After 27 summers spent on the shores of Devils Lake, including the last 11 as camp director, Drea Lear decided that it was time to put her clipboard away and leave her role at Herzl Camp.
“[The job] is all-encompassing, it’s all-consuming. And there’s a part of it that is beautiful because that’s the immersive nature of it in the summer,” Lear said. “I think about it all the time. It’s hard and it’s wonderful and it’s beautiful. And there will be somebody who will take this on and run with it.”
Lear started her professional career at Herzl in 2008, moving back to her native Twin Cities after a short time working in Washington, D.C. She came back and worked for then-camp director Anne Hope, where Lear split her time between development and camp programming. She became interim co-director with Gary Kibort in 2013, and the next year was named camp director with Kibort taking the executive director role. Kibort stepped away from his role after last summer to become the camp’s operations director.
“Gary and I have always talked about what succession planning looks like,” she said. “Nobody does jobs forever. That’s not how this works.”
Kibort said he’s been lucky enough to see all things that Lear brought to camp that most don’t get to.
“There are hundreds of amazingly positive things that go on behind the scenes that very few are privy to,” he said. “Most people aren’t aware of the work done without fanfare, which is equally as amazing as what people see. I know camp will miss her terribly and frankly, so will I.”
Josh Levine, who stepped into Kibort’s old job as executive director, said that Lear was vital in helping him feel settled in his new surroundings.
“Drea was integral in helping me understand Herzl Camp, its traditions, community, how we do the big things and small things,” he said. “Drea was very helpful and generous of time and spirit in introducing what makes Herzl special.”
Several summers of change
The last three summers haven’t been easy ones.
“I was the director during a lot of different things,” she said. “It was my face and my voice getting on Facebook Live and saying that we were closing camp in 2020. Being the face and the voice on the Zoom when we told people that we were running camp again in 2021 and what it was going to look like. And then coming back after having a baby in 2022.
Lear’s summer in 2021 ended early – but not because of coronavirus, but because she went into labor with her son, Reuben, four weeks early. Now 1, he learned to walk at camp this summer, and Lear will have lasting memories of the connections the campers and staff built with him.
“One of my favorite memories is early in the summer because Kadima arrived on the first day. And within three days, a Kadima boys cabin – ninth-grade boys – invited Ruben to a finger painting tzrif (cabin) time. And all of the boys came up to me afterward and they said it was so fun.
“It was so sweet and so wholesome. And these are things that I will never forget. Reuben won’t remember them. But I feel very strongly that he will remember like the love and feeling of embraced by a community that he was born into.”
But Reuben wasn’t the reason that Lear is stepping aside now.
If I looked at David (Winter, Lear’s husband), and said ‘I want to stay in this job for 10 more years,’ he would say ‘OK.’” she said. “Reuben would be great. It would be a wonderful childhood. It’s not the reason that I made the decision. I think it helps me clarify what future I wanted at this time.”
But having a “normal” summer, was something that Lear was hoping to have before making the decision.
“I would love to have a summer where I feel that have two solid feet on the ground in order to make this decision,” she said. “I didn’t want to make what felt like such a big decision. From a place of confusion, or fear, or frustration. I wanted to be able to make it clear-headed,”
How camp has evolved
Much has changed at Herzl since Lear joined as staff. For starters, many of the buildings have been built in that time, as the camp underwent a massive capital campaign. In her 2016 Who The Folk?! interview, she said that two things she’d like to add were a teaching kitchen and a high ropes course. In the last six years, both have come to fruition.
“I think that camp had numerous iterations in time she was there, and she has a lot to be proud of,” said Levine. “She changed and enhanced camp. As she reflects, I hope she takes a lot of pride and satisfaction in camp. I’m excited to take care of camp for Reuben and all the other Tasters (first-year campers) coming.”
But camp is more than just the buildings.
“I think camp has evolved to meet the needs of our campers, staff, and their families,” she said. “We’re in a really beautiful time where there is an acknowledgment that the time spent outside of the classroom outside of the academic year has the potential to be just as formative and beneficial in a young person’s growth and development. If we know that time spent in free play and independent, communal living independent of your parents. And if we know that camp has the potential to impact them, and help them build their skills and help them form their identity, you better believe we’re going to make that opportunity count.”
And now, Lear leaves the opportunity to make the impact count to others.
Having lived a summer there, it’s a special place and will need superb staff, regardless of the role, and I have no doubt we will continue to find excellent people who will take care of Herzl,” Levine said. “I know that Drea is feeling a ton of love from people. She’ll hear from people she never expected; maybe when she was Mama Ozo. The numbers touched by Drea’s care and leadership at different stages of her career is pretty remarkable. The care she has for this community and individuals is special. We’ve been very blessed.”