Upper Schools Commandant
July 22, 2021
Capt. Mike Kehoe (U.S. Navy-ret.) has returned to Culver to once again serve as commandant. But there is a slight twist. Kehoe served as Commandant of Cadets for Culver Military from 2000 to 2006. His return is as Upper School Commandant for Culver Summer Schools & Camps.
How he returned in his new role is a classic Culver connection tale. During his first time at Culver, his daughters Becky and Christie ’02 served as counselors at camp. Becky served as a senior counselor for six years. “Becky has always said I became commandant just so she could find Culver,” Kehoe said.
One of the three-year students in her Deck 4 unit was Jenna (Wright) Gartner SS'06, who is now the Upper School director.
Gartner has stayed in touch with Becky, especially after she became a counselor herself. She continued a Deck 4 tradition of a sisterhood activity at the first unit meeting every summer. "I still remember that activity vividly, and how it forever changed my life," Gartner said. "I am here today, because of Becky."
And, when it came time to fill the commandant position, Gartner decided to tap the Kehoe family connection. After a few phone calls, she eventually turned his "intrigue" into reality. Kehoe and his wife, Nancy, decided to return and the whirlwind that is a Culver Summer officially began. Now, heading into his final week, Kehoe is enjoying his experience.
“Like they say, ‘The days are long but the weeks fly by,’” he said. “Anyone dealing with students or student life can tell you that.”
Since retiring three years ago, the Kehoes have settled in Idaho when not criss-crossing the country to see children and grandchildren. He has visited Culver twice, the last time being to take part in the 100th anniversary celebration of Armistice Day in 2018.
His return this summer has also become a family affair of sorts with three grandchildren in Woodcraft Camp. It’s a special opportunity to bring everyone together after the pandemic shut down routine family gatherings.
Kehoe, who has the unusual designation of being the oldest first-year summer employee, said there are definitely differences between the two commandant positions. The only camp veteran in the Military Activities staff is Deputy Commandant Katie Sewell, who Kehoe has relied on when it comes to navigating the differences between the summer and boarding school roles.
Personally, he said, the pace is the biggest adjustment. While the boarding school is a distance run, working with the same leaders for months at a time, the summer “has been a sprint. You finish one thing and immediately move on to the next.”
And losing the 2020 camp session accelerated that pace. The second classmen who would normally have taken leadership instruction last summer were left in the lurch. To fill that knowledge gap, the staff developed a two-week officer candidate school to bring them up to speed. After finishing the session, the students were promoted to first classmen and eligible to fill leadership positions, which many have.
Those students are also being given increased opportunities to assume those roles through weekly leadership changes. That means Kehoe and the Military Activities staff start their days as early as 6:30 a.m. to prepare the new leaders for their roles during retreats and parades. That can lead to 12-to-14 hour days.
“You are a lot more hands-on with the kids during the summer,” Kehoe explained. “The upside is I have gotten to meet a lot of really great kids.”
“I’ve really enjoyed it,” he added. “Whether it's winter or summer, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of great kids. Being involved with them has really been invigorating, especially for an old guy like me.”