Joan Hei: Camp Fire Roots That Run Deep

When talking about Camp Fire, Joan Hei’s words evoke memories of woods, hikes, human rights, subways, and Wall Street. Though seemingly disparate, Joan weaves her words together into a story, one that began at Camp Sebago, the first Camp Fire camp founded by Luther and Charlotte Gulick.

Joan, a Camp Fire alumna, began as a Blue Bird in her first grade. Her mother had been a Camp Sebago camper and filled Joan’s sense of adventure with tales of cooking over fires, bird watching, trail following, map reading, and compass using. “I was eager to be a part,” Joan reflects, “In fact, those early days of camping filled me with a lifelong love of the outdoors.”

Joan, at the time of her first trip to camp, was a “city girl.” She wonders if that fact contributed to her awe of nature, and reflects that it did—to some extent. Yet she also suggests that Camp Fire takes the sense of being outdoors to a different level. “It was almost academic,” Joan remembers. “The respect we were taught for nature, the Native American culture, and our environment were deeply imbedded in my experience. And this was long before today’s emphasis on environmental issues.”

“Even the girls who grew up in farming communities recognized a different sense of concentration on the natural world,” Joan continues. She explained that it was this concentration, this deliberate attention to nature that expanded her world view and encouraged her growth.

Though Joan is particularly fond of her camp memories, they’re not the only ones she has. In fact, she chuckles as she tells the story of living in New York City and, together with a number of her Camp Fire council members, taking the subway to the city for a ceremony. Not only were they on public transportation wearing their full Native American regalia—which caused more than a few curious glances—once they arrived at the Camp Fire offices—then in the heart of Wall Street—they had to be particularly careful about their ceremonial fire. “We lit it right in the room!” Joan remembers with a grin in her voice.

Over the years, when her own kids were young, Joan became an involved Camp Fire council leader. Later she served on her local council’s board. During those years the civil rights movement was accelerating and Joan remembers organizations such as the Girl Scouts being faced with desegregation. “It wasn’t necessary at Camp Fire, “Joan says with pride. “We were never segregated.”

“Camp Fire’s belief in equality for all is an intrinsic Camp Fire value,” Joan explains. “It is at the core of the Camp Fire belief system, one we inherited from the Gulicks. Race made no difference to us,” she continues. “We were all together as one. The issues faced by the broader society, just weren’t issues within Camp Fire. “

Was it an inherent respect for nature nurtured at a young age; being exposed to a mindset that expanded compassion; or perhaps being steeped in a culture of inclusivity? Joan Hei has Camp Fire roots that run deep. They’re what pull her outdoors, even with a snowstorm swirling. They’re what keep her connected to an organization that has always stood behind respect for our natural world and each other.