Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Father David Ambuske

The Camp Good Days and Special Times’ family lost a very dear and special friend today – Father David Ambuske – who has been a part of our family and my life since my daughter Teddi’s diagnosis with a malignant brain tumor 33 years ago.

No family is ever prepared to deal with the loss of a child, but when Teddi, as most nine-year-olds would do, started talking about and asking questions about what heaven was like and what was it like to die, it was a little beyond my abilities to answer those questions. At the time, David was the Executive Director of the Monroe County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and was an advocate for children in Family Court and knew my first wife. She thought that he would be the perfect person to talk with Teddi and to his credit he took the time out of his busy schedule a few times a week to come over to our house and help her deal with those difficult questions regarding faith.

I liked David from the moment I met him. He was ordained as a Catholic Priest and also had his MSW from Fordham University. He left the priesthood, but when he realized how much he missed that special calling he became an Anglican Priest and opened a small church in Webster, but his job and passion were always young people.

After spending time with Father Dave, Teddi decided that she wanted to be baptized and Father Dave baptized her. When Teddi died in February 1982, which was a very difficult year, Father Dave officiated at her funeral. That summer, of the original 63 campers, 28 had lost their battle to cancer, including Teddi. At that time, we had no offices, we had no staff members – everyone was a volunteer - and we were still utilizing Camp Eagle Cove, a private boys and girls camp, in Inlet, New York in the central part of the Adirondack Mountains. When we arrived for the start of camp that summer, there was a big cloud that hung over all of us, as volunteers were looking for the campers they had befriended previously, only to find out that they had lost their battle with cancer, and our campers from Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse were looking for the friends they had made, only to find out that they had lost their battle with cancer.

One of the young ladies who was volunteering that summer at camp came up to me and said, Mr. Mervis we need to do something, we can’t pretend that these children didn’t exist. I told her that she didn’t need to tell me, as one of those children was Teddi. When I asked what she thought we should do, she said we should have a memorial service. Again, this was a little bit beyond my capabilities, so I called Father Dave who was in Downtown Rochester and told him I needed a favor. I explained what was happening and again to his credit he left work, got in his car, and drove all the way to Camp Eagle Cove. When he arrived, we gathered everyone together and had a memorial service. As soon as Father Dave completed the service it was as if everyone felt they had been granted permission to have fun and enjoy the good days and special times that we had planned for them.

This service became a tradition and a part of our culture here at Camp Good Days and to this day, on the opening evening of each session of camp, we hold an optional memorial service at the beautiful and peaceful Outdoor Chapel at our own Recreational Facility on Keuka Lake. Father Dave never let us down, continuing to conduct these services each week, throughout the summer.

Over the years, I have watched this kind, gentle, and caring man officiate at the funerals of our campers and volunteers and seen him marry volunteers, baptize children of volunteers, and provide the blessing and invocation at so many Camp Good Days’ functions and special events. Father Dave married my children, baptized my grandchildren, and even married my current wife, Wendy and I some 16 years ago.

Over the years, Camp Good Days has served more than 43,000 campers from 22 states and 27 foreign countries and Father Dave was the spiritual advisor to Camp Good Days. We never could have become the organization that we are today if it were not for his willingness to always be there, sharing his skills as a clergyman and social worker.

The loss of Father Dave will be a huge void, one that will be very difficult, if not impossible to fill. I am so deeply saddened and my heart is broken, especially as it is so close to Christmas, but I take comfort in knowing that the memories I have of David and the example he always set of kindness and compassion will remain with me forever. Father Dave walked the walk and he did God’s work here on earth. All of us whose lives he touched will be forever grateful for having had the blessing of knowing him.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Update & Happy Holidays!

I apologize for the delay in updating my blog, but it has been quite hectic here at Camp Good Days the past few weeks!

At the beginning of this month, we marked the one year anniversary of announcing and launching CANCER MISSION 2020…THE END OF CANCER BY THE END OF THE DECADE. We have worked very hard over the past year to move this initiative forward and we have made some real progress. We now have a one-year report compiled, which has been shared with all those who have joined us in this effort through signing the CANCER MISSION 2020 Petition and / or attending one of the three Congressional District Cancer Summits that we held in August. In order to obtain a copy of this report, we only ask that you visit and join us by signing the CANCER MISSION 2020 Petition.

