CSA Traditions

By Julia Davis - August 19, 2016

As Tevye passionately states in the beloved musical, Fiddler on the Roof, “without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as…as a fiddler on the roof.” Here at the CSA, this is something we live by. As times change, our traditions come and go. Let’s take a look back at some CSA traditions of the past.

The Monday night children’s dances have seemingly gone on since anyone here at the CSA can remember. But when Jane Cooper was young, there would be social dances for thehigh school and college students after the children had cleared out on Monday nights. Music was played from a record player, and there were chaperones that would sit around the edges of the community room in the Assembly Building. Jane was there during some of the earliest days of rock and roll, so the music was still relatively traditional, and they would dance to songs like “Blue Moon” and “Stardust”. Square dancing on Wednesdays was another hugely popular tradition during that time. “Everybody knew how to square dance,” Jane recalled. “And you wouldn’t have thought of not going.” Just like in the film “Dirty Dancing” dancing was a major part of the social life at the Assembly in the 1950s, but faded out around the 1960s when it became less popular.

However, the teen dances had a resurgence in popularity in the 1970s through to the early 1990s.  In the 1970s when Holly Freeburg was a teenager, the dances were huge. She remembers hearing “Smoke on the Water” and everyone stomping on the floor so hard that it felt like the floor might open up and swallow all the revelers. Up through the early 1990s the teen dances continued to be an Assembly staple. Ginanne Brownell Mitic recalls a DJ out of Traverse City –who went by the moniker Moby Disk – playing all the 1980s hits, including “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” by The Police and “You Spin Me” by Dead or Alive. Teens from the CSA and the surrounding community would come to these dances, so it was a great time to make new friends and spend time with old ones.

Another tradition Ginanne remembers from growing up in the 1980s was the “Come as You Are” pajama parties, where the youth activity leaders and volunteers would surprise kids early in the morning, dragging them out of bed to go for breakfast at one of the beaches or in the Assembly building. The youth leaders would call the parents the night before to make sure their kid wore something appropriate to bed, but Ginanne recalls one time when one boy’s parents either forgot to tell their son or couldn’t convince him to wear pajamas to bed, which caused major embarrassment when all the kids showed up to pick him up the next morning and he wasn’t wearing anything. “They were fun because of the element of surprise…that you knew it might happen in the summer but were never sure which day,” Ginanne recalled. Another traditional youth activity from further back in time was going hiking on “The Crater”, a large, sandy, bowl-shaped area on the top of a dune overlooking Crystal Lake. Kids would pack a meal and then trek out to the Crater to eat and play games like Capture the Flag. There also used to be overnight hikes for middle school to high school students, led by the youth leaders. They would hike near Point Betsie, or even go as far as South Manitou Island to camp. Jane remembers bringing an army-style blanket roll for these overnight trips instead of a sleeping bag.

On the ball field, the bachelors vs. married men softball game that we’re used to having as part of the Fourth of July festivities used to be a weekly event. Another ball field event Doug Fuller recalls was the annual Mallory vs. Clemens family football game. There were many additional rules to the game, aside from the basic set. The most important rule was that the game had to end in a tie. Doug remembers seeing one team dancing with each other on the field while they were in the lead in order to let the other team score a touchdown and thereby even out the score.

The typical day-to-day CSA uniform are comfy shorts, a t-shirt, and very sandy flip-flops, but back in the day church wasn’t the only thing people dressed up for. The Women’s Association used to host traditional bridge games, for which formal attire was a must. The women had to wear white gloves and dresses, and they would have proper tea served on a silver tea service. And on Sundays, nobody used to swim after church. Instead, people remained in their formal church attire and would usually go to Sunday dinner at the Dining Hall (now known as the Assembly Building). 

Our traditions are what keep us coming back to the CSA year after year. It’s comforting knowing that next summer, people will be sitting at the beach in the same spot they always sit, that there will be potluck dinners, operettas, and old friends.

Humans of the CSA

Inspired by the work of New York City photography project Humans of New York (, we walked around the CSA and asked people about their favorite CSA memories, funny stories, the first time they came up here, and more. For the full album click here!


