Bells celebrate 50 years at Camp Robin Hood

TORONTO — When Larry and Pearl Bell go back to camp next summer, it will be for the 50th time.

Larry and Pearl Bell

In 1961, Larry and Pearl  responded to an ad from Camp Robin Hood. Larry was hired as swim director and Pearl as a nurse. The two knew each other before working at Robin Hood – they both went to Forest Hill Collegiate – but weren’t in the same circle of friends.

“I was this nerdy girl from Sarnia with culture shock going… to Forest Hill high school. I used to play tennis at lunch,” Pearl said.

“He was a hotshot at school – the prefect, swimmer. I knew he existed in high school, but we weren’t in the same circles. When I got accepted to nursing [for university] and I was in residence, coincidentally [Larry’s] cousin was in residence with me,” she added.

One day Larry, who was studying at University of Toronto at the time, was driving his cousin home for the weekend and gave Pearl a ride home at the same time. That was really the start of their relationship, she said.

“We knew right away that it was going to work for us, we had similar interests.”

The couple has been married for 46 years and has two daughters, Sari and Michelle.

Larry and Pearl were involved with the camp over the years, and then they turned the operation of the camp over to Sari and her husband, Howie Grossinger, a few years ago. They are now the camp’s owners and directors. Larry and Pearl are both still involved in the camp, however, as senior directors focusing on the administration and health aspects of the camp.

In honour of Larry and Pearl’s 50 years at Camp Robin Hood, a tribute dinner is being held on Feb. 24, 2011, with the proceeds going to Kids in Camp. Kids in Camp is a charity that sends kids to Ontario Camps Association accredited camps.

“I’m so happy that we’re in good health and able to enjoy this among [our] family and friends, all the generations of campers and staff,” Pearl said.

“It’s the kind of business that we’re in where it’s a happy relationship between people. We’re doing the kinds of things that we love. Every day is a new adventure.”

In their 50 years at the camp, it has gone through some major changes.

“The changes I’ve seen over the years… have been tremendous. We’re a far more litigious society, communication has to be instant,” Pearl said.

“The way our health centres are set up now, we’re able to use computer systems for records. We have far more kids coming to camp today with medications. I find times have changed, and it’s a bit of a different ball game in terms of the wellness of kids coming to camp.”

Larry added: “However, the nice part is no matter what the changes are, [Camp Robin Hood has] always been a great place for kids to form friendships, to grow, to feel good about themselves, to experiment with different aspects and develop new skills.”

The camp has also been a breeding ground for many successful relationships and marriages.

“[You’re] dealing with like people with the same kinds of interests,” Larry said.

“Camp… has so many values that are attached to it in terms of their future and the things they learn from camping that they can use in every profession… All of those good things they’re looking for are connected with social interaction and nice people they’re with.

“The most interesting thing is the quality of the staff we’ve had over the years. They’ve been remarkable, and many of our staff who were with us at the beginning are still our good friends. It’s those relationships with those people that have been very special.”

They are both looking forward to the tribute dinner.

“I’m humbled by it, very honoured and hope I can remember most of these people,” Pearl said, laughing. “It’s quite a tribute.

“We’re very happy that they’re making this a happy event and connecting it with a charity that’s going to help children come to camp,” Larry said.

For more on Larry and Pearl’s story and for information on the February dinner, visit ­www.ourhandsarestrong.com.