Remembering “Captain” Kirk Clayton

Kirk Clayton Wilderness Institute

By Danny Klein, Tamarack’s Vice President and former Brighton camper and staff

Attending Tamarack affords the opportunity for impactful relationships to be formed at a very impressionable time of life.  For so many Tamarack alumni, having known “Captain” Kirk Clayton made them better people and left them with fond lifelong memories. Kirk passed away on February 19 fighting a battle with cancer with courage and optimism in a way that did not surprise anybody who knew him.

Kirk was a mainstay at Camp Tamarack-Brighton for most of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. He supervised the kitchen for many summers, served as a unit head and took out many Western teen trips including my own. I will never forget his instilling an appreciation for nature and helping me to develop self-confidence on our trip that helped shape me. Reconnecting with Kirk at a 2012 Brighton staff reunion brought joy to so many of us.

Kirk Clayton Brighton Reunion

Kirk with fellow Brighton alumni at the 2012 Brighton Reunion.

Camp friends shared many memories such as Kirk playing the blues on his harmonica, riding a ten speed bike at the big top show, or telling camp fire stories he boasted “would put a chill in your spine.”

“Working with Kirk was a joy,” said Barry Horvitz Batia, a Brighton alum who remembered Clayton as his mentor and friend. “He was straight out of 1969 – a laid-back, joyful, and principled human being who set the stage for all the years I worked at Tamarack afterwards. He encouraged me to participate in activities with kids and treated me like a younger brother.”

Former Brighton social worker Elaine Zaks said, “to me, Kirk was tall and green and innocent as the trees that sheltered and shaded us. Whenever he wasn’t working manically to put out hundreds of meals every day, he took the kids on nature walks to learn about trees; talked to our campers about essential interdependence of nature and human beings. He always reflected the place Tamarack came to occupy in so many of our hearts and minds.”

May Kirk’s memory be a blessing to all who were so fortunate to have known a camp legend with such a special soul.

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