The Alex Canja Scholarship Fund

About the Alex Canja Scholarship Fund

The Alex Canja Scholarship Fund was established in 2006 at the University of Michigan by Bill Holmes. Bill was a camper at Flying Eagle from 1963 to 1968 and he came back into our lives in 2003. When Bill found out that Alex was ill he was determined to see him one last time. We didn't think it was possible. By that time Alex was very ill and we knew that the end was near – perhaps days, perhaps hours. On top of that, we lived in Florida and Bill lived in Michigan. There simply didn't seem to be time to arrange a visit. But Bill surprised us. The very next day after we talked on the phone, Bill was on a plane to Florida. He brought his sashes with him and managed to spend two wonderful hours with Alex. We were both deeply touched by the effort he made. Alex passed away the next day and we are grateful to Bill and to so many of you who took the time to let Alex know how much he meant to you.

Bill surprised us again in 2005 when he suggested that we hold a Camp Flying Eagle reunion. His enthusiasm and energy got the ball rolling and the rest is history. The summer of 2006 saw a most wonderful reunion on the shores of Crooked Lake. Over 100 members of the Camp Flying Eagle family came together for a day of fun, memories, friendship, great food and a great Council Fire.

Bill surprised us yet again when he proposed an "Alex Canja Scholarship Fund". Those of you who knew Alex know that he would not have allowed it if he were here and so we were very reluctant to give our support or even approval. But, Bill pressed on, undeterred. He knew the Alex Canja story – orphaned at age 11, Alex moved into the YMCA and sold newspapers to support himself. He joined the Flint Central High School swim team, became a star athlete and was fortunate enough to receive an athletic scholarship to the University of Michigan. If not for the scholarship assistance, Alex would never have been able to attend college, would not have received his teaching certificate, would not have coached high school swimming and would never have dreamed of buying and running a camp for boys. And he never would have met Tess, also a U of M student. Bill knew that without that scholarship help, history would have been written differently. He was determined to provide a way for Alex to continue to help shape young lives by providing scholarships to help students become teachers and mentors.

Bill's determination finally overcame our reluctance. After all, despite what Alex might say about the idea of someone naming a scholarship after him, Bill is right. Receiving a scholarship was a "tipping point of generosity" that made a huge difference in Alex's life and, subsequently, in the lives of the many boys and young men who came to the shores of Crooked Lake for 28 years.

So it is with deep gratitude that we thank Bill for establishing the Alex Canja Scholarship Fund at the University of Michigan. We hope that over the years it will grow to a point where it will be able to provide the same "tipping point of generosity" for another young person destined to shape, in an enduring and positive way, the lives of tomorrow's young men and women.

Thank you, Bill.

Tess and Debbie Canja

An Open Letter From Bill Holmes, Camper 1963-1968

Alex Canja had an important place in all of our lives as we were growing up. I knew that to be true during my five summers at Camp Flying Eagle and I believe it even more strongly now.

As the Man-in-Charge of our three-week, four-week or even seven- or eight-week summer adventure, Alex was our leader as well as our teacher, our mentor and our role model. He treated us all with equal respect and we all had equal opportunities to succeed. We also had equal opportunities to screw up, but when that happened he cared enough about us to find the "teachable moment" and to show us how to do it right (or run laps while we thought about it). He was a great leader. He always led with a smile, but we never forgot that he was the man in charge…and that was just fine with us. We trusted him completely.

We knew he cared. We knew we were special. How could we think otherwise with Kool-Aid and Cookie Break every afternoon at 3, Candy Store three times a week, movies on Sunday night, peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches in bed on Friday night, cookouts on Thursday night and going to bed listening to our counselors read another chapter of a thrilling bedtime story every single night as we lay on our bunks in the dark?

Kids gravitated to him as if he were a magician. And, in a way, he was. He knew how to add joy to our lives in the simplest ways – like giving us nicknames. Mine was "Killer Bill". It still makes me smile.

