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Long Beach State 49er Camp: Making Kids Happy

By John Grossi

Photo by Monique Kuhlman


Sometimes, the most soft-spoken people leave the loudest memories.

“Keep Making Kids Happy,” Bob Wuesthoff would tell his camp counselors every summer for decades, “Our job is to make kids happy.”


A simple message that has helped transform the lives of Long Beach’s youth for 60 years and counting.


WUESTHOFF’S LEGACY

Bob Wuesthoff may have been a quiet man, but he was a big presence and very well-known in Long Beach. Many old-timers will remember him by name. After all, he’s in the Long Beach State Hall of Fame for leading the baseball team (before they were known as the Dirtbags) to a winning record for five straight years from 1964-1969. He then remained active in both the Athletics and Kinesiology departments at Long Beach State for decades.


But Wuesthoff’s legacy goes way beyond baseball, and even if you don’t know him by name, you likely know of his true legacy, 49er Camp. Even more likely, you know one of the many people in this community who embody the values he instilled in them.



Long Beach State 49er Camp is a summertime staple. Many parents know either the joy of securing their child a spot in the yearly camp, or the agony of just missing it. Maybe they’ve felt both. The camp has grown exponentially since Wuesthoff founded it in 1963, yet its undying popularity leads to a sellout almost instantly each summer. For two four-week sessions during the school summer break, hundreds of youth are dropped off at the Long Beach State campus to learn, play, and experiment with all kinds of sports while under the supervision of future and current coaches and teachers– many of whom are connected with the Kinesiology Department at CSULB.

Long Beach State certainly isn’t the only college to host a summer sports camp. In fact, 49er Camp isn’t even the only sports camp hosted by Long Beach State each summer! Yet there is something different about 49er Camp. It’s special, in such a quintessentially Long Beach way. Long Beach 49er Camp is special because of local people, who never stop sacrificing their time—each and every summer—to continue the tradition of making the camp mean, for new campers, everything it’s ever meant to them.

THE TEAM

Marvin Manzanares, George Hulbert, Krista Spina, and Christopher Flores are four unsung heroes in our community. Thousands of locals who have attended 49er Camp over the past 30 years (not to mention the parents, other counselors, coaches and staff) can tell you of the sacrifices they each have made to carry on Bob’s legacy of making 49er Camp special.


Today’s campers know these four as the admin team. Christopher is the new Director of the camp, Marvin has been an Assistant Director for 21 years, Krista is the Swim Coordinator (swimming is the one activity that every camper does every day), and George is the utility man serving as not only admin, but mentor, fill-in coach, and more. For eight weeks of summer, these four individuals are the head-of-show. Leading the camp the only way they know how… the way Bob taught them. All four have worked (either on and off, or continuously), for at least 30 summers at 49er Camp.


“It’s not just us. There’s Rick Hayes who ran the camp for years with Bob and then took over as Director when Bob retired,” George is quick to note. “And tons of others who, like us, have dedicated years and years to carrying on the legacy of this camp.”

But as of today, it is these four who still answer the call to carry on Wuesthoff’s tradition. Marvin and Christopher leave their day jobs (as teachers) during the spring semester of each year, only to work long hours hiring and planning for the upcoming summer camp. Krista (a teacher at CSULB) helps spread the word around campus to potential new counselors, and George (a teacher at Stanford Middle School), the utility man that he is, helps with marketing, mentoring, and any other admin tasks that come his way.

WHAT IT MEANS TO THEM

Each has their own reason for why they have never stopped sacrificing their summers for Long Beach’s youth.

For Christopher, it’s to carry on the tradition of camp and what it means to Long Beach. “Everywhere you go, you see someone wearing a “Long Beach State 49er” Camp T-shirt. This camp means a lot to Long Beach and I want to make sure we carry on that tradition in the right way.”

For Marvin, a big part of his sacrifice is seeing the camp counselors grow into responsible adults. For years, he and Christopher have teamed to put together many fun after-camp activities that help create a bond among their younger staff, including the annual golf tournament, volleyball days, surfing, margarita Mondays, bowling nights, and the list goes on. He realized the true impact the camp has on its counselors when he saw his own kids become counselors years after they attended the camp. “Watching my son and daughter work camp and handle problems that came their way like veterans… I’ve never been so proud.”

49er Camp touches George’s heart in a special way. He grew up in Long Beach and attended the camp as a kid. In his first day of class in the kinesiology program at Long Beach State, Dirtbag coaching legend, Coach Gonsalves, was his teacher. And get this… he remembered George from when he [Coach Gonsalves] was a camp counselor and George was a camper!

George went on to become a counselor and eventually even met his wife at camp, who was working at the camp as an office assistant. “To me, this camp is family. If you work at this camp, if you’ve attended this camp, or even if you’re a parent at the camp, I consider you part of the 49er Camp family,” says George.


Krista loves the way 49er Camp teaches life lessons to young campers, all while showcasing so many different sports in which they might take interest. Often a camper will find a new activity they love, which will then spark their parents to pursue that sport beyond 49er Camp. But really for Krista, just like the others, it’s all about the family that is 49er Camp... and the feeling that they’re carrying on Bob’s legacy.

“I could cry just thinking about him…You didn’t say no to him. He was a man of few words but he was larger than life,” says Krista. “I remember the summer I got married and didn’t work camp and the week I got back from my honeymoon, he asked me to cover for someone. I just said, ‘Yes, I’ll be there.’ Because you just didn’t ever want to let Bob down.”


KEEP MAKING KIDS HAPPY

Each of these four has their own take on the legacy they’re carrying when it comes to Bob Wuesthoff’s thunderous words to them: Keep making kids happy. Decades ago, they worked as counselors together in their early twenties, and now each summer, they return to teach the current counselors the key to 49er Camp’s success.

“We tell our instructors, first thing… day one of camp... before you go kick a ball, get to know the kids,” explains Marvin. “Be their big brother or big sister. That’s more important than anything else they’re going to learn this summer.”

There’s a well-known quote that states, “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” Marvin, George, Krista, and Christopher are all quick to defer their contributions to the late great Bob Wuesthoff. And no doubt, through their actions, the actions of others, and six decades of 49er Camp, Bob’s status as a Long Beach legend is certainly cemented. His ongoing contributions to the community will never die.

But that doesn’t mean our community shouldn’t honor, thank, and remember these four heroes… who for 30 years and counting have been carrying on the very important Long Beach tradition of making kids happy.

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