Wicked Local Natick: Camp Arrowhead founder honored

Frank Robinson and his wife Elinor with the Courage of Conscience Award. Photo by Emilee Carter Crowell

By Ian B. Murphy

The Peace Abbey in Sherborn honored Frank Robinson on Tuesday with its Courage of Conscience award, marking his contributions to the community by creating two historic and inclusive summer camps in the area, including Camp Arrowhead in Natick.

Robinson was presented the award at Family Night for Camp Arrowhead at the Elks Club in Natick, allowing the campers, their families, and the staff of the camp he started in 1958 as Natick’s recreation director to participate in the ceremony.

“Most people don’t realize he was the visionary that created that camp, the first camp in the country for disabled children, and it’s been running for 53 years,” said Lewis Randa, executive director of the Peace Abbey. “In presenting him the Courage of Conscience we wanted to make him all the more visible as the creator of that wonderful camp that has helped disabled children for almost six decades. He is the most humble man I’ve ever met, and its a great honor to celebrate his contributions to the community.”

The Peace Abbeys has awarded its Courage of Conscience to many high profile recipients — the most recent winner before Robinson was the Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa — but Randa said a crucial aspect of the award is to recognize local humanitarians who work among us.

“They just do it in their own quiet way, and they just change the world,” Randa said. “But far too often they don’t get acknowledged, and that’s what the Courage of Conscience award tries to do, is acknowledge them. That’s really the spirit behind the award, just expressing gratitude.

“As far as we’re concerned Frank Robinson doesn’t take a back seat to the archbishop or any of our recipients, in our eyes,” he said. “Frank Robinson deserves to be celebrated, and that’s why we gave him the award.”

Dick Cugini, Natick’s current Recreation and Parks director, said that Robinson’s public/private partnership with the Amputee Veterans Association to start Camp Arrowhead was ahead of its time, a model of success for combining resources to bring programs and services to residents.

“This guy was doing it back in 1958, that’s how far ahead he was,” Cugini said.

Tim Flynn, the current director of Camp Arrowhead, said what Robinson created is so much more than just a program for disabled children: He started something that has taken on a vibrant life of its own, and meshed with the fabric of the community.

“You can create a program, or you can create a mindset,” Flynn said. “A program will run, and that’s fine, but a mindset is something that will live on, just as Camp Arrowhead has for 50 years.”

Robinson said he was “floored” and “honored” when he learned he’d be receiving the award. At the banquet on Tuesday, he said he tried his best to honor the people who really made the camp what it is now.

“It was very flattering, but I tried to give my acceptance speech to who caused this all: It was the kids,” Robinson said. “Everybody got involved, and now they’ve made it a lot better than its humble beginnings, and they’ve made it a lot better.”

“I woke up early (Wednesday) morning to see if it was still there, maybe this was all a dream,” Robinson said. “It’s just mind boggling.”