Camp History

It all started when Bruce Mitchell showed up at EWU as a brand new assistant professor of education.  He had just finished his doctoral dissertation which was an experimental research study of creativity factors among elementary school students in Goleta, California.

He became interested in creative thinking development as a result of the splendid work of Dr. E. Paul Torrance, Professor Emeritus from the University of Georgia. Torrance had created a written test of creative thinking which Mitchell used in his doctoral dissertation in the Goleta, California elementary schools.

About forty years ago, Torrance started a summer program for creativity development in Athens, Georgia. That gave Mitchell an idea. He’d do the same thing at EWU. He decided to work with a public school partner, in this case a curriculum director from an Eastern Washington school district. About 25 upper-elementary students signed up. The goal was to improve the fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration of these young students. These were the four behavioral elements in Torrance’s creative thinking model.

After several summers, Mike Cantlon heard about the program which eventually was moved to the Metropolitan Theatre in Spokane, Washington. We held forth on the very same stage that Bing Crosby used in his initial days of entertainment before he made the San Fernando Valley his home!

The theme was, “Creative ideas for the improvement of a small urban city.” So the students took many observation walks which motivated discussions of poverty problems, various issues pertaining to the Spokane River which flowed right through the heart of the city, and numerous other problems which must be addressed by all of the nation’s small cities.

And then it happened. The program was for upper elementary youth. When they became too old to continue, the question was “Now What?” Do you have another program for us? Not surprisingly, many of the parents echoed that same sentiment. And that question led to the creation of a summer week-long camp which became known as Satori.

The word Satori is one of those culturally-specific words which appear in virtually all of the world’s languages. For example, the German word zeitgeist means “in the spirit of the times.” It’s a way of explaining something in terms of an historical condition. Throughout Japanese history, education has been held in high esteem for many centuries. In fact, if one is a sensei (teacher), you are right up there with the elite Japanese scholars.

In the Japanese language, the word satori means a unique idea. But you don’t get these unique ideas by just sitting around. You have to do the “grunt work” first. Then, if you’re lucky you might have a satori. The term is closely related to Zen Buddhism and stresses the exploration of new ideas in various intellectual endeavors. It would be the type of summer program which would appeal to young critical/creative thinkers. It would be a week-long learning/living experience in a university environment, where students could take classes and get a sample of college life.

Many of our ideas were inspired by Professor E. Paul Torrance who authored Search for Satori and Creativity. Among Torrance’s many honors were his receipt of scholarly awards from the University of Georgia, the National Association for Gifted Children, Phi Delta Kappa and the United States Congressional Advisory Board.

Cantlon and Mitchell planned it out over a steak dinner overlooking the Spokane Falls. And by the time dinner was over they had outlined a week-long summer school program for middle and high school students. They would three three two-hour classes on a variety of topics. They would sleep in the dorms and eat their meals in the University Commons.

Since Eastern Washington University sponsors a number of summer camps, we utilized the existing camp organization system to acquire dorm space and needed sites for the classes. Eastern Washington University was quite generous in letting us experiment for the first year of operation. We wanted to create a cerebral week-long learning opportunity in order for the campers to originate and nurture intellectual ideas through their week-long involvement in academic areas.

Our initial year (1983) was an experiment. We had decided to try out this new concept and have some fun for a year or two. We wanted to take advantage of the University’s existing series of summer camps for athletes and cheer leaders. But instead of offering traditional classes, we wanted to provide opportunities for students to become actively involved in a challenging learning environment which facilitated the acquisition of higher-level thinking and problem-solving skills.

Since our participants were mostly teenagers we knew how important the recreational periods were. And from 3:30 to 5:00 the campers could play racquetball, learn fencing or karate, and even play volleyball or basketball. Some campers also swam in EWU’s Olympic-size pool. Water basketball was available as well.

After dinner in Tawanka Commons was over the Satori campers got together for an evening meeting before being herded to the center of the campus for a rousing game of Capture the Flag. An old game, often played in camps of various types, it requires a team to invade enemy territory without losing their flag and running back to the other side. All of the participants have two flags on a belt. They’re the same flags utilized in the university’s intramural flag football games and cheerfully loaned to us through the generosity of Mike Campitelli, director of EWU”s Intramural programs. And the ultimate goal was to capture the enemy flag and run it back to their own territory without getting caught.