 "My first visit to the CSA came in 1942 and Jack Terry brought me up here with a group of other boys just before we went into the military service in World War II. We stayed here three weeks and I always held a fond memory of that time. In 1965, my family and I were living in Virginia and we wanted a place to go on vacation and couldn’t quite decide, and I said, “Let’s go to Crystal Lake!” And we have been here year after year ever since that date. I’m still going at 93, and my goal now is to be here when I’m 100."


"When I was in college, I was working the Assembly office, and we worked for Tom Williams, who was very strict. One evening, I coerced one of my very proper friends - we knew the doghouse was going to be repainted white – so we went down late at night and we painted polka dots all over the doghouse." [Pictured in her hat from the Operetta] 


"My favorite memory of the CSA is going to bonfires at Lake Michigan."


"When I was about 10, David Eley and I went to sleep out on lake Michigan. It's all grown over now, but between where the new stairs are and the old stairs, there used to be an area that was kind of hollowed out that was all sandy. But it was kind of on a hill. So we slept out there, and when we woke up we had slid down the hill in our sleeping bags and we woke up in the bushes. Being 10 year old boys, we thought we must’ve slept for 100 years and that the bushes had grown up around us!"


"In the winter, we miss our CSA friends the most."

The Ecology Committee: Turning Research into Action

By Julia Davis - July 28, 2016

On a hot afternoon in late July, a group of children are eagerly gathered around the picnic tables next to the Assembly Building. Kevin Kinnan, a Benzie Central high school teacher and main instructor for the Ecology Fun program, is creating a glacier out of ice cream scoops, chocolate chips and coconut. Kids watch wide-eyed as he piles vanilla scoop on top of scoop until gravity gets the best of the ice cream tower and the scoops topple to the bottom of the pan - a fun and tasty way of illustrating the formation of a glacier. The crowd is huge, about twenty children have come out for this popular day of Ecology Fun, and not just because there is ice cream involved.

The Ecology Committee was formed in 1990 and has been hosting the popular program for kids for almost 10 years now and although this program is a CSA favorite for kids the Ecology Committee actually does a lot more than just Ecology Fun. According to Committee Chair Linda Campbell, the purpose of the committee at the time of its formation was to report on the condition of Crystal Lake and the erosion of the Lake Michigan shoreline but it has expanded greatly since then.

One of their biggest successes besides the Ecology Fun program has been a major environmental assessment of the CSA grounds, which was completed in 2009.  Using a random sampling of plots on the CSA, two interns worked alongside three university professors to take data on what species of trees make up our forest, what invasive species we have, and more (see chart). This is the most accurate information we have to date about our forest, and the report can be checked out from the office anytime. This research has been the basis for the committee’s activities and program decisions. Committee member Nancy Baglan emphasized that taking a scientific approach and making sure actions are based on scientific research is a core part of the Ecology Committee’s mission. The committee strives to be action oriented. This means not just putting out information to the community, but using that information to create meaningful programming and inform future endeavors.

Some recent examples of putting this information to work are the new Butterfly Garden on the east side of the Assembly Building and the committee’s small forest restoration projects – like the wildflower garden on the east side of meeting house and a few trees planted on the other side of the building. Nancy and Linda agree that these projects are important as a way to let people know that they can do small things to restore their little section of the forest at their cottages. As Nancy pointed out, “We shouldn’t try to make our woods look like a park-like setting. It can be a bit messy looking, but diversity is really important.” Diversity in the forest creates a healthy environment.

The main challenge the committee faces is similar to that of many other committees at the CSA: getting volunteers, and figuring out the best way to access them. The Ecology Committee is still using porch sign-ups and word of mouth to garner extra hands to help with activities. Another struggle is that their only sponsors are the Women’s Association, Pilgrim Fund, and donations; they are not an official budget item for the CSA.

