Harry Vogel (1935-2022)

Harry Vogel (Photo provided)

Harry Simon Vogel, 87, known as “the king of summer” because of the 71 years he was associated with Surprise Lake Camp in Philipstown, died Dec. 21.

Harry was born on Yom Kippur, Oct. 7, 1935, in Frankfort am Main, Germany, the son of Arthur and Freida Vogel. His parents owned a grocery and sold fresh fruits and vegetables. When the Nazis came to power, his father was taken to the Buchenwald concentration camp.

At the time, any Jews with a baby boy could buy their way out if they had a family willing to sponsor them. Harry’s maternal grandmother and uncle in the U.S. sent $300 to buy Arthur out of the camp and get the family out of Germany.

Harry, his mother, his older sister, Frida, and his 2-week-old brother, Ralph, fled to Switzerland and then to London. Eventually, Arthur met them there, where they stayed in a one-room flat until Ralph was strong enough to make the trans-Atlantic journey on a freighter to Nova Scotia. They traveled to New York City and took a cab to the Bronx, where Uncle Arthur paid the fare.

Arthur worked as a janitor and a butcher. Harry was always intuitively handy and enjoyed tinkering and fixing things in the apartment building, including plumbing, painting, and plastering and rewiring everything from lamps to telephones.

He was an athlete from an early age — a gymnast, a swimmer, diver, fencer and pole vaulter — and always interested in water sports. During his sophomore year at William Taft High School, a coach told him about Surprise Lake Camp, which he saw for the first time as a 15-year-old in 1952.

“I got on a bus at the 92nd Street YMCA and ended up at Surprise Lake Camp,” Vogel told The Current in 2018.

The waterfront was always his baby. He took his tank and scuba gear to survey the lake and designed three floating docks. He eventually became administrative director.

Harry attended City College to study engineering and joined the ROTC, where, as he told it, he jumped out of perfectly good airplanes, printed leaflets and propaganda in the psychological warfare department and blew stuff up. He was later an exhibition diver at the New York Athletic Club, doing his version of “Don’t ask don’t tell” because the club at the time did not allow Jews. They didn’t ask. He didn’t tell.

Harry’s engineering career was cut short by a rare eye disorder that caused migraine headaches when he read for long periods of time. He changed careers, earning a master’s degree in education and working for the Board of Education in New York City as an industrial arts teacher.

He met Bobbi, his future wife, while doing a favor for a friend and asked her to marry him on their second date. They were wed on Dec. 26, 1959. Harry told Bobbi he loved her every day of their almost 63-year marriage and that he would marry her all over again. He always introduced her as “my sweetheart, Bobbi.”

Three years after they married, the couple had a daughter, Joan, and three years later, a second daughter, Melissa.

A funeral service was held Dec. 26 at Hellman Memorial Chapels in Spring Valley, with interment at Gates of Zion Cemetery in Airmont. Memorial donations may be made to Harry Vogel Aquatics Fund at Surprise Lake Camp (surpriselake.org).

Information provided by Hellman Memorial Chapels

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