Then, back to the dorms for a good night’s rest. Of course, teenagers being teenagers, it took some doing for the counselors and co/directors to get everyone in their rooms and enforce lights out. Mitchell and Cantlon conducted a bed check to make sure that everyone was all tucked in.

Since 1983 was so much fun, we looked toward the next summer with eager anticipation. We created brochures which were sent to most of the middle school and high school counselors in the Pacific Northwest. In analyzing our results we decided the first Satori Camp was successful enough to try again.

The second camp in 1984 was even more successful and we had 45 campers, mostly from the northwestern states. We had Dr. Sydney Kasuga, Professor of Biology/Health Science, teaching for his second year and he’s been with us for all 31 years. Another thing that has been responsible for the Satori camp’s success over the years has been the loyalty of other instructors, counselors, and the campers, themselves.

Camper Roxanne McPeck, from Spokane’s Central Valley High School, provides us with an account of Satori Camp in her article which appeared in a 2001 article in the Spokesman Review. These are some of her thoughts about Camp Satori:

“Who am I? What’s out there for me? Where do I fit in?” Many teenagers ask these questions on a regular basis and find few places to turn. Gifted teens (those with unique learning skills) often bear an even heavier load.

The nerd in math class never misses a problem. A lonely girl writes her own songs. A guy down the street tells jokes that nobody understands. Alone and frustrated, it’s hard to fit in when people don’t understand you.

A man named Mike Cantlon and a family of smiling, accepting people are trying to change that. They run Satori, a weeklong camp each July on the Eastern Washington University campus. Friends Mike Cantlon and Bruce Mitchell started Satori 18 years ago. It blossomed with a network of participants from as close as Cheney and as far away as Japan.

Just a few weeks ago I returned home from my fourth Satori . Campers can attend after their sixth-grade year, but I didn’t go until after the eighth grade when a friend persuaded me to accompany her, Four year later, I’m looking forward to my senior year and back on how Satori has affected me and my family. My brother, Zach, just finished his second session. With access to some of EWU’s finest facilities and classes taught by high school teachers and passionate Satori alumni, participants get chances they’d never get in public or private schools.

Classes are relaxed and informal. Discussions and hands-on participation are inevitable, and every class has an equal number of lessons and laughs! Another outstanding feature is the variety of courses. Over the years I’ve taken classes on murder trials, microbiology, acting and improvisation, karate, dance, philosophy, life in the medieval ages, and the Infamous Satori Herald. The Herald is the official camp newspaper. It is supervised by instructors who have a background in news writing.

People like me keep coming back year after year. Satori is the most accepting place on earth. It’s just one of the many things that keep people like me coming back year after year.”

During the thirty years of operation, Camp Satori has gone through many changes in classes, personnel, and the various camp festivities. One of the camp’s most popular wrinkles was the Medieval Feast. Campers, Counselors, and others connected to the Satori camp, created medieval costumes and came to Tawanka Commons to enjoy a medieval dinner, complete with medieval entertainment. Director Mike Cantlon dressed up like a king, complete with crown and robe. He brought his wife along who was dressed up like his queen.

During one of the early medieval feasts, a queen from another country showed up at the feast. She walked up to Mike and planted a ruby-red smooch on his surprised face. Lo and behold, the “guest” turned out to be Tom Lyons, one of the camp counselors and a recreation director, with his cohort, Bruce Mitchell.

One of the strong features of the Satori camps has been their location at Eastern Washington University. The university is one of Washington State’s fine institutions of higher education. The others are Washington State University, University of Washington, Evergreen College, Central Washington University, and Western Washington University.

As time went on, the camp continued growing. By our fifteenth anniversary in 1998, we had hosted campers from the Pacific Northwest, most of the other fifty U.S. states, British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, Japan and South Africa. The tuition fees for the camp rose to $650.00 for the week by 2010.

One of the characteristics of high-performing American school children is that they tend to come from rather “well-to-do” families. So a program of scholarships has been developed for high-performing middle and high school students from low-income families. We intend to maintain this program for as long as the camp is in operation. It is funded through a special foundation account. We have provided scholarships to students on Native American reservations and low-income neighborhoods.

