Cy Battison is his name. Campfire storyteller is his game. Or, at least it was for 53 years as director for the Glendale YMCA's Camp Fox program.
Battison, who turned 90 in July, retired in August after a 63-year love affair with the Glendale YMCA's camping program, including Camp Fox, which is held each summer on Catalina Island. A retirement party will be held for him Saturday. Those interested in attending can call the Glendale YMCA at (818) 240-4130.
"He is a master storyteller," said Craig Yaussi, who started working for the YMCA in 1974 and retired in January after 36 years. "He's been like a dad to me. He resembled my dad so much. He is my mentor.
"He's a great guy; always giving. Cy has a heart of gold and he is still sharp as a tack."
Battison is widely known for remembering every camper's name and for his legendary campfire stories, which often brought tears to the campers' eyes and always had a moral lesson.
"He was just a magnificent storyteller," Yaussi said. "He was amazing. He is so organized and disciplined. When he was a principal, he would be outside every afternoon at the end of the school day saying goodbye to all the kids. He knew every kid's name."
Battison was once quoted as saying, "Kids today are a lot of bluster, with the baggy pants and the tattoos and the pierced lips and all that stuff. But when you get them by themselves and talk to them one-on-one, you discover they're good kids."
Battison, a Woodland Hills resident, started his first boy's club at United Presbyterian Church in West L.A. "Four kids showed up and looked me over with disdain," he said in a 2001 interview. Within three weeks, however, he drew 30 boys to the meetings and not long after that he found himself running clubs — six for boys and three for girls.
"My dad is just a great guy," said his daughter, Gail Landstrom.
Battison is a former principal at Morningside Elementary School in San Fernando and taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 30 years, retiring in 1982. He and wife Marion are celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary today.
When asked if he was really retiring as director of Camp Fox, he said, "At 90, I think I'm retiring."
He said that seeing how the children matured and how they grew, the YMCA way of life and working with a fine group of people was the most rewarding part of his time with Camp Fox and the other YMCA programs.
"I'm excited about the retirement party," Battison said. "I will see a lot of people I haven't seen in a long time.
Battison remains active with his church, St. James Presbyterian Church in Tarzana. And he hasn't closed the doors to volunteering in the future.
"I'll find something at a slower place," he said, chuckling. "At 90, I don't have quite as much energy, but I still have energy."