the walden story

Walden began as the ambitious plan of two young Detroit school teachers. Neal Schechter and Larry Stevens had worked at camps themselves for a number of years when they decided to go into business together. Purchasing a tract of 90 acres from camp’s longtime neighbor, Ed Slezak, the two set out to turn the property (then a tiny girls camp called Michekewa Lodge) into a summer camp that reflected their ideals: that kids thrive in nature and that, given the chance, even 7-year-olds can become more independent and self-confident during a few weeks away from home!

Detroit-area parents agreed enthusiastically, and Walden grew quickly from a few dozen campers and a smattering of buildings in the summer of 1960 into an annual eden for thousands of children throughout the Midwest. Larry and Neal expanded Michekewa’s original capacity and activity facilities tenfold, always heedful of protecting Walden’s breathtaking natural beauty.

Throughout the winter months, Larry and Neal would make house calls on prospective campers, their carousel of slides and bulky projector in tow. Many former campers can vividly recall the evening they sat with their parents, watching images of Walden cast onto a living room wall, as one or the other director narrated the show!

Larry and Neal remained partners until Neal’s retirement in 1991. At that point, Larry’s wife Ina, already an iconic camp figure, officially joined her husband as camp director until the couple’s retirement in 2008. Though Neal passed away in 2007 and Larry in 2016, their original vision continues to guide Walden. Every summer, we write a new chapter of the Walden story, mindful of our special history and looking eagerly toward the future.

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