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The site that is now Camp Al-Gon-Quian was originally a farm on Burt Lake with a beautiful homestead called the "Elms." In 1925, Ann Arborite Herbert H. Twining purchased the land with the intent to start a summer camp.  Herb was a University of Michigan graduate (1923), who initially wanted to be a medical doctor. However, an eye injury as a child prevented this and instead Herb pursued a profession that he found parallel: He dedicated his life’s work to establishing Camp Al-Gon-Quian as a private boys’ camp on the leading edge of camp programming. Mr. Twining was well-recognized in the camping community and actively involved with the American Camp Association, of which he was the first national president in 1935. He was the director of Al-Gon-Quian for 42 years until his retirement in 1967, when he sold camp to the Ann Arbor YMCA.

Mr. Twining chose a Native American tribe name for the camp because of the great campers they had been. The name Al-Gon-Quian comes from a predominate Native American language. In the English language, Al-Gon-Quian means "bow of a canoe". Along with the name of the language, Twining also borrowed several names for camper groups. He divided the campers into groups by age, grade, height and weight. Throughout the years, the tribes included the Ottawa, Chippewa, Cree, Ojibwa, Miami, Nipissing and Mississauga. One common element that joins these native tribes together is that of them were a part of the Algonquian linguistic family and spoke Algonquian when together. Al-Gon-Quian is still the universal language for the children who spend their summers with us.

In 1925, Mr. Twining opened camp for its first season.  Sessions lasted 8 weeks, and boys came from all over Michigan and surrounding states.  Prominent families from of the Ann Arbor community and the Midwest sent their sons to Camp Al-Gon-Quian. A brief list includes the Proctor & Gamble sons of Cincinnati, the Wrigleys of Chicago, the Strohs of Detroit and Grosse Pointe, and the children of noteworthy University of Michigan figures Alvin Bentley, C.S. Mott and G. Mennen Williams. Prominent members of the university community that served as staff members include Ben Oosterbann, Dr. Roger Howell, Roscoe Bonisteel, Dean Stason and James B. Edmonson.

In addition to providing a fun outdoor experience for campers, Camp Al-Gon-Quian aimed to improve the character of young men. In 1932, the aims of camp were to develop strength of character, a purpose in life, a clear moral character, self-reliance and the ability to achieve. This was accomplished through two months of camaraderie and living in the great outdoors away from the stresses of city life. Campers often took an overnight train up north from Chicago or Detroit, spending their entire summers on Burt Lake.


In 1992, Rozella Twining, Herb Twining’s widow, wrote this letter to the director of Camp Al-Gon-Quian. Here is an excerpt that paints a picture of our first director:

"Herb had the advantage of being able to do anything in that camp. His father was a lumberman and he started cruising with him as far as Lake Superior when he was only five years old. He slept with his father in the woods out in lumber camp. He bought Al-Gon-Quian in the middle of the winter and knew every tree by its bark. He loved the water and sailed for many years in marina races. He earned his first horse when he was about 13, eyeing a big ugly black as it was being unloaded at Twining. His dad said, ‘If you can ride him, he’s yours.’ The men saddle him. He had never felt a saddle. Herb jumped on. He was off more than he was on but he got him home. He played in all sports and earned 16 letters in high school. No one could bat a ball farther than he could. As he became older, it was so wonderful to see the boys throw him an easy one and he would bat it into the woods.

So you see this is what he brought to Al-Gon-Quian. All this natural know-how plus a youth spent in Y camps and programs with leaders who liked their boys and appreciated excelling.

Herb never took a mass approach. Everything was the individual. He could be talking to a campfire meeting of 200 people and everyone felt he was talking only to him. I think that is what made the boys feel a part of the group. He always dwelt on what each one needed to fulfill himself. He had a bench under the elms where he would sit and study the boys or listen to them while they talked on and on. This is where he always was after supper. So you see, this became their home. It was his and he made it theirs. I still feel this will always be the answer of a good camp. The excellent relationship between a director and those with whom he lives. If he chooses good counselors and treats them fairly, he will have happy campers. I don’t think it makes any difference if the cabins are pea green-yellow and the less fussing about it the better."

Mr. Twining was also on the forefront of the camping industry and was very active and well-known among camp professionals across the nation.  When the Camp Directors Association of America was reorganized in February 1935 to become the American Camping Association, he was the group's first president.