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A family poses in front of a Camp Oski banner. Families and friends come together at the Lair’s Camp Oski. / Cal Alumni Association / Suz McFadden
Lair of the Golden Bear

Building Year-Round Community at the Lair

The beauty of the Lair rests not only in the lush nature of Pinecrest, but also in the camp’s history of bringing people together to create lasting memories.

February 23, 2024

The Lair of the Golden Bear had one of its most exciting years in 2023, and there are more things to look forward to in the future. Cathy Connelly, senior director of Pinecrest operations, and Lair staff Kelly Seck, Sarah Day, and Mikey Day shared their personal connections within this cherished environment. In this interview, we ask about their stories, the Lair’s rich history, and the new projects that are currently underway at the Lair.

Cal Alumni Association (CAA): How long have you been at the Lair and how did you first get connected with it? 

Kelly Seck (KS): My first time at the Lair was when I was about two months old. My dad and his family camped and staffed [at the Lair]. So, I grew up camping with a lot of my cousins and then staffed with many of them. It was just a dream for my whole life to work at the Lair. I was on staff all four summers that I was in college. As soon as I saw an opportunity, I came back and joined the year-round team and have been on the Lair team for a year and a half. It’ll be two years in May. I just keep jumping on chances to keep working and get involved with all our new projects.

Cathy Connelly (CC): I’ve been coming to the Lair since I was a kid, and am part of the Lair team professionally. This was my sixteenth summer. 

Sarah Day (SD): Mikey and I are siblings, and he started coming back in 2008. So, for many summers me and my family would camp there. About a year ago, a position opened up in the reservations department, and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work here!

Mikey Day (MD): As Sarah said, I started as the pot washer at Camp Gold. I was a freshman in college in 2008. I staffed in the kitchens at the Lair for a long time. Once I graduated college, I started working with Cathy in the office in 2015. And I’ve been doing reservations and managing special events and programs since. It’s been a fun, wild ride.

CAA: It’s so cool to see all the family connections and family history that are involved with everyone at the Lair. How would you describe the Lair?

SD: I would describe it as a home away from home for many people.

CC: It’s a place where there are many traditions. It’s a place where, at every age, you can have an amazing experience. From being a kid where you have the freedom to be away from your parents, but also know that they’re close by and try new things and meet new people and have fun with friends. And then as you get older and as a young adult, you can have a good time. You can also be with your friends and play sports, or do activities and such. And then as a parent, it’s [watching] kids in Lair activities and seeing them learn and grow in the same environment. Because typically families plan to visit during the same week, you get to see those same families every year. They become part of your extended family and it’s fun to see their kids grow up. The Lair becomes a place where you see generations of families reunite, come together, and have a great time together.

CAA:  What is one of your favorite memories from your time working at the Lair?

MD: One of my favorite memories is meeting my partner at the Lair and getting married there. It goes along with the theme of relationships and Lair love and family. The Lair is a home away from home in many respects. So, people do their family vacations there, but they meet friends and build relationships that last a lifetime.

Mikey Day and his partner walking down the aisle.
Mikey Day’s connection to the Lair started in his first year of college and has since been the place where he met his partner and got married. / Courtesy of Mikey Day

CC: My grandparents brought my mom’s family here in the fifties. We ended up having a celebration every summer to celebrate my grandparents’ anniversary at the Lair. It would be a party for the whole camp. And every year, on July 4th, which was their wedding anniversary, not only would generations of our family be at the party but also the whole camp. It was always very celebratory and special.

CAA: What was the thought process behind the creation of the Science Camp program? How did it come to be?

MD: Historically speaking, the Lair’s always been a seasonal business. We were workshopping ways to expand our business into our “shoulder seasons” and off-season. We were trying to come up with creative ideas to expand into a more year-round business model. And one of the roadblocks we were hitting was that the kids go back to school. So, we can’t get families to come up during those seasons. And then it kind of hit us like a lightning rod: School. How can we utilize that? Kids are in school and they take field trips. We were approached luckily by Lodi Unified School District and it just seemed to be a good fit. Having kids come up and do some outdoor education, field trip-type programming, and it just blossomed from there.

Save the date March 14, 2024 is Big Give

KS: So, the Lair’s a place of connection, whether it’s with your family, your friends, yourself, or the land. You always find a way to connect deeper when you’re up there. When we reached out about science camp and heard about all these students who had never been to the mountains before, and many had never seen trees so big, or the snow or a lake. And we were just thinking about hosting that space for these kids and the opportunity for them to see nature in a spot for them to connect and be with each other in a new way. It’s something we’ve always focused on hosting for families. It was this moment of, we can do that for children, too. They’ve never had this experience before. Just thinking of that moment and of being able to host that for them pushed us. We have to do this, we have to try.

A child playing in the snow.
The Lair’s partnership with Lodi Unified School District allowed youth to experience the Lair and connect with their peers. / Cal Alumni Association

CAA: Is there a specific moment that stands out when you think about this past year or this past summer that makes this feel like a markedly different year at the Lair?

CC: We did a big push this year to find ways to improve the camper experience from food service. From hospitality to dining hall experience, all these things did turn out to be successfully improved this year. So, the camper experience overall, we received higher net promoter scores. We saw anecdotal feedback from campers who noticed the changes, the improvement, and the cleanliness of the bathrooms. We hired a special cleaning crew to do those once a week just so we could have a nice starting point where the bathrooms were nice and clean at the beginning of the week. Those special touches definitely made a difference in the camper experience. Also, the science camp is really the big one. Because that is an all-kid-focused experience. This program started from nothing. We had zero knowledge of the science camp business, and yet we have a thriving science camp experience now for kids. So it’s a real testament to this team, Kelly, Mikey, and Sarah, who have dedicated heart and soul, who thought through and managed and took care of so many one-off unique, difficult, challenging situations to make it all come together. It’s been a wild and amazing ride.

Winterized cabins at the Lair of the Golden Bear.
The Lair’s expansion to include several winterized cabins allows campers to make memories at the Lair year-round. / Cal Alumni Association

CAA: What is your vision for the future of the Lair? 

MD: We are building a conference center at Camp Oski in addition to the fifteen winterized cabins that we have at Camp. So, I think that business in the spring, fall, and winter is gonna only grow and expand. Whether that’s with different school districts, corporate retreats, or the wedding business, we do fantastic weddings at the Lair during the summer, but we could expand that in the spring, fall, and winter as well with these indoor winterized units. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity for growth and it’s exciting to see us morph into this year-round business model.

CAA: What are some ways that alumni can support CAA programs such as the Lair?

KS: Camping is a great way to support the Lair. Also, talk about it, share our story, tell people about science camp, and share about it with families that you think might enjoy it.

CC: The Lair is obviously for families but, as we’re showing with the science camp, it’s also for kids’ special programs. We also do retreats and weddings and conferences and team-building and all sorts of other things. We’ve had sports teams from the university come up. We’ve had The Achievement Award Program scholars come. We’ve had all different groups that come and have a great experience and return each year. There’s lots of opportunity for clubs and teams and corporate retreat team-building activities. It doesn’t have to be just for families. We also have adult programs including Sports and Recreation Camp, Women’s Wellness Weekend and Food and Wine Experience. There’s something for everybody who wants to get away in nature, relax, and recharge. 

Transcribed by Samantha Savage

Gifts from alumni and friends like you make the Lair of the Golden Bear possible. Your donation to The CAA Fund during Big Give this year can support the continuation of the Lair as well as our many other student and alumni resources. Please consider making a donation.