In 1997, President Bill Clinton nominated Judge Arthur Gajarsa to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C. The appointment, followed by 15 years of service on the bench, capped off a long and distinguished career in law in the nation’s capital.
But Judge Gajarsa’s journey to the upper echelons of the judiciary began many years before at United South End Settlements and Camp Hale. He can even trace his leadership potential back to a summer snow squall on top of Mount Washington while working as a senior counselor at camp.
With a group of 12- to 14-year-olds in his care, Gajarsa realized the campers under his control were looking to him to help them get down to safety.
“You [had] to make decisions to protect the whole group,” he said in a recent interview. “I developed an understanding of the responsibilities you have and learned to carry those forward.”
Decades later, Camp Hale is still providing those leadership opportunities for young people from Boston, like 17-year-old Julian Rodriguez-Montgomery, of Hyde Park. Every summer since he was six years old, he’s called camp home.
“I’ve changed schools around; I’ve moved a lot,” says Rodriguez-Montgomery. “I haven’t had the most stable friendships outside of camp, so to have a place I know I’m safe, and I’m going to have fun has just been so key in my life.”
Gajarsa and Rodriguez-Montgomery are from different eras and at completely different times in their lives, but are linked by a childhood spent at camp, learning lessons in leadership that continue to show up years down the road.
Born in Italy, Gajarsa and his family moved to Boston’s South End when he was eight years old. He encountered USES by chance of geography – the organization’s Hale House was located a few houses down from where his family had moved on Davis Street.
“That’s where everyone hung out after school,” Gajarsa said. “School was over by three, so from three to 4:30 or so, we ended up going to the settlement house.”
It was the beginning of a relationship that has lasted for more than 70 years.
His participation in programs at Hale House led to camping exploits at Blue Hills and summers at Camp Hale. The journey getting there was far longer than what campers experience today.
“The first trip in 1950 required almost seven hours,” Gajarsa says, remembering a train ride from North Station to Meredith, N.H., followed by a bus to a wharf in the town of Ashland, and then a ride with about 50 fellow campers on an old mail boat to camp.
Gajarsa fondly remembers the influence of Hale House leader Gigi Pieri, and longtime camp director Joseph Collins, who each installed in him a can-do spirit and leadership approach that would stay with him long after his summers as a camper came to an end.
After six years as a camper, Gajarsa spent the late 50s and early 60s as a junior and then a senior counselor. After earning a degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he earned a master’s in economics from the Catholic University of America, followed by a law degree from Georgetown.
After law school, Gajarsa served as a clerk for federal judge Joseph McGarraghy and worked as special counsel for the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of Interior. For more than 25 years, he worked in private practice in D.C., specializing in corporate law, intellectual property, and securities law before being nominated by Clinton for the federal bench.
For Rodriguez-Montgomery, camp has meant ascending to leadership roles, rising from a counselor in training last year to a counselor this coming summer. Camp has given him the confidence to reach past his boundaries and try new things. Last year, he attended the Oxbow School in California, studying art. He’s passionate about photography but also interested in pottery and painting.
And for Gajarsa, all those years as he ascended through the ranks of law, USES, and Camp Hale were never far from his mind.
He remained active with the Camp Hale Alumni Association and, later, on the USES Board. And he’s still a regular up on Squam Lake. Gajarsa and his family have been vacationing on the lake since the mid-1960s and eventually bought a home there in the ‘90s. He still cherishes the memories and friendships he made through USES all those years ago.
“The lifelong friends you made stayed your friends over the years,” he says of his fellow campers, and South End neighbors who attended USES programs. “It’s very difficult to remain close friends with people you didn’t know before you were 10,” he says with a laugh and a smile that reflects a lifetime of memories.