›› It’s spring in Wisconsin, which
means the first caravans of arrivals will soon be pulling through the iron-gated entry to Camp Wandawega in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. They’re coming from Chicago, about 85 miles southeast; from Madison, about 60 miles west; and from Milwaukee, just next-door. Camp Wandawega is for families of all ages and backgrounds. But mostly, it’s for adults. “People come here to unplug and be inspired,” says Tereasa Surratt, who along with husband David Hernandez, owns the 93-year-old camp. “They canoe, swim, hurl hatchets, grill bratwurst, write novels, have beers by the fire, sing at the top of their lungs—whatever strikes them.” Adult fun was in fact Camp Wandawega’s original purpose when
it was built in 1925. Bootleggers and cavorting business men needed an escape from Chicago’s strict prohibition climate. They found one—and so much more—in this charming smattering of lodges and cabins tucked into 25 acres of lakeside woods. The tales of debauchery from those first 15 to 20 years live on today as the stuff of legend. By the time David Hernandez stayed there in the early 1970s, Wandawega had undergone a wholesome makeover and was thriving as a family-friendly Latvian-Catholic church camp. David loved his summers there, but as a grown adult he now longed to reinvent Camp Wandawega with a more sophisticated twist. “Less ladies-of-the-night, more late-night music and dancing,” he says.
After several years spent convincing Tereasa to join his cause, the husband and wife finally bought the property in 2003 and immediately began cleaning it up. A bit of painting, patching and repair was the extent of it; Tereasa and David wanted the spirit of the original cedar-lap siding cabins, with their stone hearths and knotty pine wainscoting, to remain intact. A creative director and professional stylist, Tereasa’s layering of vintage wool army blankets, 1940s barware and campy oddities was the final breath that revived the camp. Not everyone will get the chance to visit the real Wandawega. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to infuse the Wandawega-way into any campsite. March along as camp counselor Tereasa shares a few of her favorites.