Dogs of the CSA

Our Intern, Sam, caught up with some of our 4 legged friends and they told him what they love most about the CSA! Just like us they like to talk and have their picture taken!


Left to right: Duncan McCormick, Crystal and Blackjack Congbalay (Pringle)

Duncan, Crystal, and Blackjack hail from the East Coast and Midwest respectively, but Northern Michigan is their home. Every year as they pass through the Frankfort archway, their ears perk up and they sniff the air with building excitement. Duncan loves Lake Michigan, taking every chance he gets to play on the beach. When he goes missing, that is where you will find him. Every time. Touring the CSA with their cousin dog Duncan is a favorite past-time of Crystal and Blackjack. They share his love of the beach, and love playing in the water.



Aero Miller is a CSA native. She lives in the area year-round, from the cold, snowy winters to the lazily warm summers. She considers it her duty to guard the Miller house, but will take any opportunity she gets to take a car ride (preferably to the beach). Swimming is not her favorite summer activity, but she loves to take long walks on the CSA Lake Michigan beach. 




Nico Schmidt is the fourth Schmidt family dachshund. He is from Santa Rosa, California, and was the product of a long and strenuous search for a successor to the legendary Boris. After a traumatic first day on the job, he was bonded for life with human Bob Schmidt. He enjoys lounging in the sun on the patio and loves to take walks on the beach and around the CSA.




Gladys Belknap is the namesake of David and Sarah Belknap’s grandmother who decreed that no dog should ever bear her name. They took note of that, but after a family dog was named after their other grandmother, they decided to make a pair. Gladys (the dog) loves to swim in Lake Michigan, and plays fetch there most every evening. In the mornings she can be found lounging by the fire, and under the table during mealtimes (but not for food, that would be silly).




Mason Murmann doesn’t like to say that he came all the way from Columbia, MO for the treats in the Assembly Building, but he would be lying if he said otherwise. He also enjoys walking around the CSA forests.





Chessie Brown is a very loving dog, but may or may not have been spotted trudging the grounds of the CSA in the Cone of Shame (for reasons undisclosed). He loves to take walks in the woods, and enjoys our many beaches.




History Night - August 4th from 7-9 pm

By Sam Buzzell July 2017

Every four years, large crowds gather in the Community Room to walk amongst their memories. They traverse a serpentine path through the complete history of the Congregational Summer Assembly, gazing in wonder at materials collected by archivists from Catherine Stebbins to Jane Cooper. This, of course, is History Night. Many use it to relive times past, some go to see their parents and grandparents as children, but all leave seeing the CSA in a new light, one of deeper understanding and appreciation.

The event’s creation was preceded by the appointment of Catherine Stebbins, then assistant to Ruth Nickels, as the CSA’s first archivist. She took the opportunity and ran with it, purchasing a filing cabinet and beginning to work to compile a complete history of the Assembly. With the scrapbook collection that she had begun as a child as a base, she created full chronological albums of the early days of the CSA which were later used as the primary sources of material in the first few History Nights.

HistoryNightIn the Community Room, a small crowd hunched over several dimly lit tables bearing the pages of Catherine’s archival scrapbooks. This was the night of August 19, 1983, the first History Night. Promoted only by a small blurb in the Sunday church bulletin and exclusively involving the photos from Catherine’s personal collection, the event had room to grow. The idea was presented again three years later, becoming a tradition every three years.

By 1993, Katy Gosnell was archivist. Her reign is responsible for the current format of the exhibition, constructed by arranging styrofoam boards on church pews and pinning photos onto the upright boards. Under Tammy Royle, the event was rescheduled to every four years, as the workload grew and setup became more complicated due to increasingly detailed exhibits. While some were disappointed by the change, it brought to light the reasoning behind the spacing of the events: History Night is an incredible undertaking for the archivist, and becomes at least a 14 hour day for the crew. In addition, the timing helps to create a more appreciative mindset when viewing the exhibition, as this is not something one sees every day.

The day itself now involves the movement of up to 16 church pews by the maintenance crew, followed by a complete movement of the contents of Pilgrim Place to the Assembly Building including not only hundreds of photos, but also ledgers, operetta scrapbooks, oral histories, cottage curios, old costumes, and more. When all of the materials are assembled, the photos are pinned to the boards. Due to the chronological nature of the items, they must be posted from oldest to most recent and must be handled carefully. When the room is ready, the archival crew leaves to get dinner and dressed for the event, and are replaced by ‘security guards’ in one-hour shifts - positions which they have no trouble filling as the recipients are allowed to peruse the exhibition at their leisure. Then, at 7pm, crowds begin to gather to see what there is to be seen - which is quite a lot, as it turns out. After the stragglers are gently nudged out of the place at close to 9:30pm, the archivist begins removing the items photo by photo, piece by piece, until the Community Room is bare once more.