A big upcoming problem for the CSA environment is an invasive grass, an example of which is on the Assembly Building porch and figuring out how to get rid of this. Because of the discovery of this grass, the Ecology Committee has made its next big project taking on invasive species like Dame’s Rocket and Baby’s Breath. They are partnering with the invasive species network in Traverse City to tackle these, which are quickly spreading in the CSA. Their goal is to get to a point where we can recognize invasive species early, before they spread making eradication impossible. They also want to go beyond beauty: taking out invasive species, like Dame’s Rocket, that may look pretty, but are really a danger to other plants.

Nancy pointed out that not all non-native plants are invasive— in fact most are not. But the invasive species crowd out the native plants and the native plants are a vital part of our woods and the wildlife that live here. For example, monarch butterflies will only lay eggs on a milkweed plant; if milkweed plants were to be crowded out by invasive species, then there would be no monarchs here. Community efforts to keep invasive species at bay make a huge difference. Nancy and Linda agree that the push to get rid of garlic mustard a few years ago has been highly successful in decreasing the overall amount of it at the CSA and making our environment healthier.

Some of the Ecology Committee’s upcoming events are the Wings of Wonder presentation, co-sponsored with the Women’s Association on August 2 at 10:00am in the Assembly Building. Later that afternoon, they will host a bird banding demonstration at 5pm at the Michigan tennis courts and on Wednesday morning at 11am at the corner of M-22 and Thomas Road. The committee is also looking for volunteers to help restore and clean up Crystal beach of invasives on next Wednesday, August 3rd. Meet at 9:30am at the Doghouse. (Bring your own gloves.) Anyone who is interested in learning and contributing even a little to the CSA environmental future can join the Ecology Committee and all are welcome to attend workshops and volunteer.

Making the CSA a Better Place at the Annual Meeting

By Julia Davis

If you’ve passed by the Crystal View recently, you may have noticed commotion at the fire pit with kids roasting marshmallows and adults having a good talk and a laugh. Or maybe you have gone by the Meeting House and suddenly a new Wi-Fi network appeared on your Smartphone. Ever wonder how those changes—small yet significant—came about? Well, it all happens at the CSA Annual Meeting.

That fire pit at Crystal Lake and the internet at the Meeting House wouldn’t have been possible without CSA’ers just like you coming to the Annual Meeting and proposing them. Along with other important business that gets discussed, one of the things that is a constant conversation—both at the meeting and on the beach— is what would you do to make the CSA a better place?

For some, it was having a fire pit installed to make up for the lack of a sandy, bonfire-friendly beach at Lake Michigan this year. For others, it was getting free Wi-Fi for all to use, especially those who need to check their work emails. As we prepare for this year’s Annual Meeting, it’s important to take stock in terms of the history that has been made at these yearly meetings. And what improvements that might come next season from this year’s annual gathering.

The biggest concern at the Annual Meetings of the early 1900s was the growing desire of CSA residents to build barns on their property. The board was not happy with this and ultimately decided on banning the building of barns on CSA grounds. It’s hard to imagine the Assembly woods dotted with bright red barns. They likely didn’t have to worry about Swimmer’s Itch, a topic that will surely come up at the meeting this year. Recently passed proposals include a ban on smoking at Crystal Lake Beach,  and the existing policy on jet skis has been changed to say that they are to be operated and moored under the same guildlines as all power boats. Paddleboards will also now be specifically mentioned along with kayaks and canoes in the Fee Schedule under Type C Beach Boat Storage. If you have any questions or concerns about these policies, you are welcome to attend the meeting this Saturday and have your voice be heard.

The Annual Meeting is a great place to learn about what all of our committees have been working on this summer. Each committee presents a report detailing what they have been doing in recent months. You may be surprised to find out that some of the committees that were being formed at the Annual Meetings in the early 1900s still exist today. These committees include Spiritual Life, Buildings and Grounds, and Nominations. Another thing that happens is that the people in attendance at the meeting can vote on certain issues. What you may or may not vote on depends heavily on your membership status. According to the bylaws, Members, otherwise known as CSA lot owners, may vote on bylaw amendments, proposals that may involve a major change to the appearance of the Assembly, proposals that might involve a major change in the uses or availability for sale of Assembly property, a major purchase of additional Assembly property or a major change in the character of the Assembly. Associate Members, on the other hand, may vote on any other issues like the fire pit proposal.




