When she was a preteen, Sulie Harand knew she wanted to be an opera singer. When her father died shortly after that, and her mother was barely able to support Sulie and her older sister Pearl, the two sisters both went to work. Pearl did some odd jobs but also performed for many Jewish organizations, writing her own material. Sulie initially sang in a restaurant, but began developing her own one-woman shows of musical theatre.
After marrying and each having two daughters, the Harand sisters and their husbands opened first the Harand Studios in Chicago and then the Harand Camp of the Theatre Arts in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. That was in 1955. Thousands of children and teenagers have come through those gates, and although the location has changed over the years, Harand Camp still continues.
The names and faces change, but the message is the same: we need to build a child’s self-esteem above all else. “No Man is an Island” is the camp’s theme song.
At one point, Sulie Harand had a private audition with famed composer/lyricist Frank Loesser. She performed her one-woman version of his show, “Fiorello,” in front of a very small, select group. When she finished, they gave her a standing ovation. Loesser wanted to write a show for her to perform on Broadway, but she said she could not forsake her family and campers.
Sulie and Pearl took an innovative approach to the arts. They built a non-competitive environment, where everyone could share parts in a show and no one was a star. Everyone was there to develop self-confidence and improve communication skills. Add to that, sports and the activities of camp life, and you have a winning combination.
In the September, 1996 Chicago Reader, there is a wonderful article about the sisters called “Sister Act.” It says, “The talented Harand sisters were entertainers, but they’ve left their mark as teachers, instilling in their students the humanist optimism that distinguished the golden age of the American musical.”
But by 1999, all the original founders of Harand had passed away with the exception of Sulie Harand.She was determined that the camp would survive. She had lost her husband, sister and brother-in-law, but she wss still going strong. Her two nieces and daughter became the Co-Directors, following her lead in continuing the camp tradition.
Today this remarkable woman is living at a retirement hotel but still the Director of the campin the summers. With her creativity and ingenious ways, she has organized a group of residents at the hotel, some even in wheelchairs. They rehearse and perform mini-musicals; that is, excerpts from shows like “Guys and Dolls,” “Oklahoma,” or “A Tribute to Irving Berlin.” Sulie directs them, and she performs in the shows, and she takes it all very seriously. She is a valiant woman, a woman whose talent and wisdom have positively touched thousands of young people. Her students have gone on to become successful in almost every walk of life. Last year, there was a fundraiser for the camp scholarship fund, and alumni came from all over the country to honor this exceptional woman, this woman of valor.