Archives is one of the most important areas of the CSA. A huge portion of the history of our organization is very well reported on, and archivists have worked tirelessly for decades to continue that work. To have preserved documentation of the CSA from its beginnings in 1901 until now is an incredible feat; to save these items is to keep their contents alive, whether it is to learn from them, remember them fondly, or simply to appreciate them, and is invaluable to us today.

This year, the communications committee will be covering History Night from start to finish, filming the setup of the event and interviewing current archivist Jane Cooper and archivist emerita Tammy Royle. We will archive the archives at work, and capture the history of History Night. A complete version of the film will be posted on the CSA YouTube page shortly after the event!

Could we be Swimmer's Itch Free by Next Summer?

Ginanne Brownell Mitic June 2017

It is most assuredly the biggest topic of conversation at the Crystal View, at Crystal beach, on the ball field, in the Assembly building and most everywhere else across the Congregational Summer Assembly at the start of each season: How bad is the swimmer’s itch this summer? How many cases have been reported? How many duck broods are on the lake? And what is being done about it to make this problem go away? 

I have spent a good portion of time since last summer doing investigative work into swimmer’s itch and my story on the dreaded itch (also called cercarial dermatitis), came out a few weeks ago in Scientific American. For me, swimmer’s itch (let’s call it SI for short) is personal as I get a bad case at least once a summer (there are between 20% to 25% of people who luckily do not have an allergic reaction to SI). Both my own anecdotal research as well as research done by experts have found that the more times you are exposed the worse your reaction gets: the itchiness, the red spots and I now also get a low-grade fever and lightheadedness. It is, as Patrick Hanington from the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health told me, similar to an allergic response that people get from bee stings or pollen.  

So let’s quickly go over the biology: in general terms, SI is caused by something called schistosomes, which are also known as flatworms or blood flukes. On the planet, there are about 100 species of schistosomes—70 of which are avian schistosomes (so that means they infect birds) and about 30 of which infect mammals (but don’t worry, only three species can infect humans causing human schistosomiasis —a neglected tropical disease— and are found only in Africa, Asia and South America). While cercarial dermatitis has been found in 30 states in the US (and there have been cases reported from France to New Zealand, China, Chile and Russia), 95% of the reported cases have been in the northern states that border Canada. So that’s from Maine to Washington. 

Here’s where it gets rather confusing—each schistosome species is particular not only to a specific kind of bird but also a specific kind of snail. So in northern Michigan—north of Cadillac—our SI schistosome is called the trichobilharzia stagnicolae and it has found the perfect host in both the common merganser duck (we had five broods last summer on Crystal) and the stagnicola emarginata snail. Eric Samuel Loker, a snail expert who teaches in the biology department of the University of New Mexico, told me that while the trichobilharzia stagnicolae is very common in places like Michigan and the upper Midwest, you do not find them elsewhere. “There are different species in different locations and these different parasites rely on different birds for their transmission,” he told me. That means, for example, that the Canadian geese and seagulls that we see on Crystal, aren’t infected by the trichobilharzia stagnicolae. It’s just the mergansers. (But those geese and seagulls could carry other schistosome species that, with the right snail species, could be infecting lakes somewhere else that they may migrate to or from). 

However the general premise of getting the itch is pretty much the same: the adult schistosomes pass their eggs through the GI track of birds—and in the case of the schistosoma douthitti, it’s through muskrats—so when the animal defecates in the water the eggs take about an hour to hatch into the larvae stage called miracidia, which then looks for its host, the snail. Once it penetrates the snail, it develops into another intermediate stage where over a period of four weeks they can asexually produce thousands of cercariae that then leave the body of the snail, heading up to the sunlight. Dr. Loker told me that what makes them “most happy” is to encounter the foot of a duckling (their feet and skin are easier to penetrate than adult ducks and also they have not build up strong immunities yet). But if they don’t find—in our case on Crystal, mergansers—then they will try to burrow into our skin instead. Though the cercariae die trying to burrow into our skin—they can’t get through the epidermis layer—75% of us have a reaction to them. And that’s where the itching, the red welts and the general drama come from. 

