Cherished Rockville Centre resident, camp director dies at 65


Rockville Centre resident Bob Wortman, director of Camps Baco and Che-Na-Wah in the Adirondack Mountains, died on March 21 of complications from histiocytosis. He was 65.

“He gave everything to the camps and the kids, and to teaching others,” his wife, Barbara, 61, told the Herald.

Wortman was born on Jan. 4, 1953, in New York City. He attended Camp Baco, an all-boys camp in the Adirondack Mountains in Minerva, N.Y., throughout his childhood. Barbara arrived at camp in 1974 with Wortman, who she’d met in college. With her background teaching music and as a special ed teacher, she was a natural fit at camp.

The two got married in 1979 and moved to Rockville Centre in 1986. Since 1984, Wortman and Barbara served as directors of Camps Baco and Che-Na-Wah, the all-girls camp, which were established in 1923 and 1951, respectively.

The Wortman family has operated both camps — where “children play all day, learn new skills, challenge themselves, make lots of new friends, explore their own potential and, most importantly, have fun,” according to the website — for more than 60 years. The seven-week camps enroll a total of about 350 children and teenagers.

“He was unpretentious … giving … straightforward,” Barbara said. “He was all about other people, and he didn’t want his name on his acts of kindness. He just did them because he loved to do them.”

Wortman graduated from Hofstra University, where he studied music, a passion of his. He avidly played the keyboard in bands when he was younger, and also loved theater. He was the president of the Camp Directors Association, as well as a committee chair of the American Camping Association’s New York and New Jersey sections. His death came after he suffered from a group of rare disorders known as histiocytosis.

“He was a real passionate guy,” said former camper Jennifer Handsman, 28. She was a camper at Camp Che-Na-Wah from ages 10 to 20, ending her camping days as a counselor. “He loved camp,” she added. “He and Barbara ran the camp as a business, but also as a family.” Handsman recalled Wortman’s ever-present attitude and notable talent on the piano.

“He gave everything he had to make sure people were comfortable and always learning and growing,” former camp counselor Andrew Weinstock told the Herald. “He saw the effect of what camp could have on children and the way it could instill confidence that could last throughout your entire life.”

Weinstock, 36, attended camp from ages 9 to 21. He even met his wife Jara there. He said that Wortman, who he referred to as Bobby, would lend a hand wherever he was needed, such as fixing a water pump or stepping at the last minute to direct The Big Show — the camp’s end-of-the-year theater performance.

“He put his heart and soul into the camp,” Weinstock said, “and everybody that attended it.”

In addition to Barbara, Wortman is survived by daughters Allison and Melissa, as well as his granddaughter, Hazel.