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Behind an Iconic Weight-Loss Camp, a Major Family Feud

Bloomberg dives into personalities behind Camp Shane
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 5, 2021 11:15 AM CDT
An Iconic Weight-Loss Camp Was Wracked by Family Drama
   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – As far as weight-loss camp for kids go, Camp Shane was a legend. Tucked in New York's Catskill Mountains, it began welcoming children in 1968 and operated in that original location until 2019, making it the longest-running camp of its kind in the US. As David Gauvey Herbert writes for Bloomberg, "At its peak it hosted more than 500 campers, enrolled the children of celebrities, and netted $2 million a year for its owner. It inspired the 1995 Disney film Heavyweights and was featured in BBC and MTV documentaries." And while the piece touches on the good and the bad of the camp—1,400 calories a day; summer romances between kids more accustomed to bullying from others; the secret "pig-out room" the counselors had access to—its main focus is on the woman who founded it and the feud that developed between her and the people who would take it over: her kids. Well, really, kid.

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Selma Ettenberg had three children, Lesley, David, and Diana, and it was David who took over as camp director in 1982, with Diana working there as well. Ettenberg's attitude toward her children was prickly. Lesley recalls her mom saying, "I love children—other people's." Herbert writes that "to keep David and Diana in line, Selma dangled the prospect of their eventually owning the business," until Diana had a child in 1987. "Selma was furious that her daughter’s attention would now be divided, so she fired Diana and cut off her health insurance." Things got more contentious from there: a suit between Selma and David, an agreement for David to buy the camp for $1.2 million, second thoughts on Selma's part and another suit, enrollment lists leaked to a rival camp, a suspicious letter sent to the state Department of Health, a tip to the IRS, and an end to Selma and David even speaking. (Read the full story, which digs into what happened to Selma's wealth after her death.)

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