There was an old legend that toweling off would stop SI, but that is simply not true. Many people, including myself, can actually feel them (or at least begin to feel the allergic reaction) while still in the water. Toweling off only works in the case of schistosoma douthitti and another schistosome species that target muskrats—those cercariae try burrowing in as the water dries off on people’s skin. There are a few researchers this summer that are going to be experimenting—not on humans—with what kinds of skin creams seem to work best. Some, like me, swear by creams like Safe Sea that are marketed to protect from jellyfish stings, while liposome-based deet products are also said to help prevent getting SI. Since cercarial dermatitis is an allergy, a number of people (including doctors) suggest taking an antihistamine like Claritin or Zyrtex before going for a swim. These are only anecdotal of course so if you have a formula you swear by, by all means keep it up. 

So how do we get rid of the itch? There is a debate in the field over whether it makes sense to get rid of the snails (that’s why the copper sulfate is rumored to have been used back in the 1960s and 1970s) or get rid of the mergansers. Hunting in the autumn has minimal effect—first of all they are said to taste horrid and those adult ducks are probably commuting down from Canada to Florida for the winter and so aren’t the actual summer culprits (plus for every one cercariae that gets in an adult duck there are 100 that are in ducklings). On Lake Cadillac and Lake Mitchell a number of years ago they too had a problem with SI. But turns out, it was the mallard ducks that were the hosts (for a different species of schistosome and snail) and researchers found that the heartworm medicine given to dogs and cats could also kill the SI. So scientists spread the medicine on corn and left it out for mallards, who, as anyone who has ever fed them bread will know, mallards love people food. The medicine killed the schistosomes and the mallards, bellies full, were none the wiser. Not more itch on those lakes. 

But mergansers are fish eating ducks and are very shy as well, so the corn option won’t work on them. But hopefully a solution to SI was started in earnest in June. Thanks in large part to the lobbying efforts of the Michigan Swimmer’s Itch Partnership (MISIP), co-founded by our very own Joel Buzzell, the state of Michigan this year has given $250,000 to the Department of Natural Resources (to be distributed by Tip of the Mitt), for SI control and research. Biologist and swimmer’s itch expert Curtis Blankespoor (who will be speaking after the Women’s Association annual meeting on July 18) has been working this spring and summer to identify the nests of mergansers. They will be captured, along with their less than eight week old ducklings and transported to the Lake Huron side of the state where there are few Stagnicola emarginata snails. If you capture a merganser duckling before eight weeks, places like Crystal will not imprint on their memories so they will instead nest next year where they were released this summer. 

Meanwhile while the stagnicola emarginata snails in Crystal are infected from last summer (they live from about June until the following September), the snails that hatch this summer won’t be infected because the ducklings are gone. So next year, we could be fairly SI free. Researchers are also keen to find out how air temperature, wind velocity and wind temperature can be factors when there are particularly bad cases of the itch reported. And the MISIP, the first of its kind in the US that focuses on lobbying and sharing research on cercarial dermatitis, hope to help lake associations in Wisconsin and Minnesota set up similar bodies. “We can show people what we have done, that we have a model they can use to do the same kinds of things that we are doing,” says Jim Vondale, the co-founder of the MSIP. “And we believe as the idea expands our influence and our ability to move forward will increase even further.” Let's hope the knowledge increases while the number of SI cases decreases. Happy swimming!

The adult “teen” dance

By Ginanne Brownell Mitic July 2017

The Tuesday night teen dance memories of my youth have congealed together in my head. I can’t remember one specific night per se but I remember certain distinct moments. Like, I can recall Tim Royle, wearing a green and white Benetton rugby, getting really excited when the opening beats of a Police song—maybe it was the remixed version of “Don't Stand So Close to Me” or maybe it was “King of Pain”—blasted through the speakers. I also remember, years later, grabbing his sister, Megan (Carrella), and our friends Martha Errthum (Evans) Sarah Brown, Molly Bazzani (Campbell) and other friends as we headed for the middle of the dance floor when Moby Disc (aka Bill Howard), popped on a song like Erasure's "A Little Respect."

After my freshman year of college, when I should have had one foot vaguely planted into adulthood, I still went to the teen dances partly because my younger friends were still going and also because it still remained the place to get the best gossip for who was dating who and what was going to be happening after the dance. Each week the teen dance was social Mecca for my generation—and for many generations before and after me. “When you're a teen up north for the summer, you have the occasional bonfire, maybe you're lucky enough to stay out late and go to the drive in, or tell your parents you're going to the drive-in just to stay out later, but those Tuesday nights were a great excuse for everyone to be out between 9-11,” recalled Andy Campbell. “And you got to get down too. If you like music and enjoy dancing, which I do, having a once a week venue to do that? Pretty sweet.”

