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YMCA of the North

Joe Smith and Bill Noyes Endowment Fund for YMCA Camp Widjiwagan

“It is the roots which give a tree strength, not its branches.” ― Matshona Dhliwayo
raised of US$40,000 target
by 10 supporters
RCN 452563299


Joe Smith knows a thing or two about trees.

After 38 years as the Caretaker/Property Manager at YMCA Camp Widjiwagan, you learn things about trees. You learn how to fix engines, repair canoes, deal with bears, and upgrade from outhouses to indoor plumbing.

Widji has grown a lot since 1986 -- so has the scope and scale of Joe’s property management. As an educated wildlife biologist, Joe could have chosen any number of careers. Joe chose Widji. Many Widji board members, volunteers and campers have stories of Joe’s tireless efforts to maintain, strengthen and sustain YMCA Camp Widjiwagan, making it better and better, year after year. It shows. Widji looks magnificent.

Along the way, Joe Smith learned a thing or two about people, too.

“The roots, for me” said Joe, always trace back to Bill Noyes, my counselor, role model, and mentor.”

Bill Noyes served as a Trail Counselor at YMCA Camp Widjiwagan from 1968 to 1971. Bill worked a variety of jobs during his lifetime: milkman, construction worker, and fire fighter for the Forest Service. Bill taught junior high school and had a special talent with kids that age. “It wasn’t just patience,” recalls Bill’s brother, Tom Noyes. Bill enjoyed it and related to them. Maybe some rules got bent a bit, but boy, they sure connected with his teaching - and they had fun.”

Bill befriended the homeless on the Iron Range, helping to establish a shelter in Virginia, MN that now bears his name – Bill’s House. But his community service and activism did not stop at the Minnesota border. Bill provided aid to several youth who were fleeing intolerable situations in Central America in the late 1980s/early ‘90s. He helped them pass through the U.S. into Canada and/or gain their green cards and citizenship. Bill even adopted a young teen into his family who was fleeing brutal indoctrination by the militia in El Salvador.

Bill also worked as the director of a Head Start early childhood program serving First Nation families on the Bois Forte reservation near YMCA Camp Widjiwagan. Bill’s relationship with the Bois Forte families paved a pathway for Native youth to participate in wilderness adventures at Widjiwagan that still exists to this day.

Joe Smith learned about how to advocate for people in challenging circumstances through Bill Noyes. His career was certainly a labor of love, but that love began through the tremendous leadership and influence of Bill Noyes. As Joe Smith retires from his incredible career of service to Widji this year, all of us have an opportunity to honor Joe by making a gift or pledge to raise sustainable dollars for camp.

The newly renamed Joe Smith and Bill Noyes Endowment Fund for YMCA Camp Widjiwagan celebrates Joe, standing alongside his mentor who provided an everlasting impact.

My time as a camper, counselor, and caretaker were all influenced by Bill Noyes, and through this shared endowment fund, Bill and I are linked together in a way that remembers all those good times. - Joe Smith (2024)

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