When bright, motivated, energetic teenagers get together, interesting things begin to happen. Since the campers get ready for home on Saturday, it was decided to have a farewell dance on Friday evening. They were held in the Pence Union Building (aka The Pub.) A disc jockey brought danceable tunes and the young campers enjoyed themselves.

Early in the camp’s history, it was decided that we should try a live band. Drummer Jeff Mitchell (EWU alum and Bruce Mitchell’s son) headed up a five-piece group which played for the campers’dancing pleasure. He recalls receiving $75.00 for their efforts and they split it up five ways.

During the ninth year of Satori, 96 campers participated. They came from 22 Washington cities on both sides of the mountains; five Oregon cities, 15 Canadian cities, four Idaho cities, one Maine city and two Montana cities.

The courses that year were Human Anatomy, taught by EWU’s Sid Kasuga, Creativity with a Flair, taught by professional artist KATHY Hubbard, Creative Photography, taught by Mike Holland, Parapsychology, taught by Dr. Todd Russell, The Creative American Music Machine, taught by EWU’s Martin Zyskowski, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, taught by EWU Graduate Student Bill Graham, and Modern Law Enforcement taught by Richard Jorgenson.

But that’s not all! Other courses included Software Simulation of Robot Programming by EWU professor Mark Ellis, Hypnosis for Personal Growth, by Cal State Stanislaus professor Dr.Todd Russell, Doing Drama by EWU Professor Robert Gariepy, How to Write so Funny You’ll Make Yourself Sick by newspaper columnist Doug Clark,Take a Closer Look: You and Your Environment by EWU Prof, Dr. Sid Kasuga and North Central H.S Teacher Randy James and Numbers, Patterns, Problems and Puzzles by EWU Professor Jack Swan.

Finally we find: All About Aeronautics taught by FAA Instructor Mike Holland, Creative Sculpture by Kathy Hubbard, Water Safari Field Hydrology by EWU Graduate Geology Student Bill Graham, Perspectives of Engineering by Newport H.S. Instructor William Gee, Backyard Astronomy by EWU Astronomy Instructor Judy Litton, The Exploration and Discovery of Self by Cal State Stanislaus Associate Professor, Dr. Todd Russell and Japanese: an Introduction by EWU Instructor Manabu Yasuda.

In addition to the excellent classes, our camp’s recreation programs provided another successful ingredient. Afternoon recreation occurred from 3:30 to five p.m. except for Monday when campers and counselors posed for their camp pictures.

One of the excellent facilities on the EWU campus was the climbing rock. This was constructed next to the “Phase” which became a nickname for EWU’s recreation facility. The rock was created so that every possible climbing situation was incorporated in this unique facility. And it was the perfect setting for our camp pictures.

In addition to the climbing rock, the “Phase” contained an indoor track, an Olympic size swimming pool deep enough for high diving and SCUBA classes. There are racquetball courts and a “Wollyball” court as well. (As the name implies, that game has many of the elements of volleyball as well as the walls and ceiling!)

Upstairs are two basketball courts for P.E. and recreational use. But all of the aforementioned “Phase” facilities constitute half of this incredible recreational facility. The other side contains EWU’s basketball pavilion, bleachers on both sides, and dressing room accommodations for the EWU home team and visitors alike.

Finally, this remarkable facility has an equipment checkout area, a training area, a weight room workout area, and the Intramural sports office directed by Mike Campitelli. He’s the gentleman who loans us the equipment for our Capture the Flag games. During the school year he’s in charge of EWU’s intramural programs.

During this recreation period we’ve been lucky enough to have classes in Karate (taught by Bruce McDavis, professional karate instructor). Counselor Tom Lyons has throughout the years provided excellent coaching at the racquetball courts. His wife, Jackie, has supervised the weight room.

Another part of the Satori Camp has been our camp newspaper, the Satori Herald. Here’s an interesting interview conducted by Satori Reporter, Joe Wecker in 2005. It’s about a Satori mascot named Bob. Bob was a plastic fern that adopted human qualities.

Satori Herald: “So….Bob, where did you first enter Satori?”

Bob, the Plant: “I was rescued from a dumpster by some guys who wanted to use me in a skit plot.”

S.H.: “And in this skit, what did you do?