Dance GrapicJudy Stewart Rodes recalled that as a 12-year-old, she could not wait to be 13 so she could attend the teen dances back in the early and mid-1960s. “It was super crowded,” she told me in an email, “and I remember it being very hot and swimming in the lake after.” She says the songs she most looked forward to—which were played by local bands—were ones by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, especially “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” Judy, like many teen girls and boys from all generations who attended teen dances, also said she remembered taking time deciding what to wear. That was especially important if you had a crush that you knew would also be attending the dance.

Back in the earlier days of the teen dances (post-record players and pre-DJs), it was all about local bands that would come and play. “The teen dances I attended were 1965-1969, and were absolutely mobbed,” recalled Jep Gruman. “Young people from as far as Glen Lake, Torch Lake and Petoskey would come down for them, have picnics on the Crystal beach or in the woods by the ball field. Glenn Schulz would try to discourage beer, but usually to no avail. The State Police parked their cars at the Crystal View. The ball field was filled with cars. The music was VERY loud and kids were dancing out among the cars.” He says he remembers cover songs being played like “Light My Fire” by The Doors, “Summer in the City” by Lovin Spoonful and “Wild Thing” by the Troggs.

Dean Rusch, who owns the Freeland-based Rusch Entertainment (the company that Bill Howard still works for) asked me in an email: “Do you remember Jim Buzzell? He started hiring my band CEYX in the summer of 1971 and we played through the early 1980s, then switched to the DJ format.” It was likely CEYX who would play songs like Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” that Holly Freeburg recalls almost literally bringing the Assembly building down back in the early-1970s. “Everyone was stomping on the floor so hard that there was talk of having to shore it up,” she said. “I can’t hear that song today without smiling and thinking about going to the teen dance.”

Jim Buzzell was a fixture at the teen dances for generations, stamping people’s hands when they came in and he somehow had a sixth sense if people were getting up to something they weren’t supposed to be getting up to. He had some sort of internal honing device and could miraculously track where to find what was not supposed to be happening. In the 1980s and 1990s admission was $2, but often people, if they knew the right people, could sneak in—a teenage version of getting on a VIP list at a popular club. “When I was on the CSA staff I worked at the door to collect the cover charge,” recalls Beth Congbalay. “Two friends (who will remain nameless), always got in for free. I felt a little bad about that but they were CSA kids too and we were very loyal to our friends.”

Over the last few years, some CSA friends and I would joke about setting up an adult “teen” dance, with the two major components being it had to be held when most of our friends be up and finding Bill Howard, who seemingly had his finger on the pulse of 1980s and 1990s music. Molly Bazzani recalled his name and Megan Carrella remembered he was based in Bay City. A few searches on Google later and I found Rusch Entertainment. When contacted, Dean Rusch told me that Bill, when he found out the CSA wanted to hold a nostalgic “teen” dance on Friday July 28, he cancelled the wedding he was booked to DJ that Saturday in Detroit so he could come spin the tunes for us.

Though the dances petered off in the early 2000s when young people wanted to hang out more in the parking lot and chat, the teen dances still had some solid years in the mid and late 1990s as well. “Songs like ‘Feels Good’ by Toni, Toni, Toni, the “Humpty Dance” by Digital Underground, and “Poison” by Bel Biv Devo were mainstays,” recalled Andy Campbell. “Super Sonic" by Salt 'N Peppa always got Sarah Brown going. In 1993 “Daisy Dukes” was a big jam, and anything by Naughty by Nature was in the mix. 'Rump Shaker' by Wreck'n Effect always put me in a good mood. As always Moby Disc would finish with 'You Spin me Round' by Dead or Alive. Lots of folks at the CSA don't like change and somehow he understood that and closed every dance with that song regardless of year.”

Jep recalled that the fun of the dances did not stop when the bands packed up their equipment: "After the dances a bunch of us would go up onto the knoll above the Crystal View and play music (guitars), or go down to the CSA Michigan beach for a bonfire for more guitars and singing and star gazing...we would sing Donovan or Bob Dylan, Peter Paul & Mary, Tom Rush, Joni Mitchell, not the pop music we'd just been dancing to. Not so much pairing off but rather as a large pile of puppies. Then wandering back to the cottage, darkly, without flashlights because it was not cool to have a flashlight. Somehow we were supposed to find our way without them... lots of stubbed toes!” The songs may have changed over the generations but the fun times that have been had, and the memories made are one of those great continuities of the CSA. Here’s to more memories being made on the 28th!

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.