Old News: Stokes Law, Order & Grub

This reprise was originally published on June 9, 2022 in honor of the usual end of May to early June Stokes trip. History has taken a turn and those sixth graders, still going to Stokes, are now going at the end of September. Here’s to looking back on the Stokes experience and how it was written about by former longtime Fair Havenite, Stokes parent and Red Bank Register editor, Art Kamin. Indulge in our experience of the Stokes past when it was a relatively new tradition …

When it comes to Fair Haven kids tripping to Stokes State Forest in the sixth grade, old news is always good news and mess hall time means bug juice and Sloppy Joes. And in 1974, it also meant the long arm of the Fair Haven law was cooking up the grub and keeping the kids in line … up.

Yes, back all those decades ago, one of the Stokes helpers was Louis DeVito, eventual police chief, but then lieutenant on the force. We know Bill Lang was in the kitchen cooking up some mischief and goulash, too. Stokes even made the paper back then. That’s because the editor of The Daily Register was Fair Havenite Art Kamin. His daughter, Brooke, was on that trip. So was he. Back then, such things were still newsworthy — the real sort of community journalism brand.

Besides, he thought Stokes was quite the height of hands-on outdoor educational experiences, so he wrote what he knew in a column about it in 1974 when he was there with Brooke’s class. And he knew way back then that Stokes would always be talked about. He was right.

“They’re still talking about Stokes here,” his lede said. “The memory, it seems, will linger on for month after month and year after year. It will transfer from class to class.” Right again. It’s 48 years later and it’s still something to talk about. The lingering? Well, Stokes is its own good ghost.

Kamin had also tripped to Stokes with his son, Blair, in 1969. For the article he did in ’74, though, Fair Havenites John (Jack) and Steve Croft took the photos. Yes, Fair Haven had its own little family of journalists. It still does. Ahem. And, this one is still talking about it.

We’ll get back to Kamin’s own Stokes parent experience at some point, like his misadventure doing the compass thing with the Pathfinder class and getting a gaggle of goofy sixth graders lost. That tidbit somehow didn’t make the column. Everyone did hear about it, though, from the lost kids, who just thought it was a great adventure — even though they were late for dinner.

Hey, Kamin had a way with words, not direction for sure. There was also a time when he drove a group of Girl Scouts to Camp Sacajawea and didn’t make it there until after nightfall. A bunch of giddy girls waiting thought that group had gotten abducted by aliens. They made up fireside stories about it to go with their before-lanterns-out S’mores. Then the leaders remembered Kamin was driving. And, hey, to be fair, let’s not forget that there were no GPS gadgets back then — just compasses, maps and bifocals.

If he were still alive, he’d be emailing me with an editorial note, for sure, probably about something innocuous like “Pathfinder wasn’t the actual name of the class, Elaine.” He knew the truth and may try to argue some of my semantics or proper names, but couldn’t deny a factual report from the most reliable of sources — a bunch of very frank sixth graders.

But we digress … back to those kids being late for dinner with a full plate of angst, giggles and anticipation. There was a long arm of the law in the kitchen, order outside of the mess hall — with the raising of the hands of the gathered to shut their yaps, stand at attention and get in line — and some popular grub being served up inside.

That grub, or a favorite of the kids’ anyway, was good ol’ Sloppy Joes — giant vats of it. Do kids these days even know what that is? It’s a mess of hamburger, some sort of tomato sauce and seasonings slopped onto a soft bun. No one really knows who Joe was, but the thing was very sloppy. To accompany the Joes, there was what we called bug juice. That would be Kool Aid — the green dye number 5 kind. And it was laced with what our parents thought was the healthy alternative of cancer-causing saccharine. Who remembers that? Oh, we clamored for the bad-for-you bug juice and the green tongue it gave us. Slurp.

Hey, this was the era of the frozen Swanson TV dinner being a very cool luxury. So, yes, Sloppy Joes were gourmet. There are faint memories of some fruit being served. Maybe. The Hamburger Helper variety of food and goulash were mostly what stood out, though. With Bill Lang commandeering the ’70s foodie menu, though, we know there was also some spaghetti and meatballs at some point. And the kids clamored for all it, putting Joe first on the popularity list, of course.

From the looks of the Stokes mess hall doings of more recent years, though, it seems as though meals have gone a healthier route. But, who knows, in another 50 years, the mess may be a neat pile of proper nutrition pills — at the Mars Stokes.

Still, there will probably be a Fair Haven on Mars for the Mars Stokes experience in another 50 years from now. After all, this kind of community experience is the kind that binds and transcends time and even galaxies. What became the Stokes tradition began in 1967. That was, indeed, a at least a couple of lifetimes ago — 55 years, to be exact.

As Kamin said, “Stokes in this municipality only means Stokes Forest in northern New Jersey.” Still true. “And Stokes Forest, to seven years of sixth graders, means much more than what has become a nationally recognized environmental project.”

Much more, indeed. For instance, the greatest of lessons learned from the Stokes experience, as described by Kamin, are “developed” rather than immediate. “Time has a way of making the Stokes experience more meaningful,” he said. Right again. They’re still talking about it, writing about it.

Why more meaningful with time? Well, it all goes back to the community family ideal. And ideal is what it was and is in Fair Haven. “After all, Stokes is a community effort and the 130 sixth graders who take part in it sense this early,” Kamin said. Yes, they do. And, for generations, it gives them something to talk about, to write about, to emulate.

Speaking of emulation … I will, with full humor, interject my own editorial note to Kamin that he couldn’t argue — and certainly can’t email about. He said that all the kids were 12. Not all, Art, including your son, Blair, who had turned 12 that summer of ’69. The copy editor missed that one. Some of those sixth graders had summer birthdays. I know. I share that summer birthday and some kid birthdays with Blair and the Kamins. Bobbing for apples comes to mind. Hmmmm. Just had to slip that note in. But, back to the community thing — as if it ever really veered.

This Fair Haven kid was a sixth grader at Stokes in 1972, and, again, in 1978 as an RFH camp counselor, dubbed CAT. We haven’t made it to the Stokes on Mars yet, but the “more meaningful” notion is ever evolving and expanding, starting with the mess hall mindset and bringing it all neatly back to community with a word spill. While most may have never gulped bug juice again, it will never be plain ol’ Kool Aid again, either.

And I’d bet just about every Fair Haven kid who ate in the Stokes mess hall has a hankering for Sloppy Joes or goulash to ease homesick pangs. And when the long arm of the law reaches out, some will remember the ladle at the end of the arm serving up the slop in the ’70s.

Now, raise your hand if you want to get back into that mess hall to gobble up a plate of community as it should be. I have a hankering. That would be Stokes Mars 2072 for me. Aha! Still ’72. See? They say that we come back to what our soul loves. See you at the Stokes Mars mess hall, kids. My hand is raised.