, Little Abbott went to the H-Dock, during Rest Period to catch frogs. As best friends do, Kenny naturally made fun of him. “Friendships never end. At camp we were part of a crew. If something bad was ever going on, I’d call Kenny first.
Mark’s favorite activity at camp was Capture the Flag. He also loved the League sports and was a captain. “I wasn’t as good as Kenny.” For his first Color War, Mark remembers lining up to get his White Sensation t-shirt. “We used sheets and made kilts and spray painted our shirts.” He loved football and was a High Senior Captain for the losing Blue Cavalry, in 1979. Kenny was a High Senior Captain for the winning team, the White Tribe. After some research it was discovered that they split their 6 games 3 to 3, but Kenny did win the Softball throw. Mark loved sports at camp far more than at home in Randolph.
As for the food, Mark enjoyed something called “doopas and beans,” which was another way of saying hot dogs and beans. He was a fan of Cake and Milk and remembers quite fondly the feeling a of a good ice cream sandwich after Color War. “It meant something.” But, Mark’s favorite camp food was the fresh pizza. However, as a Randolph native, nothing compares to Lynwood Cafe. Irma, Mark’s mother, was in disgust with the Pizza Barn comparison. “I can’t believe Ryan thinks Pizza Barn is better than this!”
“So peaceful, so beautiful.” Long Pond is a very special place for Mark Sands. “I love the lake, love Maine.” Mark remembers as a CIT going for a swim at night and watching the moon. He enjoyed taking a rowboat out and just would just lie in the sun. When asked what his favorite memory of camp was, he said “It’s the sound, the sound of the water hitting the rocks at Kennards.” He loved all the sounds, the storms, the sound of rain on the cabin roof and even the smell of the Rec Hall bathroom.
So in 2009, when Steve Lepler called up Mark Sands and asked him if he would be interested in coming back to camp as the Waterfront Director, Mark was flattered. His 2 sons, Jacob and Gabe were already attending camp, so it was enticing. Mark jumped at the offer and enjoyed 2 summers teaching swim and of course fishing. In 2009, Mark was the Head Coach of the White Disturbed (scary clowns) and won a tight Color War with Jacob and Gabe on his team. “I had a great time.” Mark’s wife, Gerianne has made the common conversion from skeptical mom, to huge West End fan. “My wife loves West End more than me. We came to Long Pond on our 30th anniversary.” Brother Alan is obsessed as well. He asked his wife to marry him on the Old Timer’s Dock.
Unlike most West Ender’s, Little Abbott is not a frequent Old Timer’s Week attendee. It may have been a bad experience he had as a counselor, making $5, when he took care of the older guys in the 5s. As an Old Timer, Mark started to attend in 1984, while still at UMass, for about 10 years, as he loved to fish with Kenny and Aaron (Leppo). He said he will probably starting coming again soon, when his son Gabe does.
Mark loves seeing West Enders, which is rare for him living in the Seattle area. He once ran into a camp contemporary, Paul Galaid, for the first time in 15 years, in the bathroom at a Grateful Dead concert. He got a chuckle that his mother ran into Bobby Eggert, when she was in Rome. Of course, he loves seeing fellow Randolph native, Bill Margolin.
When asked about Bill Margolin’s influence on his life, he just chuckled in a “do you have all day”sort of way. This is a question he seemed ready for. “Number 1, he never plays favorites, NEVER. Number 2, he once told me to be more of a counselor and less like a warden. It’s the best feedback I’ve every received.” Number 3 probably hit home the hardest, for Mark, Bill once said “Maybe you should let (son Gabe) talk.” Mark knows he’s a talker and said that comment completely shifted his communication and relationship with his son. What Mark marvels most about Bill is that:
“He’s as important to me as he is to Gabe and Jacob. My kids were captivated by Bill. Bill is a GREAT teacher.”
Mark has a passion for working with kids and has been a Special Education teacher for 20 years in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue and 10 years with emotionally behaviorally disabled middle schoolers in an Outdoor Environmental Program called SAVE (School of Alternative Valued and Experience). He works in a substantially separate classroom, teaching students mostly on the Autism Spectrum. “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” are so important to Mark, that he is starting a podcast on the subject. “I believe that West End House Camp is the best environment for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. I didn’t know kids like the kids that were in my cabin. There was never a racist comment, none of that.” Mark has a unique solution to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion education in America.
“Just go to West End! That is what we should teach kids. We don’t need training, we need CAMP. Put kids together and let them learn about different cultures.”
Mark firmly believes that West End should be a model. Kids need an opportunity to figure it out.
West End has had a tremendous impact on Mark’s family. He had a cousin, Evan Cohen that attended camp as well. He loves that Gabe has made a lifelong friend with bunkmate, Walden Ng, who lived the Allston-Brighton area. “My mom learned from MY kids experience at West End.” He thinks, “West End should always go back to its roots. “Board members, staff, when there are difficult times, go back to the source. What would Storrow want us to do? Always give kids extra chances. Never give up on kids.” He hopes to be one of those old guys that can’t get out of the cabin at Old Timer’s Week some day.
Little Abbott was proud to say, “I’m a dad, I’m Jewish, I’m a West Ender.” Thank you Mark Sands for Remembering with Ryan. Mark likes to show respect for everyone’s backgrounds and represent his own. When we had our first child, Little Abbott sent us an authentic Pizza Barn bib that we used for all 3 children. But, when he stopped by my house to visit years later, he brought a few tasty Lynwood pies. Just a friendly reminder that Randolph’s Lynwood Cafe is better than the Pizza Barn.