B.P. “I just sat there and was worshiped. That was probably the best moment of my life.”

S.H. “So, after that what happened?”

B.P. “Nothing much. I was named ‘Satori Mascot.”

S.H. “And after that, what happened?”

B.P. “NO! Of course not….you bad reporter!”

S.H. “So a year or so later, I heard somebody actually took you as a dance partner! Do you want to comment on this?”

B.P. “Yes, I do. That person was a very bad dancer. And I’m offended by your use of the word ‘actually.’ ”

S.H. “Oh, sorry.”

B.P. “You’d better be.”

S.H. “Okay then…have you ever fallen in love?”

B.P. “Never! The whole idea is preposterous,”

S.H. “What about Bobette?”

B.P. “Bobette? What about her? Anyways, I’m afraid you’ve made me late for my 3:00 goodbye.”

S.H. “But how can you be late? It’s only 1:15.”

B.P. “Leave the room before I have you thrown out of here!”

S.H. “But I’m not done yet!”


S.H. “Very well, we’ll continue this interview tomorrow!”


And then, in the same summer of Satori (2005), another article appeared in The Satori Herold. It was titled, Get that Flag! It related to the camps’ opening recreational activity. Katie Berfield’s article went like this:

“Rush! Rush! Ruuuuuuush! was the cry from the Red Team as they jumped up and down in the jail. Why “rush”? They had run onto the field just a few minutes ago , using a mixture of diversions and Matt Perry’s red shirt to free their team members and move the flag up the field a bit. This was just one of the many strange things that happened in last night’s traditional Capture the Flag games.

The first match wasn’t particularly long, as Red was flattened by Green within a half hour. As Andy, of Green team put it, Do you know why we’re going to win? We’ve got yellow flag belts and yellow starts with ‘Y. And ‘y’ is for Winners!

Red’s flag in the initial loss in the game was attributed to their utter lack of strategy, and to not have a trained monkey on their team. Okay, so they spotted their flag on their way to jail, but there were too few people on their side and none of their teammates could afford to dash for it. “We just kind of ran for the flag in the beginning. It was fun, but stupid, said a second=year camper who wished to remain anonymous!

In the second game, clever strategies abounded on both sides. Although Red now had a better chance, they were still stuck in jail for much of the game. This resulted in bizarre sing-alongs and bizarre plans of escape. Second year camper, Keara Haley, was desperate. “Hey, if I pretend to pay you ten bucks, can you let me out?” she said, sporting a leaf on her forehead. Another plan was to run naked down the field as a distraction, while still another was to tunnel their way out with spoons, a device to gain female sympathy, overpower the guards, and head for the road. The latter was abandoned due to a lack of spoons. The aforementioned sing-alongs were described as “very interesting” by both sides. Kumbaya, Somewhere Over the Rainbow and We Shall Overcome were but a few of the heartfelt laments.

A horrible injury afflicted one camper during the games. Bryan Berry fell down and hurt his foot. However, he recovered enough to shamelessly use his injury to gain female sympathy.

Several things were different this year. For one thing, the sprinklers didn’t go off, much to the dismay of some campers who see this as a sign of bad times to come. Also, the addition of “neutral territory” in this game motivated a number of interesting questions. One of the questions was “if the lamp posts are on the brick pathway, do they count as “neutral?” Or, “because they’re sticking out of the line can I get tagged and forced to go to the jail?” The verdict: they’re in play. Watch out!”

The games wore on. And so passes another week of Satori. The end of the week fast approaches and tension is mounting as skit night nears. This was an unusually clean and fair game and we’ll have to pick up the slack somewhere.”

And then, there’s the annual skit night as reported by Sam Hanks in an ’05 Satori Herold.

“This eccentric cast of characters was just some of the some of the Satori magic on our annual Skit Night. Assembling in the PUB for the evening’s activity, many first-year campers had no idea of the wonders which were in store for them. A strange assortment or props, from an orange tutu to a new rubber chicken , they spread out to plan for 30 minutes.

The resulting skits were some of the best I’ve seen. Although I’m sure a few people were disappointed by the lack of cross-dressing males, these same people were pacified by the twisted drama of ‘Satori O.C.’ Some familiar themes appeared with Coan McComas reprising the role of his brother, Random, as Satan. Death in skits, a frequent skit concern during the past few years, occurred and was quickly covered up.

