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Two Etras are better than one

Kenneth and Richard Etra ‘71 weren’t born conjoined, but they seem to have managed it successfully in life.

“We graduated from Lehigh together, we went to medical school at Tufts together, we married four weeks apart, and we each had two kids,” says Rick from the office of their shared ear, nose and throat medical practice on Long Island. “We’ve basically led a parallel life together.”

Both Ken and Rick majored in biology at Lehigh; they were both fraternity brothers of Tau Delta Phi; both played basketball for Lehigh all four years, and both married their high school sweethearts.

One of the more recent developments in their close bond was the purchase of a kids’ summer camp in 1995—a culmination of their passion for children, sports, and the outdoors.

Camp Pontiac in Copake, N.Y., originally established in 1922, was on the verge of closing its doors when the brothers bought and revitalized it.

“I had been looking to buy a camp for five years,” Rick says. “It was the right location and the right time. Camp Pontiac was run down and since we took it over, we’ve built it up to 500 campers and a staff of 330.”

In the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, the Etras’s camp covers 150 acres and offers more facilities in sports and the arts every year. Additions this year include a 1,000-foot air-conditioned theater, an ice cream and soda shop, a set design room, a 200-seat movie theater, and a woodworking hall.

“Camp Pontiac is very energetic,” says Ken, “but we put an equal concentration on both athletics and non-athletics. It gives kids a way to shine in any field. And it’s not just learning a jump shot, how to make crafts, or how to act in a show. More importantly, they learn how to get along with each other.”

The Etras consider their blood family to be a microcosm of the camp family. They specifically note their care to safety, the community and personal growth.

“Most kids who attend this camp come from privileged homes,” Ken says. “Kids who are raised to believe they are the center of the universe. When you put 500 centers of the universe together, there is a cosmic explosion. We try to teach the kids that they are no more important than the person next to them. Camp is an opportunity for them to make their own decisions—to learn they have to make mistakes.”

The result is a place where children come back year after year, creating bonds that last a lifetime. We have also found that there are about two or three future marriages spawned at Camp Pontiac every summer, says Ken.

The Etras’s devotion to the camp and to hard work has made a lasting impact on many of the people they work with.

“They are two amazing guys,” says Sarah Greenburg ’06, who began working at Camp Pontiac two years ago. “I’ve never met two harder working individuals. They go to bed at 1 a.m. and are up at 6 a.m. They know every camper and every camper’s parents. I haven’t been anywhere else that tends to everyone’s personal issues so well.”

As their basketball coach Roy Heckman told the Brown and White at the end of the ’70 season, “the Etra brothers give you 100 percent all the time.”

The love of Lehigh seems to be another area of agreement for the Etra twins, and so they continue to give back the university.

“I encourage a lot of people to come to Lehigh,” says Ken. “It’s a beautiful campus, it’s not too small, but you won’t get lost in the shuffle. Academically, Lehigh speaks for itself and still offers big time athletics for the students who love the ‘rah, rah.’”

“People in the know,” Rick says, “know about Lehigh.”

--Katie Becker

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin Online
July 2005

Posted on Thursday, July 07, 2005

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