Many issues discussed at the Annual Meeting require financial support. The CSA has a budget every year, which comes from various sources including membership fees, the Crystal View and donations to the Pilgrim Fund. See chart of the breakdown of the CSA’s revenue.

If you have any ideas on how to improve the CSA, you too can bring your own proposal and present it to the Board of Trustees. And it takes 40 people for a quorum---so get the coffee brewing and please come out at 9:30 Saturday morning, August 4, 2018

The Women's Association: Past and Present

By Julia Davis - July 21, 2016


The Women’s Association has been a staple of the CSA for over a century and has been running the art fair since its inception 38 summers ago. But times have changed with many women (all CSA female members are automatically members of the Women’s Association) no longer able to be at the Assembly for the entire summer nor able to commit to taking a board position within the group. Recent bylaw changes have transformed the organization into one that solely funds events rather than hosts them. I talked to Susan Baker and Sandra O’Neal, the current co-chairs of the Women’s Association, about the challenges the Women’s Association faces, how they fill leadership positions and their favorite anecdote from their time serving the Women’s Association board.


What is the history of the women’s association and why was it founded?

Sandra O’Neal (SO): I do not know why it was founded, but at that time it was very common for women in church groups to gather together for the purpose of both social activities and volunteering.


All women who are members of the CSA are automatically members yet it seems like many women do not know this and are surprised when they are told this is the case.

Susan Baker (SB): It doesn’t matter how many times you say something; it doesn’t necessarily sink in until you’re ready to hear it. It started as a social group, a service group, a way for women to get to know each other. As women’s lives have changed and families’ lives have changed, that has also changed. A few years ago, there was a bylaw change for the Women’s Association. Now there are a few things that the Women’s Association specifically does and the art fair is the biggest one and essentially our reason for being. The wonderful traditional things the Women’s Association has done for decades, like Lemonade Sundays, art workshops, and programs for children are now done on an ad hoc basis. If you’re interested in having something done, you approach the Women’s Association by filling out an application on the website, asking for funding, coming up with your idea of how this could happen.


So it’s primarily an organization for ad hoc funding.

SB: Yes and that also opens the door for new and wonderful ideas to come forth such as the Ecology Fun program.


I know you give a lot to Ecology Fun, but where else does the raised money go?

SO: We fund four specific categories: donations to charities in the community, scholarships, one- time projects like the butterfly garden, the defibrillators and pickle ball equipment, and on an annual basis programs including potluck dinners. See the full list here.


How important is the art fair and Cottage tresaures to the Women’s Association?

SB: It’s one of the biggest community events the CSA does. I love the fact that so many of us have things in our cottages that came from probably 10 other families in the CSA because of Cottage Treasures. And the fact that if you have somebody come over for dinner, there’s a fair chance that when you put that serving bowl on the table, somebody’s going to say, “You know, that’s my aunt Molly’s!”


How do you foresee the Association’s future?

SO: We are at a point where we need to ask questions about the ongoing viability of the Women’s Association. Not the ongoing viability of the Arts and Crafts fair, which can keep going on run by a committee of the Trustees. But the Women’s Association for the last decade has had more and more difficulty getting women to commit to serving on the board and considerable difficulty getting leadership positions filled. This is Susan and my last year as chairs of the association and we have spoken to at least 60 women about taking on these roles and have been unsuccessful in finding anyone to do so. That alone is not a reason for the association to dissolve but over time there’s simply been less and less interest. Our leadership team asked Beth Wolszon and Jennifer Daly, the past president and vice president of the Board of Trustees, to consult with us this year on the future of the Women’s Association.


Any fun Art fair anecdotes while you were co-chairs?

SO: I had to adjudicate a conflict at Cottage Treasures in which two men had bought the same canoe at separate cashier stations. They both went to pick up the canoe, and one picked up the stern and one picked up the bow and they both looked at each other and I was asked to sort this out. I said to the two men, “would a coin toss satisfy you?” And one of them produced a coin and flipped it and walked away with the canoe and we gave the other one their money back, but it was a great illustration of the fact that we have terrific values at the fair.