Kidney disease can often present an insurmountable barrier to kids hoping to attend overnight summer camp.
For some, that problem is solved by a program started by the Gottscho family, formerly of Millburn.
Through the Ruth Gottscho Kidney Foundation Camp Program, based at the Frost Valley YMCA camp in Claryville, NY, kids with kidney disease are mainstreamed with regular campers and receive their treatment and medication at the onsite Ruth Gottscho Dialysis Center.
Since it started in 1975, over 1,800 “kidney kids” have attended the camp, the only one of its kind in the United States. Funding comes from individual donors and grants from family foundations.
To boost income and enable more children to enroll in the program, and to celebrate its 40th anniversary, a benefit concert will be held at Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn on Sunday, Oct. 19, at 2 p.m.
It will feature singer-songwriter Lorre Wyatt, a popular fixture of the folk world and a longtime friend and writing partner of the late Pete Seeger. (The two recorded the 2012 album A More Perfect Union, which turned out to be Seeger’s last.) Wyatt started his musical career at Millburn High School, where he was a member of the Millburnaires, a boys’ choral group. That is also where he met Ruth Gottscho.
Ruth grew up in Millburn and lived there until her death from kidney disease in 1960 at the age of 15. It was a day spent with her way back in their teens that inspired Wyatt to write “Like Fresh-Mown Hay,” a song he will debut at the concert. He will be joined by former and current Millburnaires and Millburnettes from Millburn High.
“This song telescopes back and forth in time and memory,” said Wyatt. “The prelude and chorus harken back to a time I walked with Ruth through some fields of new-mown hay, and that earthy, fresh, sweet smell is indelibly identified in my memory with Ruth.”
The family established the foundation in Ruth’s memory soon after her death. At first, funds were used to provide home dialysis machines for families who couldn’t afford them. When Medicare began covering costs of kidney treatment, they looked for another way to help.
Ruth’s sister, Judy Gottscho Eichinger, chairs the foundation. “We were a family of campers, and Ruth always dreamed of going to sleep-away camp,” she said.
She wasn’t able to, but their mother, Eva, came up with the idea of creating a setting where children like her daughter could enjoy camp and be treated as needed.
The Frost Valley YMCA Camp in New York agreed to house a medical facility, and the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center offered to staff it.
“I had a great time and I will never forget the people,” 15-year-old Daniel from Randolph wrote in a recent letter to the foundation. “My family was so grateful that this year I was able to take a break from my normal summer routine and attend camp during one of your Kidney Camp sessions. Before Frost Valley, I had never gone camping, nor had I ever been away from my parents for an extended period of time.”
WCBS Newsradio 880 afternoon anchor Wayne Cabot will emcee the concert; cochairs are Millburn High alums Roslyn Brendzel and Leilani Viney, and committee members are Judy Speicher Weiss, Dennis Walter, Al Wickens, Anna Lawton, Stephen Weisbart, Robert Schachter, and Ellynn Szoke.
“Lorre was a classmate and good friend of my sister, Ruth,” said Speicher Weiss. “He had kept in contact with his classmates in the MHS class of ’63 through the years. Two of those classmates, Leilani Viney and Roslyn Brendzel, are currently on our board, and he had sung the song he wrote about Ruth last year at their class’s 50th reunion.”
Wyatt told NJ Jewish News, “I was a close friend of Ruth’s and she was dear to my heart. We shared a love of music, and I have fond memories of her singing while strumming her black Oscar Schmidt autoharp.”
As for the concert location, both the Gottscho and Wyatt families belonged to B’nai Israel, and the synagogue’s then religious leader, Rabbi Max Gruenewald, served on the foundation’s board. Eichinger said, “We did not choose to have our event there because of these connections, but we are delighted that it has worked out this way. It is a wonderful venue that offers us what we need for the event and is in the neighborhood where we all grew up.”