It was a pleasure working with local author and historian Bill Powers on his article that appeared in the Willimantic Chronicle on Monday, February 26th. He covers ancient history: when the Duff family bought this old chicken farm and chose to make Camp their way of life. Then he explores some memories and impressions from his son who attended Camp as a child and later got married here. We were grateful to receive his permission to re-publish it below:

By: Bill Powers

It was 70 years ago (1954) when Lloyd and Gwen Duff came to Mansfield, CT. Lloyd became UConn’s head coach for varsity track and cross country at that time. In 1967 Lloyd became the head of the newly formed Recreation Department at UConn. They lived in Mansfield for the remainder of their lives. They were married in 1948 in Ohio and had been high school sweethearts. In 1960 Gwen and Lloyd established the Holiday Hill Day Camp and Recreation Center on Chaffeeville Road in Mansfield. They purchased the 25 Acre Whalen family chicken farm and converted it into what is now the oldest and largest independent day camp east of the Connecticut River.

Lloyd’s college education at Oberlin College was interrupted in 1943, when he enlisted in the Army, and he served his country in the Pacific Theatre. After the War, 1st Sergeant Duff continued his education at Ohio State University where he achieved All-American status in track and field. After his marriage to Gwen and graduation, they moved on to the University of Pittsburg where he earned his master’s degree in education and served as an assistant track coach for six years. Upon moving to Mansfield, Lloyd volunteered in several community organizations including the Lion’s Club and the American Red Cross and created the Mansfield Christmas Fund which distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to needy families. On a personal note, Lloyd Duff trained me to become a CPR instructor. He was an excellent trainer and required students to meet only the highest performance standards. When I became an instructor trainer, I always attempted to emulate the way Lloyd taught and his high standards, a requisite for saving lives.

Gwen attended Muskingum College in Ohio and majored in music. She taught music in Mansfield for two decades and attained a Master of Music Degree from UConn. After retirement Gwen served on the Mansfield Board of Education. A member of the Storrs Congregational Church for 59 years, she directed the Youth Choir and was a member of the Adult Choir. For many years she directed the Mansfield Senior Choir.

Lloyd and Gwen Duff’s daughter Wendy and her husband Dudley Hamlin have operated the camp for many years. They have always maintained the highest of standards and are proud of their accreditation by the American Camp Association which exceeds state licensure requirements. In addition to the summer camp for children, Holiday Hill Day Camp and Recreation Center is open to the public for weddings and special events. My volunteer fire department in Mansfield held outings at Holiday Hill for members and their families and it was always a wonderful time.

My son, Rob was a summer camper in the mid to late 1970s during his elementary and middle school years, and here are “some of his random thoughts and ramblings” about his time at Holiday Hill:

”1 ) Small buildings called coops and kids divided by age;

2) Plenty of friends from school , but new acquaintances too from neighboring towns and school systems;

3) Bag lunches/lunchboxes brought from home, placed in the coop’s duffle bag and then into the camp cooler for safekeeping;

4) Cold milk provided by the camp;

5) The trampoline- getting/earning various tumbler level cards for mastering acrobatic feats;

6) The swimming pool-taking swimming lessons and getting /earning our swimmer level cards;

7) Activities, activities, activities – everywhere, all the time. Endless sports and games – soccer, kickball, softball, frisbee games, etc. Arts and Crafts. Archery.

8) Camp wide events – like capture the flag. The whole camp property was split up into separate zones. Each zone represented by a certain coop or collective of coops. Then it was game on! Sneak into enemy territory or just outrun the opposing players guarding their ring of flags. Quickly grab a flag and take it back to the safety of your team’s zone. Wild times at Holiday Hill; 9) Four-Square – many coops had a four square four-square marked out on the concrete floor. The oldest kid’s coop was where the serious play happened – like the major league of Holiday Hill four-square. Some of the younger kid’s coops were considered more like the minor leagues. If your game was off a bit, you could do a stint in the minors before heading back up to the majors.

9) Had to take a school bus to and from camp – but you knew you weren’t going to school. Camp was a lot more fun.

10) Counselors and Junior Counselors – good people totally invested into the summer camp experience for the campers. I imagine the vast majority were former Holiday Hill Campers themselves.”
Rob loved Holiday Hill so much that not only did he have his college graduation celebration there but also his wedding. Here is what he had to say about those special gatherings. “Getting married by the big tree up by the pool. Then quickly changing out of dressier clothes into swimsuits and T-shirts. Outdoor fun and sun activities – pool, tennis, softball, etc. Cookout and food provided by Holiday Hill. Fortunate to have wonderful weather for both occasions. Great memories of Holiday Hill from different parts of my life- as a pre-teen camper, a new college graduate and a new groom.

Thanks to Dudley Hamlin and my son Rob Powers for sharing details about Holiday Hill.


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