Each May, the festivities of Cup Day, Senior Week, and Commencement remind the KO community that summer is on the horizon. After saying our farewells in June, KO students and teachers all embark on unique journeys during these cherished three months, whether it be traveling, building friendships, chasing adventure, playing sports, or reconnecting with nature. English teacher David Hild spends his summers bringing these opportunities to campers from across the country, building memories that last a lifetime at Camp Merriwood.
Located in the sunny mountains of Orford, N.H., Camp Merriwood has always been a family affair for the Hilds. The tradition travels back to the 1930s, when the grandparents of Susan Miller Hild, Mr. Hild’s wife, purchased Camp Moosilauke, a boy’s camp located in the New Hampshire mountains. In 1949, Mrs. Hild’s grandmother, Janet Miller, founded Camp Merriwood as Moosilauke’s sister camp. Now nearing its 75th anniversary, Camp Merriwood has been cared for by generations of Hilds and Millers, pouring their love, time, and energy into the camp for decades.
Mr. Hild and his wife have run Camp Merriwood for the past 20 years. Each May during “shoulder season,” Mrs. Hild makes the trek up to Camp Merriwood for the summer, where she spends the following weeks getting the camp up and running before the summer begins. Once faculty meetings are over, Mr. Hild heads up to Orford as well, spending his sunny months running Camp Merriwood until he has to head back to KO for preseason practices. “She’s a lot busier than I am because everything is really on her,” Mr. Hild noted. “Besides just managing the kids and the staff, she does a lot of communication with parents.”
Mr. Hild’s day-to-day work at Camp Merriwood often consists of helping out with whatever situations the day brings, whether it be maintenance work, running activities for campers, or working with counselors. “Because I’ve been a teacher and a form dean, I do a decent amount of work with the staff,” Mr. Hild commented.
When all of the prep work is done, the true joy of camp life begins. Each day, Mr. Hild greets the campers at their group breakfast, delivering the day’s announcements. Mr. Hild is a Red Cross Certified lifeguard and a licensed boat operator, so most of his days at Camp Merriwood are spent on the sunny waterfront, driving waterskiing boats and engaging with the campers during activity periods. “The most fun thing is just seeing how much the girls love coming to camp and how much they enjoy it,” Mr. Hild reflected. In the evenings, campers partake in fun evening programs that the Hild family and the Camp Merriwood staff organize each night of the summer.
When campers look back on their summers, they often remember the adventures, friendships, and memories made. However, the behind-the-scenes of running a camp is often not as glamorous. Mr. Hild and his staff show true selflessness day in and day out to keep Camp Merriwood in peak condition. For example, while the rest of the campers and staff are resting and eating lunch together, Mr. Hild can often be found out in the summer heat, cutting grass on the field. “It’s a time when nobody’s on the field, so I spend a decent amount of time cutting grass, weed whacking, and doing things like that,” he shared.
In addition to running the day-to-day operations of Camp Merriwood, Mr. Hild enjoys taking the campers on overnight excursions each summer, such as whitewater rafting in Maine and visiting Montréal. “Wednesdays tend to be trip days where every group goes to a different spot somewhere in New England; it might be a beach or a waterpark, and they love doing things like that,” he described.
In addition to traveling, campers at Camp Merriwood enjoy many traditions back at camp, including mini Olympics, international days, and color wars. One of the longest-standing traditions at Camp Merriwood is Peter Pan night, which Mr. Hild described with nostalgia. “The oldest girls have different responsibilities and opportunities during the summer because it’s their last year,” he shared. “On Peter Pan night, they always pick some film or story that they put on as a play. The girls don’t know when it’s going to happen, and they do it at night – the younger kids are brought out and they see the play and get hot cocoa and donuts, and they just think it’s the coolest thing in the world.”
Each summer, Mr. Hild most looks forward to the beloved tradition of Christmas in July. “I am Santa in July now,” Mr. Hild said, laughing, “and my wife is Mrs. Claus, so that’s a lot of fun. It’s like a secret Santa – every kid gets someone else, and there’s no buying of gifts, everyone makes something.” Traditions like these make each summer unforgettable, and Mr. Hild looks fondly upon the end of each camp season as everyone shares a bittersweet goodbye. “The end of camp is hard because it’s a lot of tears and people that are sad to go,” he shared. “It sounds weird, but that’s really rewarding, knowing that it’s been really meaningful, and knowing how much they’ve enjoyed it.”
Last spring, Mr. Hild worked with history Department Chair David Baker to bring the joy of Camp Merriwood to KO’s rising freshmen. The orientation trip that was born was a combination of academics, adventure, and friendship-building for the freshman class. “The original plan was not to go to Merriwood, it was to have Merriwood be a base of operations [for the program],” Mr. Hild said. “More and more, it made more sense to turn it into a freshman orientation trip that has a curricular aspect to it with science and history, and English became storytelling that got worked into it. Most people that went on the trip would say that it worked out really well, and the plan is to definitely have it continue.”
As new summers and school years begin, the constant for Mr. Hild will always be Camp Merriwood, and the joy he is able to bring to the next generation makes it all worthwhile.