Alex Canja was coaching swimming and teaching English at Grosse Pointe High
School in the fall of 1956 when an ad in the Grosse Pointe News caught his
eye: “Boys Camp for Sale.”
Alex and Tess, with two small children – Debbie, 2, and Jeff, 6 months –
were more interested in starting a Nursery School than buying a boys’ camp.
Neither had ever been to camp.
But Alex decided to check it out with a fellow teacher, John Thursby,
himself an experienced camp program director. They found a beautiful lake
and a lot of potential.
So, in 1956, Alex and Tess bought Camp Flying Eagle, with John and Maxine
Thursby as the first two members of the staff. “They were great,” said Alex.
“From them we learned how to operate a camp.”
But at the beginning of the third summer, John came to Alex and said, “This
will be my last summer. I can’t run that fast.”
It was a lot of hard work, getting the camp up and running. From the time
the snow was off the ground, the Canjas would head north weekends, spending
all the time there raking, cleaning, painting, mending and building. “We
used gallons and gallons of brown and yellow paint,” said Alex.
In 1957, the Canjas had moved to Lansing from St .Clair Shores, where Alex
was now assistant to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Searching for a new camp program director, he remembered a neighbor from St.
Clair Shores: Dick Black, the basketball coach at Lakeview High.
“Coach” Black, for the next 25 years, served as Flying Eagle’s program
director. He, his wife, Gloria, and children – Rick, Terry and Susan, became
as much a part of Flying Eagle as the Canja family.
Flying Eagle became one of the highest rated boys’ camps in Michigan. The
1975 accreditation report called Flying Eagle “exceptional,” stating that
“Camp Flying Eagle soars as high in camping as its namesake in flying.” But
in 1984, the Canjas decided it was time to retire. They moved to Florida,
returning to spend three months every summer (June, July and August) across
the lake in the hand-built log cabin built by an early settler.
Flying Eagle is no longer a boys’ camp. It was purchased by Brad and Diane
Smith who wanted a large family and room for them to roam in the summertime.
So you can still hear young voices coming from the camp site and the camp
bell ringing “Time to eat!” Brad Smith, incidentally, is the grandson of Al
and Bea Atwood, who lived down the lake from camp and were also among the
first lake settlers.