Camp Doucet was a labor of love — and of community.
The nonprofit Association Doucet, Inc. was established in 1939 after Monsignor Louis Doucet, pastor of St. Aloysius of Gonzaga Church in Nashua, made a gift of 20 acres of land in southwest Nashua to benefit the children of Nashua. The land would become a year-round camp with a hand-dug swimming pool, a baseball diamond that was converted to a hockey rink in the winter, frontage on Salmon Brook and plenty of space for children to learn to love the outdoors.
Camp Doucet was used by scout troops, boys’ and girls’ clubs, church groups and other nonprofits. Over the decades, thousands of Nashua kids would swim, play ball and hockey, and make lifelong memories at the camp.
The plan from the outset was that, when the camp could no longer be maintained, the land would be sold, and the funds put into a trust to benefit the children of the Nashua area.
For decades, an all-volunteer force — mostly associated with the St. Aloysius parish — built, maintained, and fundraised for everything the place needed. They sold Sunday newspapers from a wagon in front of the church after mass; collected and sold paper for recycling; and held ham-and-bean suppers. In its heyday, the volunteer team of men and women was more than fifty strong, and included plumbers, masons, electricians and businesspeople who all gave their time and expertise to keep the place maintained and running.
“We had all the talent needed to do anything that was required,” said Bob Cormier, who remembers making the five-mile hike from downtown Nashua to the camp as a Cub Scout, learning to swim in the camp pool, and who became Association Doucet’s final board president.
Larry Noel, a retired Nashua firefighter and camp committee chairman, devoted thousands of hours to every job at the camp that needed doing — from pool maintenance, to sweeping floors, to wiring to mowing grass.
Once, when the septic system malfunctioned in the middle of a scout camp week, Bob Lavoie remembers being out there at 11 p.m. along with Bob Pelletier and a couple shovels, making sure things were up and running again by daylight.
When windows or steps were broken and needed repair, Gil Tarrier was always the guy who did the glazing and carpentry.
When concrete blocks needed to be hauled for a new building, when the swimming pool needed to be dug by hand, when picnic tables need to be built and stained, when the boards for the hockey rink needed to go up for the season, volunteers did it all. No one took any money — just the promise of a cold beverage at the Club National (another local supporter of Camp Doucet), from a fellow volunteer when the work was done.
“We had a lot of fun and did a lot of good out there,” Lavoie said.
The committee had help, for decades, from families of scouts, scout leaders and others who all pitched in. As the volunteer pool dwindled over time, a small board of directors (including Bob Pelletier, Bob Lavoie, Bob Cormier, Gil Tarrier, and Joe Moreau) was left staring down an aging infrastructure that required an overwhelming amount of maintenance — and the reality of less and less demand for use of the property by local youth-serving organizations.
The Association Doucet board realized it was time to sell the camp property and set up that trust for Nashua’s kids.
“It was a hard decision,” Tarrier said.
The Association’s accountant, Peter Houde, and attorney Andrew Bauer both independently suggested the group contact the Charitable Foundation for information about setting up funds to benefit area youth.
“When we found out how the Foundation worked, it was obvious to us” Lavoie said. “That is exactly what we wanted our funds to do. That is how we became partners, and we are thrilled with the outcome.”
The land sold in 2021 and the Association Doucet board set up two funds at the Charitable Foundation to benefit Nashua’s children, youth and families. One fund sends annual grants to 14 different Nashua-area organizations — including the Boys and Girls Club, Girls, Inc., Marguerite’s Place, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter, the New Hampshire Food Bank, the Greater Nashua Dental Connection and more.
The second fund gives Foundation grantmaking staff the discretion to use the resources to meet the most pressing needs for Nashua’s children and families — and significantly increases the Foundation’s annual available dollars for the Nashua region.
“This is an incredible gift to the children and families of the Nashua region,” said Sandeep Bikram Shah, a senior program officer at the Foundation who focuses on the Nashua and Monadnock regions. “Kids in the area will get summer camp opportunities, dental care, shelter, food, mentoring and more — for generations to come.”
Both funds are set up to benefit Nashua-area kids and families in perpetuity.
“A lot of members up there,” said Lavoie, pointing heavenward, “would be incredibly happy to know this.”