5:27 min August 07, 2023

Classic Summer Traditions at Camp Oneka

Camp Oneka, a summer camp in the Poconos, has been creating memories for generations of campers!

For more than a century, 115 years to be more exact, campers have been singing the same songs at Camp Oneka. The girls' summer sleepaway camp is steeped in tradition and new owners Johnny and Rachel Waszczak wouldn't have it any other way.

"Camp's been open since 1908 and a lot of traditions still continue," said Rachel Waszczak. "The alumni base is wonderful, 115 years of tradition and alumni. We have 4th and 5th generation campers."

Campers like Winnie O'Brien, 12 going on 13, a third-generation camper at Oneka singing the same songs her mother did in the same part of the Pocono Mountains.

"A lot of the songs in our songbook have deep meanings. Like dear friends and pals, it's all about, witchcraft. It's all about making memories with your friends and being yourselves," said O'Brien who hails from South Jersey.

From the bunks to the activities to the time-honored tradition of the camp's former owner Dale announcing it's time to eat, this camp and its people have formed special bonds throughout the years.

"The group that is here this year, we have 80-90 percent of kids return year after year. Really you grow up together. You really get to know someone well when you share a cabin with them," said Johnny Waszczak.

"I love walking down by the water on the pathway, looking at rails, stones and trees thinking about how long they've been here. How they've grown with the camp, grown around the buildings," added Winnie O'Brien.

That sense of history is definitely not lost on many who know Camp Oneka and its most famous camper, a young Grace Kelly in the mid 1900's.

"We talk about grace Kelly, this stage is where grace Kelly danced before she was grace Kelly. She was an 11 year old, 12 year old.. went off to become silver screen actress, then went on to be a princess," added Waszczak.

Kelly's own daughters attended Oneka as well. Like so many other mothers, daughters, grandmothers and aunts, nieces and more now expanding to campers from overseas.

All of this summer camp activity at Oneka and without one thing: tech devices. It gives kids like Winnie a chance to be just kids.

"I just love everything about it, you feel you're submersed in nature. It's not drywall everywhere, feels amazing and serene and all that stuff," she said.

"Here at camp what they can experience in nature, being outside and having deep relationships.. takes the pressure off lets them see what's really important in life.. They live their best life here," added Rachel Waszczak.

So for seven weeks, Camp Oneka comes alive with tradition, forming lifelong relationships and life skills all right in the same place on the shores of Fairview Lake.

"All of these things, the deeper meanings are building confidence and self esteem. That comes through accomplishing these things," said Johnny Waszczak.

"It's amazing to see their grandmother was doing out there we have black and white photos from 1940 they're still doing it. for these kids to be part of something historic it's pretty powerful," added Rachel.

Outside of summer camp at Oneka, the facility hosts groups and weddings, special occasions for sure. But the deeper meaning and true heart of this place is what it started as 115 years ago and still is to this day.