TORONTO — For his family, friends, past and present Camp Walden campers, the day Ted Cole lost his long battle with leukemia was the day the music died.
Ted Cole, seen here in file photo, playing guitar at camp. [Daniel Rinzler, Camp Walden photo]
On Aug. 19, Cole, 67, best remembered as the folk music-loving Camp Walden founder and director, succumbed to his illness and slipped into unconsciousness while surrounded by his loving family.
The funeral was held at Holy Blossom Temple on Aug. 21, where hundreds of people – many of whom were former Walden campers – squeezed into the sanctuary, overflowed into the balcony, and sat in silence for 10 minutes in anticipation of the start of the service.
Cole is survived by his wife, Elaine, his sons, Cory and Ryan, and their families.
Cole was 29 when he founded the camp outside of Bancroft, Ont., and shortly thereafter he met his wife who became both his partner in life and in work for 35 years.
According to a statement posted on the Camp Walden website, his “grassroots, no-nonsense approach combined with a provocative sense of humour and wit touched the lives of tens of thousands of campers, staff, and their families.”
Cole incorporated his love of music into the camp experience by leading annual singsongs that all generations of Walden campers enjoyed.
“Ted’s passion for folk music was one of the cornerstones of his camp direction. Since his days in high school, Ted worked to hone his skills as a singer, songwriter and instrumentalist… The songs that Ted loved and shared often contained messages of peace and individual courage,” the statement continued.
Phil Epstein spoke at the service about his lifelong friend of 50 years, who he met, fittingly, when they were both 16-year-old campers at Camp Tamarack in Alberta.
“Ted had two loves: One was camping and everything to do with camping,” Epstein said.
“As always, Ted was the consummate director, mentor, teacher and surrogate parent. He and Elaine made [Walden] feel like a second home for so many of you.”
In addition to his work with Camp Walden, Cole was instrumental in founding many other camp programs, including Madawaska Camps and the Scarborough/Toronto Arts Camp Programs.
He also helped establish a charity called Kids In Camp, which is devoted to providing financial assistance to families who want to send their children to camp.
Cole was accomplished in his field, but to his son Cory, who spoke on behalf of his family, Cole was just as dedicated and devoted to Walden as he was to his wife and sons.
“Whether a life companion, family, friend, role model, mentor, inspiration – whatever you needed Dad to be, he was,” he said. “He offered his soul to anyone who came by it honestly.”
He added that his father was an “infinite dreamer. He inspired all those who walked in his wake to dream a little harder, to search a little longer, to fight a little stronger. This was his infectious gift, his poetic vision that the world we live in is the one we create.”
And according to those who spoke about Cole at the service, the world that he created was filled with love.
Rabbi Arthur Bielfeld, who presided over the service with Rabbi Yael Splansky, said that before Cole lapsed into unconsciousness last week, “Ted’s family had piled their hands on top of his. Ted opened his eyes and said, ‘I feel I’m surrounded by a wall of love. Now I’m ready to go.’ And he closed his eyes…
“If only Ted could serenade us right now, I know his song would contain the words of consolation you need to hear. They would be words of strength and candour and empathy and wry humour. It would be Ted,” the rabbi said.
“Ted had been my closest friend for 50 years,” Epstein said.
“The Ted I knew would not want us to grieve, but remember him as he was – vibrant, caring, irreverent, funny, committed and above all, loved.”
He added, in reference to Cole’s passion for music, that there is a theological question rabbis have debated for centuries.
“Is there is music in heaven? There is now.”