Camp Nobba Nobba-Wa-Wa-Nockee

This is the Boy Scout Camp chronicled by Jean Shepherd in his book "A Fistful of Fig Newtons." You can try to conceal its true identity but to any kid from Northwest Indiana who attended the Frank Betz Boy Scout Camp in Berrien Springs, Michigan, the names and identity are pretty transparent.

This is it! And it is still welcoming Boy Scouts from throughout the Mid-West for summer and weekend camp experiences.


  This is  Mole Lodge...

...or at least what's left of it!

It is the only existing camp cabin now found on a Michigan farm. It is used for storage by a farmer and hopefully, will be moved back to Camp Betz for historical purposes.  It will, no doubt, be used to  threaten incorrigible campers who would be assigned sleeping quarters here if they don't shape up!

The Mole Lodge accommodated eight Boy Scouts on four bunk beds, two to a side.



    The only ventilation that a camper had was from a two-board slat that was propped open with a stick. Each camper found a window along side his bunk but it was easily closed by other campers on their way to the "War Horse" (privy) at night. Campers always had extra sticks so they could prop up their "window" when it slammed shut at night.  With campfire stories about bears and wild animals, it was always a very scary experience on the first night, deep in the Michigan woods.  



Row of cabins and diving platform across the river at the "Girl's Camp" - 1955 Photos

  "What's that?" It seemed like I wasn't asleep for five minutes when Flick's voice, trembling with fear, made me start straight up. I hit my head a reeling crack against the bunk above and fell back stunned.

"There's something out there!" Flick's voice ended with a slight sob. Mole Lodge was in a turmoil. From the window, the dim-gray light of early dawn fell on the board floor. I heard Schwartz mutter, "Look out and see what it is!"

There was a pause. Another voice answered, "Oh yeah? Do it yourself. It ain't gonna get me!"

It was the dreaded Thing in the Woods syndrome that afflicts all denizens of every kid camp everywhere. We lay petrified until the sun came up and reveille was blown. Only the fat Chipmunk slept through it all. He was the first person I ever saw who slept with his glasses on."

Jean Shepherd, "A Fistful of Fig Newtons", p.68


  The ceremonial totem pole at Camp Betz bore the mystery of ancient symbols and images. Coming out of the mouth of the creature at the top of totem pole are two things that look much like the two legs of a young boy, sacrificed to the wooden deity.

It was a subliminal warning of what might happen to campers at Nobba Nobba Wa Wa Nockee if they got out of line. Every year there were whispered accounts of the "kid who never returned home..."

"Now, all you Chipmunks raise your right hand. And repeat after me the Sacred Oath of Chief Chungacong."

He extended his forefinger and thumb at right angles..."This is the secret sign of the Brotherhood of Nobba-Wa Wa-Nockee. Now," his voice grew richer and fuller, "repeat after me: 'Oh, Great Spirit of the Woods, Oh, Giver of Life..."

Our forefingers pointed like a forest of toothpicks..."

Jean Shepherd, p. 58

    Thunderbird Hall is the mess hall and used as the inside activity lodge during inclement weather.

"Inside the building, which was a big empty hall with a lot of long wooden tables pushed together at one end and a row of naked light bulbs hanging from the ceiling, the Beavers milled around as though they owned the place, with the cool, on-to-of-it air of battle-scarred veterans..."

Jean Shepherd, p. 57

"We had arrived at Nobba-Wa wa-Nockee a few minutes before the absolute pinnacle of the week: Saturday lunch.

From all directions, streaming hordes of kids surged toward the mess hall. Some raced up from the lake, carrying paddles; others dropped tools and Indian beads as they ran, fresh from leather-craft. I saw a counselor, attempting to slow the mad dash, engulfed and overrun by the mob. Up the steps we ran, spraying mud and gravel. Inside the mess hall, most of the tables were already filled with hardened campers who knew the ropes. The meal, served by fat ladies in white uniforms, turned out to be light gray hamburgers, soggy French fries, cole slaw, and pitchers of cherry Kool-Aid, a true kid meal. The uproar was deafening as pieces of bun flew through the air and counselors battled the barbarian hordes, attempting to maintain some semblance of civilization."

Jean Shepherd, p. 63






Lake Paddachungacog was really the St Joseph's River.

Here the docks are still in place for campers wishing to go canoeing. Campers had to put their name tags, small circular disks with a hole in the top, on a board grouped with other campers  who were in a specific canoe. It made it easier to contact relatives if one of the canoes did not come back!



Jean Shepherd's name never appeared on this certificate. But it is what we all aspired to.
The top award at Camp Betz was the Purple Buckeye given to the top Boy Scout camper of the week.
It was painted on the drab, military-style Boy Scout belt and was worn with pride.
The Purple Buckeye is still awarded to this day.

(PS: There is no record of Jean Shepherd getting the Purple Buckeye either! )


Jean Shepherd, A Fistful of Fig Newtons. (New York: Doubleday. 1981