How It Began      

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.



In 1965, the Blacks purchased land next to camp from the Atwoods and built a “retirement” home. They have spent summers there ever since. The rest of the year they spend in Tucson, AZ to be near their children. 
Dick ended his coaching career by being inducted into the Michigan Coaches Hall of Fame. After his retirement, Lakeview High School in St. Clair Shores honored “Coach” Black by naming its athletic complex after him.



In 1984, besides retiring from Flying Eagle, Alex and Tess also retired from their full-time jobs – Alex, from the Michigan Department of Education, where he had served as Deputy Superintendent and as Executive Assistant to five State Superintendents, and Tess from her position as Director of the Area Agencies on Aging Association of Michigan.. They moved to Florida to take care of Tess’ mother, who had Parkinson’s Disease.
In Florida, however, Tess began volunteering with AARP, then known as the American Association of Retired Persons. In 1992, she was elected to the national Board of AARP, serving on the Board until 2004. For eight of those years she was a national AARP officer, serving as vice president, president-elect and then, from 2000 to 2002, as AARP’s national president.
Alex died in 2003. Former campers and counselors who knew of his illness sent camp memories that gave him great pleasure in the days before his passage onward. Some of those memories appear on this website.


When were you at Camp Flying Eagle? To see the year-by-year photo archive, click here.

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