Archives Spotlight: Ryan McKenna’s Camp Arcadia Story

As we celebrate the historic milestone of Camp Arcadia’s 100th Anniversary, we want to take an opportunity to recognize our Archives Director, Ryan McKenna, whose long-running dedication to Camp’s history has engaged so many of us in commemorating, restoring, preserving, and sharing the traditions of the Camp we all love best. Without Ryan’s tireless work, Camp’s robust and cherished Archives Department might not have come to be.   

Rita Kienzle

Ryan is a lifelong Arcadian. His family’s custom of spending summers on the shores of Lake Michigan dates back to the Walther League years, when his grandmother Rita Kienzle attended Camp in her youth. Just like his mother Janine, Ryan has been a Camper for as long as he can remember.

Before Camp’s Inn had numerous large rooms to accommodate families, the McKennas would rent cottages for their vacations in Arcadia. When Ryan was just five years old, his family purchased their home in the Cottage Colony. From then on, he spent each summer at Camp Arcadia with his mother, from the day school got out to the end of the summer. 

“My brothers and sisters were all older, in sports and college, so we would spend the summer at the cottage together. Other family members would come and go, and dad would come up on the weekends.” 

An active participant in Camp programming, Ryan followed the development of your typical youth camper, migrating from the Ark to Morning Program. He recalls a particularly unfavorable dodgeball game during Morning Program which instigated his Camp Staff career. After taking an old-school red rubber dodgeball to the face, he found himself back in the Ark with the younger crowd, which evolved into a long-term volunteer position. “Weeks later—years later—I was still in the Ark helping out” he says, “and I ran a tight ship!” 

[su_quote]I was called into the office by Camp Director June Jass. I was nine years old at that point and I thought, ‘Uh-oh, I’m in trouble.'[/su_quote]

Ryan’s Staff Membership became official a few years into his Ark Manager gig, when he was called into the office by former director, June Jass. “I was nine years old at that point and I thought, ‘Uh-oh, I’m in trouble.’” June asked him to turn around, and he could tell she was measuring something up against his back. She had him turn around once more, and exclaimed “Welcome aboard!” as she revealed she was holding his very first staff shirt. Thus began Ryan’s 32-year tenure on Camp Arcadia staff. 

At first, he was happy to accept payment for his staff membership in the form of free ice cream cones from the Trading Post, and later, ice cream coupons he would cleverly exchange for a “Lolli” and cash back (a short-lived tactic). During subsequent seasons, he was promoted to Assistant TP Manager and Assistant Craft Shop Manager. Eventually, Ryan spent college summers working in Camp’s office, where he first encountered the inspiration for the Archives. 

“I would often be sitting waiting for someone to come to the office window or for the phone to ring because the work would be done for the day.” During one such evening, he discovered— hidden in a closet beneath a staircase—a handful of old, crushed boxes. Ryan took it upon himself to organize the boxes and purchase new containers for their content. It turned out that the boxes were full of old Camp Arcadia photo albums. 

Inspired by his findings, Ryan spent his winter break from school in Traverse City writing a proposal to start a historical archives department at Camp Arcadia, to which Camp agreed. In 2000, he began working part-time in Archives while also working at the Arcadia Bluffs. 

In the early years of Camp Arcadia Archives, the department operated out of the Navy Room in the Assembly. After the Wigwam was remodeled in 2003, Camp created a designated space for Archives, and Ryan and the team soon made it their own by adding in climate control to store artifacts. 

Much of Ryan’s archival background can be attributed to guidance in his postgraduate years. He began working at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) in Seattle, Washington where he was exposed to behind-the-scenes archives work. “They were very instrumental in mentoring me.” 

Ryan worked at MOHAI for around 10 years during Camp’s off-season, volunteering to clean out membership files and decorating the lobby for Christmas—one of his favorite hobbies and a great talent. When the exhibits department at MOHAI discovered his exceptional gifts in decorating and keen eye for detail, they hired him to create exhibits. He also had the opportunity to learn more about preservation and spent hours in the library re-housing home movies. Ryan is grateful for his time at MOHAI and all they did to shape him into the archivist he is today.

Since starting Camp’s Archives Department 22 years ago, Ryan’s proudest achievements are the strong volunteer base that drives Camp’s archival work and the establishment of a permanent, secure, climate-controlled storage room: “That’s key to every archives.” He is also proud of the many exhibits over the years, including the Model T Interactive and, most recently, the restoration of Camp’s oldest artifact: The Cupola. 

[su_quote]What I enjoy most is how it connects us. We all have a story.[/su_quote]

Running Camp’s Archives is a huge undertaking which includes collecting, organizing, and preserving artifacts—even those that seem irrelevant to him personally. “Just because it’s not my memory doesn’t mean it isn’t someone else’s.” Seeing the look on someone’s face when an artifact he saved prompts a memory makes holding on to the little things worth it. “I enjoy preserving our history and presenting, but what I enjoy most is how it connects us. We all have a story.”

Looking forward to the 100th Anniversary season, Ryan is most excited to see guests interact with all of the Archives exhibits, the Arcadia Days Parade, the numerous surprises planned, and taking some well-deserved time to relax. “It’s been 22 years in the making, and it seems surreal that it’s coming–we are ready and excited for the summer ahead!”


For more information on Camp’s 100th Anniversary, donating Camp Arcadia artifacts, or supporting the Archives Program, visit

15 Responses

  1. I love you Ryan McKenna. You are a dear friend to Amy, myself and the girls. Your love for Camp is through the roof. So so proud to call Ryan McKenna my friend

  2. Job well done, Ryan! Most campers have no idea how much time and effort goes on behind the scenes to get the many displays and events completed. I learn something new every time we work together. I’m proud to be part of your team!

  3. Ryan, you rock the archives! Can’t wait to see what you all have up your sleeve for the 100th. I am sure it will be amazing. Thanks for all you do.

  4. Beautifully written about Ryan. He is such a huge blessing to Camp Arcadia. Thank you, Ryan, for keeping all of Camp’s history alive today!

  5. Without a doubt, the true GEM of Camp Arcadia! While his tireless and selfless efforts often go unrecognized, he continues to remind us all of Camp’s rich history. His love and passion for Camp Arcadia is genuine and heartfelt. Cheers McKenna!!

  6. Ryan we loved the nice article about you starting the archives department at Camp RKD and all the long and passionate hours you spend on it. We have watch you thru the years as you grew and developed the department into what it is today, Top Notch. Your Love for Camp Arcadia shows thru in the Great work you due for the Archives department. We are proud of your accomplishments. Thanks and Love, Mom and Dad

  7. Our Ryan is one in a million! His love of Camp Arcadia, his talent and enthusiasm are never ending! We look forward to his return to Arcadia every spring. He has become a dear friend to us and many many others. We love you Ryan. Looking forward to summer 2022!!😃💜

  8. I remember those early years too!

    What a gift you have been and still are to our beloved camp. May your year be grand!

  9. Oh Ryan! You were such a responsible young man, so trustworthy and industrious. How could I not recognize you as a worthy staffer.

    You’ve come a long way. You deserve recognition for the amazing and professionally appointed archives area, as well as your ability to inspire volunteers to pitch in as needed.

    Thank you for your commitment to perfection, and for sharing your many creative gifts with our beloved Camp!

  10. Ryan, you have been such a blessing to Camp Arcadia. Everyone loves and appreciates you and what you have done.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share the Post:

Related Posts