As I have shared with all of you, CANCER MISSION 2020 is being built upon three key components – INFORMATION – CALL TO ACTION – ACCOUNTABILITY – and we will continue with the Information and Call to Action components during 2012. We met in early November with representatives from Congressman Tom Reed’s Office, Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle’s Office, Congressman Richard Hanna’s Office and Congresswoman Kathy Hochul’s Office, as a follow-up to the CANCER MISSION 2020 Congressional District Cancer Summits and to review the valuable input that came out of the Cancer Summits and determine which recommendations we would move forward with as legislative items that will be introduced into Congress. Congressman Reed and his staff are currently working on drafting the legislation, as a direct result of the Cancer Summits, which will be reviewed by and co-sponsored by Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Congressman Richard Hanna and Congresswoman Kathy Hochul and introduced into Congress, hopefully by Valentine’s Day.

One of the good things that has come out of CANCER MISSION 2020 is that representatives from both sides of the aisle – Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, new and seasoned veterans have all come together, showing that our government can work in a non-partisan way and that some issues, like cancer, have no room for partisan politics. We will be sure to keep everyone informed about the introduction of this important legislation as we move forward.

We are also in the process of making some changes and updates to the CANCER MISSION 2020 website,, so be sure to keep coming back and checking it out and sharing it with those you know.

It is amazing to think that we are less than two weeks away from Christmas and the end of our Annual Joe Benet Memorial Kazoo Fest. But there is still time for you to stop by and visit one of our Kazoo Fest locations at the mall entrance to JC Penney at Marketplace Mall, Greece Ridge Center Mall, and Eastview Mall, as well as at the Walden Galleria Mall in Buffalo, Carousel Center Mall in Syracuse, and The Shops at Ithaca. You can pick up some last minute gifts and stocking stuffers, get some information about our programs and services and volunteer opportunities, and know that you are helping to provide some good days and special times to the children and families at Camp Good Days.

In the Rochester area, we will once again Kazoo in the New Year as part of the City of Rochester’s New Year’s Celebrations at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center and at the Rochester RazorSharks Basketball Game at the Blue Cross Arena. If you would like to Kazoo in the New Year with us, please contact us at 585-624-5555.

Last Tuesday evening we hosted the Holiday Night to Remember, here in the Mendon Office, which was created in 2007 and is an opportunity for a small group of campers, families and special friends who have been facing an extraordinarily difficult time over the past year to come together and have an evening that celebrates them and the holiday season and helps to generate some beautiful memories. The Holiday Night to Remember also provides the staff members at Camp Good Days a unique and more personal way to help make the Holiday Season a little bit more special for these families. Everyone has the chance to take a moment away from the hustle and bustle and truly appreciate what the holiday season is all about. Everyone had a wonderful evening together and we want to extend our sincere thanks and gratitude to the employees who work in distribution and logistics at Wal-Mart in Marcy, New York, as they not only provide all the gifts for the children and family members but also join us for the evening, helping to serve dinner.

We had our last Project Exile Advisory Board Meeting of 2011 last Thursday and I was pleased to be able to present a plaque of recognition and appreciation to Mike Green who is the out-going Monroe County District Attorney and current nominee for US District Court Judge and to Doug Randall, former Assistant District Attorney and recently elected Monroe County Court Judge. Both Mike and Doug have been ardent supporters of and key partners with Project Exile and Project T.I.P.S. They will both be missed as part of the Project Exile Advisory Board but we all wish them the very best and know they will be successful in their new positions and will continue to make a difference in our community.

Yesterday afternoon we had a Board of Director’s Meeting. It was nice to see some of the Board Members during this Holiday Season and we look forward to a productive and active Board of Directors in the coming year.

As many of you know, my other love is serving as an Assistant Coach with the St. John Fisher College Football Team. This was one of those rare years where we as coaches take a step back and let the kids have a good time and play the game. I don’t think that any of us thought that we would be playing December football, in the Division III Playoffs, when we started camp back in August. It has been great to see this team make it all the way to the Elite Eight, out of 238 Division III football teams. Our magical season came to an end with a loss to the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. For those interested, the Division III Championship Game will be played this Saturday and will feature the same two teams that have competed in the Stagg Bowl for a number of years.

As this year comes to a close and we look forward to 2012, please take a few moments to be thankful for the many blessings in your life, and remember the children and families at Camp Good Days. If you have had a prosperous year, please consider a donation to Camp Good Days as you make your year-end gifts. It is only through the generosity of so many that we are able to continue providing our programs and services free of charge for the many children and families whose lives have been touched by cancer.

I would also ask that you remember and give thanks for the many men and women in uniform who will not be able to spend the holidays with their families because they are helping to protect the freedom we hold so dear in this wonderful country of ours!

Wishing you all a beautiful and joyous Holiday Season and a New Year filled with good health, peace, happiness and much love!