In the same Satori Herald issue was an article written by Chynna Freshour titled Musical Genius Rocks Camp.

Last night may have been the most exhilarating and uplifting experience of my entire life. I’m talking about Zack Cleary, Clay Elliot and Nate Fitzpatrick’s impromptu jam session. It was so much more than that to me and others in attendance, however.

They played three songs with the extremely talented Nate improvising the lyrics. Clay, amazing as he is, was very concentrated and made the most fascinating face as he played. Zack was just plain cool with his rockin’ bass solos.

The first song was about Nate’s adventures in Ireland. It brought simultaneous tears of joy and sorrow to all. His poignant rendition softened even the hardest of hearts. Next, he sang the most educational song about dorm life and how it relates to Satori.

The third and final song was about Lily Crytser’s hot pink socks. The song was about love and dedication to the Mariners and to each other. Nate sang with sweet clarity. His tone and pitch were pure and perfect. When he hit the high c in his second song, my spirit was lifted to heaven. I was not the only one who felt this way, however.

According to Sam Hanks there was a group of first year boys who were standing just outside the door in complete awe. In conclusion, Nate’s amazing voice changed my life. Good things have such adoring fans.

One adoring fan of the Satori experience was Stephan James, a student of Jeff Mitchell (son of the co-founder/co-director Bruce Mitchell and a middle-school teacher in Palmdale, California). The EWU President was interested in learning more about Satori. So a group of students were chosen to form a panel of Satori campers, in order to answer his questions about the camp.

The president’s first question was about why these students wanted to come to the camp. He asked Stephan that question. His answer was: “I looked all over California for a summer writing program. I want to be a writer. And there was no writing program as good as Doug Clark’s at Camp Satori in Cheney, Washington.

And an interesting article appeared in the Spokesman-Review. It was penned by staff writer, Kristen Kromer.

“Fresh from a few minutes of hand-to-hand combat in super slow motion, Michaela Alden rushes over to talk about her third year at Satori. Her dark eyes brighten as she tries to describe what it is about this weeklong came for gifted students that keeps her coming back.

“Clearly, it’s like the goofy spontaneity of the Acting Like a Fool class. There’s a collective philosophy. Satori is about the search for oneself—to open up to new ideas,” Alden said.

“There are other camps for academics and athletics, but the people who come here, we have our giftedness in common.” “We know it’s a gift and a curse. We come here because we automatically understand each other.”

Co-Director/Co-Founder Mike Cantlon understands it too. “They’re a bunch of like-minded kids. They’re pretty weird. They’re ridiculed for ruining the curve.”

Cantlon can say that because he was one of those weird kids too. “I had no friends for a long time,” said Cantlon, who teaches at Spokane’s Odyssey Center for gifted students during the school year. “I didn’t think like other kids.”

Cantlon and Mitchell started Satori, in July, 1983 at Eastern Washington University, during a time when there were also a number of athletics and cheerleader camps but nothing for youth who harbored an intense passion for academics.

“Kids come here and find a place they can call ‘home,’Cantlon said, noting that some campers have even acquired tattoos depicting the Japanese character for ‘Satori.’

Satori is a culturally specific term for “enlightenment.” It’s a sudden spark like the English “aha.” But the only way to acquire Satoris is to do the heavy lifting first. This requires all sorts of data gathering through observation, reading, analyzing, and organizing. Then if you’re lucky, a satori may come your way!

Although the camp is geared for academically-talented middle school and high school students, no entry exams or grade point averages are required for registration.

It would be totally unfair to list the graduates of various Satori camps who have become Satori Camp counselors and instructors. Some have acquired doctorate degrees in major universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

In summary, it’s been an exciting ride. As one might expect, there have been bumps in the road but Satori has always prevailed. While we thought it would be fun to try for a year or two, never in our wildest dreams did we ever imagine that we’d be celebrating a thirty year anniversary (at the time of the article).

We’ve had remarkable instructors, counselors, and of course, Eastern Washington University itself. From this institution we received a high level of support and encouragement. For this, we’ll always be grateful. And if any of us are still around for a fifty year reunion, perhaps this can become our legacy to good old EWU!