Each summer, after Labor Day has passed and the tourists have gone home for the season, a group of people gather at the Kentville on the Ocean inn in Hampton, where they fit in a year’s worth of holidays in one week.
“On Tuesdays, we always have a Christmas party,” says Viv Dion. She’s one of the two dozen or so members who take part in Camp Anita, a five-day social outing that began as a UNH Cooperative Extension program nearly 90 years ago.
Camp Anita is a “fantastic experience,” according to Dion. Over the course of five days, participants gather for lunch, short outings, educational programs and activities in the Kentville’s lobby. “It’s about socialization, camaraderie, education, and a feeling of self-worth,” Dion adds. “A lot of the people who participate are retired and don’t get out a lot, and the interaction is really fantastic with these ladies.”
Camp Anita is named for Anita Babb, who worked as an Extension agent in Rockingham County from 1934 to 1943. Babb started the weeklong getaway in 1931 (it was initially known as Camp Rippling Laughter) as a way for the women of New Hampshire’s farm families to take a much-needed break from running farms, raising children and other responsibilities after the busy harvest season.
"It’s about socialization, camaraderie, education, and a feeling of self-worth"
The first year saw 93 women from across the state gather at Hampton Beach for a seaside vacation. Women and families formed bonds at the camp, and the event became a tradition across generations. Dion is a second-generation camper; her mother attended Camp Anita a few days each year, she says, adding that many other women also learned about the camp from their mothers.
In the 87 years since it began, Camp Anita has transformed from a getaway for farming women into a cross-generational gathering. Men have been welcomed at the camp for a number of years, according to Dion. “Several men attend the retreat, and their resourcefulness and life experiences add to the wonderful Camp Anita experience,” she says.
The camp has not been a part of UNH Cooperative Extension’s programming for many years. However, Camp Anita organizers keep the Extension connection alive by inviting Extension educators to speak at each year’s event.
Extension specialist Rick Alleva has been presenting short workshops on topics such as mindfulness, gentle yoga, aging and others at Camp Anita since 2012. “It’s a very positive thing, and it’s good to keep this energy and the connection between Camp Anita and Extension alive,” he says. “It’s good to see how vibrant the group is.”
A week at Camp Anita includes everything from holiday parties and ice cream outings to game nights and pajama parties. The itinerary is informal — participants can come for one day or all five, and don’t need to stay at the inn — but the friendships are strong.
“It’s so nice meeting everyone, and it’s a lot of relaxing, low-key fun,” says Nancy Taylor, a long-time participant. As part of the event, participants also contribute to the Williamson-Babb Memorial Scholarship, which awards small tuition scholarships to students studying nutrition, early childhood education and other subjects, Taylor says.
Dion says she looks forward to Camp Anita each summer. “It’s outside the norm and stress of everyday life,” she says. “Imagine what it was like for those women farmers, preserving things for winter, taking care of children, helping their husbands with the farm. Now, it’s totally different, but … it’s still watching out for the emotional and social well-being of its members.”