Stephen J. Thompson turns 57 next month. Still, Thompson, a pediatric neurologist with the University of Maryland School of Medicine, fondly remembers his youthful summer days spent at Camp Airy, including a particular counselor from Bunk 21.
That counselor, Michael Schneider, now happens to be the new director of Beth Tfiloh Camps in Reisterstown
“This is a perfect job for Mike at this point,” Thompson says. “He’s such an outgoing, gregarious person and so easy to communicate with. He knows how to work with his staff because he’s been in their position before.”
Schneider is a well-known figure in local Jewish camping circles. From 1984 to 1986, he ran Camp Milldale and worked in several capacities at Camps Airy and Louise in Western Maryland from 1987 to 2008, eventually becoming executive director there.
Schneider’s been out of the camping world since leaving Airy/Louise a decade ago and has worked various jobs, including as the community outreach liaison for the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks and as director of the Reisterstown Senior Center.
He officially took charge at Beth Tfiloh Camps last August, succeeding David Schimmel. He praises Schimmel and his predecessor, the late Steve Eller, for their tenures at the camp.
“Beth Tfiloh has been doing a lot of good things for a long time,” Schneider says. “They’ve been around since 1943 and serve over 1,000 children every summer. If you make wholesale changes in something that’s successful, I don’t know that you’re going to make a huge difference other than if you’re trying to make a statement about yourself. …
“I’m coming into something that’s really, really good with a lot of good people,” he says. “I want to make a good impression on the campers, the staff and the parents. A good number of the parents were my campers or staff members because they were campers or staff members at Airy or Louise.”
A Reisterstown resident, Schneider says when he posted a note on Facebook that he would be taking over Beth Tfiloh Camps, he received a number of heartwarming notes expressing such sentiments as “You took care of me, now you’re taking care of my kid.’
He says he loves working at a Jewish facility to help youngsters discover that component of their lives.
“There’s the opportunity to help kids learn about their heritage and their history,” Schneider says. “I think that’s part and parcel of what Beth Tfiloh has been about since they’ve been around. I’m thrilled and honored to be a part of it.”
Owings Mills resident Linda L. Esterson, who works summers at Airy, has known Schneider for several years. She says his ability to connect with kids in various ways makes him an efficient and well-respected director.
“He would grab a glove and join in a baseball game or sit beside a camper for a chat in the dining hall,” Esterson says. “He kept us parents informed about all of the [things going] on at camp, and he did it in a humorous, warm and comforting way. He once told me how lucky he was to go to camp every day and get paid to do so.”
Arguably, Schneider knows the Jewish camping scene in this area better than anyone. That’s why he’s formed long-term relationships with folks such as Thompson and Esterson. He says he is delighted to receive the chance once more.
“There’s nothing that compares to camps,” Schneider says. “You help kids grow. You help young adults grow. You’re teaching people how to care for others. You’re mentoring them. You get to see the impact daily — hourly.
“To be part of a child’s development, I can’t think about anything better than that.”
Jeff Seidel is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.