Camp Alumna Puts Young Artists on Right Track

Elaine Gordon Silets (IAC 48-50) has vivid memories of her first trip from Chicago to Interlochen in 1948. “My mother took me down to the train station and put me on the Pere Marquette train, and my father tipped the porter five dollars to look after me,” she remembers. When she arrived at the National Music Camp, she was quickly ushered into uniform services, issued her blue corduroy knickers, and sent off to Intermediate Girls. Little did she know that she would be just the first of three generations to wear blue corduroy—or that 65 years later her love of trains would help other young artists attend Interlochen Arts Camp.

Elaine started as a visual arts major at National Music Camp, but when she saw her friends in orchestra and band she decided that she wanted to join one of the large music ensembles. When someone mentioned that they needed more double basses, she decided that was her way in. By the end of the summer, she was playing double bass in the intermediate orchestra. “I loved being in orchestra,” Elaine says. “Everyone should be in some kind of music ensemble. It was an inspiration to me.”

Elaine’s three children—Jonathan (IAC 75-77), H.L. (IAC 75-77), and Alexandra (IAC 81-83, 85)—all followed her advice, each spending several summers at Interlochen performing in various music ensembles. And grandson Joshua (IAC 12) returns to Interlochen Arts Camp this summer to play flute in junior band. Interlochen became such a family affair for the Silets that when Jonathan died in 1982 the family established the Jonathan L. Silets Memorial Scholarship.

“There was never any question that we would do anything else,” Elaine said. “Jonathan loved and adored Interlochen.” In addition, Elaine knew that giving to Interlochen would make a tangible difference. And what a difference it has made. Over the past 30 years, nearly 50 junior and intermediate percussionists and violinists have received financial assistance to attend Interlochen Arts Camp through her efforts. Elaine is pleased that she often gets to meet the scholarship recipients, recalling a recent recipient who whispered in her ear, “Mrs. Silets, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here.”

Known today as “The Train Lady,” Elaine uses her fine arts training designing model railroads as president of Huff & Puff Industries in North Barrington, Illinois. She has built railroads for individuals and businesses across the country, and her railroad designs have been featured in numerous publications and television programs. Elaine shared her love of model railroads and her love of Interlochen with her late husband, Harvey Silets, a well-known tax attorney and litigator in Chicago. “Harvey often wanted to make the trip to Interlochen even when we didn’t have any of our own kids there,” Elaine says. Recognizing Harvey’s passion for Intelochen, Elaine recently established a second scholarship, the Harvey M. Silets Memorial Scholarship, which will benefit intermediate campers in any discipline.

Before Harvey’s death in 2007, Elaine spent two years creating a special model railroad design for Harvey’s extensive train collection. On June 29, she will open her private gardens, outdoor garden railway, and the Harvey M. Silets Railroad Museum as a benefit for the Harvey M. Silets Scholarship fund. With an expected crowd of several thousand people, Elaine hopes that this year they will be able to raise the remainder of the funds needed to fully endow the scholarship. Combining Harvey’s love for model railroads and love for Interlochen is a fitting tribute that will help more young artists attend Interlochen Arts Camp. Elaine says, “Harvey loved the atmosphere and the dedication of the kids. I know that Interlochen had his heart.”

Elaine’s own memories of her time at Interlochen include moving performances under the baton of Maynard Klein, playful conversations with T.P. Giddings, and the tranquility of Green Lake while sitting in Kresge during Sunday morning Interlochen Services. The recipients of the Jonathan L. Silets and Harvey M. Silets Memorial Scholarships will create their own Interlochen memories for years to come. What started 65 years ago with a train ride to the National Music Camp continues today, thanks to one family’s commitment to making a difference, one student at a time.

For more information on the June 29 Garden Walk and Model Railroad Display at Huff & Puff Industries to benefit the Harvey M. Silets Memorial Scholarship fund, please visit trainlady.com.

Image Gallery

  • Interlochen Center for the Arts' photo
  • Interlochen Center for the Arts' photo
  • A Japanese water garden incorporates a model train layout, complete with railroad trestle at the estate of Elaine Silets in North Barrington July 25, 2006.
(Chicago Tribune photo by Chris Wa ...
  • Interlochen Center for the Arts' photo
  • Interlochen Center for the Arts' photo
  • Interlochen Center for the Arts' photo
  • Interlochen Center for the Arts' photo
  • Interlochen Center for the Arts' photo

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