And how about the power of positive recognition? Alex sure knew how to motivate young boys. Every day we made our bunks, cleaned our cabins and stood at attention during inspection hoping to earn our Cleanliness Award and then Honor Cabin Award. Every day we worked hard at having fun, learning new skills while we earned our Archery Award, Riflery Award, Water-skiing, Fishing, Canoeing, Swimming, Basketball, Baseball, Judo, Trampoline, Crafts, Hiking, Newspaper and Nature Awards – just to name a few. Eight awards earned a Green Eagle. Sixteen awards earned a Gold Eagle. Twenty-four awards earned a Brown Eagle. I worked hard to earn those awards and to this day I am still proud of my accomplishments. I know many of you are, too, because you brought your sashes – covered with awards – back to the Reunion, as did I.

Alex loved nature and he shared that love with us. When we were at camp the bald eagle was on the endangered species list. Seeing one fly over the lake was a special event and Alex would encourage us to stop and savor the moment. Always he taught us to treat the land and its creatures with respect. His enthusiasm and love of nature, like everything else about him, was inspiring.

The values he instilled in us will never go out of style. We learned patriotism, discipline, cleanliness, responsibility, respect, community and camaraderie. Remember how we'd assemble for the raising of the flag and the Pledge of Allegiance before breakfast? Alex always expected us to look presentable for the ceremony with our shirts tucked in, hands and faces scrubbed. We'd take turns reporting on the present and absent members of our group. It taught us to not only be responsible for ourselves, but also for each other.

I believe that Alex made a difference in the life of every young person he met. All that would be enough to earn Alex a place on anyone's Most Admired People list. But it was when I grew to adulthood and learned more about his life, that I became even more in awe.

Alex raised himself from the time he was eleven years old. His drive, determination and optimism kept him going when others would have turned back. How many of you could have gotten yourself up every day and gone to school without the comfort of a family? During high school he practiced his diving for hour after hour after hour – determined to become good enough to attend college on a scholarship. He did all of that while also serving as Class President and working to support himself. While at the University of Michigan he captained the swimming and diving team and achieved All-American status as a diver. But he never forgot that it almost didn't happen. During his first semester of college the pressure was on to do well as a diver so that his scholarship would continue. He later recalled that he spent too much time diving and nearly flunked out. But one teacher saw both his struggle and his potential. She gave him a second chance and he never forgot it. Every year until she passed away he remembered her at Christmas time and sent a card to let her know how much her faith meant to him. It was a lesson he took with him.

Alex went on to coach at high schools in Ypsilanti and Grosse Point where he touched the lives of countless young people. In 1961 he came to Lansing to serve as the Executive Assistant to Michigan's State Superintendent of Public Instruction. He stayed for over 30 years and served five State Superintendents. Along the way he and Tess bought Camp Flying Eagle and you know the rest. He was our coach, our mentor, our teacher and our friend. He cared about us.

In his honor and memory, I have made a substantial leadership gift to the University of Michigan Department of Intercollegiate Athletics to establish the Alex Canja Scholarship Fund. The fund will be used to award a scholarship to an undergraduate student – with a preference for a student-athlete in the diving program. In this way, Alex's name will live on while young people are helped to succeed – a fitting memorial for a man whose life was devoted to that cause.

Please join me to create a tipping point of generosity for another young man or woman. Who knows how many lives will ultimately be touched by the gift you give?

Bill Holmes, CFE Camper 1963-68

How To Contribute

Remember, your contribution to the Alex Canja Scholarship Fund is tax-deductible as a charitable gift deduction.


It’s easy to contribute by check or by credit card and by phone, fax, postal mail or email.

By phone with a credit card: To contribute to the Alex Canja Scholarship Fund by using your credit card, just call the University of Michigan Office of Gift Administration toll-free at 888-518-7888. Mention this identification number for the scholarship: 571216.

By fax or postal mail with a credit card: Click here to print out a form that you can fill out and fax. The fax number is 734-647-6120 and is also printed on the form.

By postal mail with a check: Click here to print out a form that you can fill out and send in with your check made out to "The University of Michigan". The address is:

Office of Gift Administration
University of Michigan
Dept CH10189
Palatine, IL 60055-0189

By email with a credit card: To contact someone directly, please email Joe Parker at joepa@umich.edu or Jefferson Porter at jkp@umich.edu. You should download the form used for faxing in a contribution and provide the information on the form in your email.

For help or answers to questions: Please call the Office of Gift Administration at 888-518-7888 or contact Joe Parker at 734-647-7842 or Jefferson Porter at 734-647-6006.

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