Camping Out

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Chris Weinrich, a retired insurance exec who took on the job of interim director of the College Settlement camp for disadvantaged youth. (ED HILLE/Staff Photographer)

What does a retired insurance executive dream of as his second act? Running a kids' summer camp, naturally.

In 2012, Chris Weinrich retired after decades in corporate sales for large insurers such as Aetna and Prudential. Before he stopped working in the private sector, he took steps to insure himself against boredom and loneliness in retirement.

Then in September, he stepped in as interim executive director of the College Settlement of Philadelphia and Henry J. and Willemina B. Kuhn Day Camp in Horsham.

The job involved everything from writing grants, renting out the camp for corporate events year-round as a way to raise money, hiring and overseeing kitchen and maintenance staff, running board meetings, and rewriting the nonprofit's bylaws, and replacing the riding mowers. Then there were the donkeys, chickens, and the turkey, Frederick, who also required a little conversation.

The executive director's main duty, of course, is hosting about 1,600 schoolchildren each spring and fall for environmental training sessions, plus the summer campers.

How does a man get sucked into such a crazy job? He tells everyone he's about to retire.

While he was still commuting to an office full time, Weinrich joined volunteer organizations such as his neighborhood association and the local Rotary Club. All that volunteering ensured he stayed busy after he quit working.

Weinrich, 63, credits his wife with making the summer-camp connection. The couple became members of the Horsham Rotary not long after they moved to the area from New Jersey in 2001. A fellow member asked Weinrich to join the board of the 125-year-old College Settlement summer camp, which was set up during the "settlement movement" of the early 20th century.

The movement started in England and was popularized in Philadelphia about 1910. So-called settlement houses and outdoor camps offered respite to immigrants toiling in large U.S. cities and their families. To bring them into nature, College Settlement, which spans 95 acres, provided day and overnight summer camps and educational programs.

"Exploring the outdoors here helped immigrants acclimate to the New World," Weinrich says. "Especially for the mothers and their children, it was a real break."

Today, College Settlement mostly offers camping for kids and year-round environmental-education programs. Children attending the lush camp enjoy pure summer fun - canoeing, kayaking, tennis, baseball, and fishing with bamboo poles (no cellphones or other electronic devices allowed).

"They're from all over the Greater Philadelphia area, mostly the inner city, and the fees are affordable," he says.

Overnight camp enrollment is 585 children between the ages of 8 and 14 years; day-camp enrollment totals 288 children between 7 and 12. Camper fees often are offset by scholarships.

If they camp overnight, youngsters sleep in cabins, help set up and clean the communal camp dining hall, and learn about farming at nearby Pennypack Farm. Some campers return when they're older to work as camp counselors.

"They go home and their parents don't even recognize them," Weinrich says, laughing.

Personally, he says, he's staying active in his quasi-retirement, and he urges others facing the same to "get involved in organizations before you retire, so you're already embedded with them before you have a lot of time on your hands. Interacting with people keeps your mind sharp. You stay healthier than if you're just home watching TV."

Weinrich served as executive director for six months while the camp searched for its new leader. In February, Rob Kutzik came on board in the role.

"I had so much fun. It was nice getting up every day and coming to work," Weinrich says.

Having a successor firmly in place has allowed him to simply serve on the board and clear space in his schedule for his other job in retirement.

He is now living out another lifelong dream: working in law enforcement.

While running the camp, Weinrich was appointed constable in Horsham Township.

"When I was a lot younger, I thought about becoming a police officer or FBI agent. But my wife didn't like the idea of me getting shot. So I put that to the side." (His favorite cop show? Blue Bloods.)

He was appointed to serve out the remaining term of the previous constable, who left after 27 years. In November, Weinrich will run on the GOP ticket for election to a full six-year term. Constables typically maintain security at polling places and work as volunteer peacekeepers and even EMTs, he says.

"The opportunity came up 40 years later, but it scratches the itch, and it's a lot of fun."


earvedlund@phillynews.com

215-854-2808 @erinarvedlund