Deb Stang carried a bouquet of daisies at her second marriage. Her invitations featured a daisy theme. The wedding cookies were daisy-shaped.
“Daisies,” said Stang, a retired schoolteacher, “have changed my life.”
More precisely, Daisy Camp did.
Stang, 62, was married for 30 years and living in her dream house in 2008 when her first husband asked for a divorce. She had “not a clue” that it was coming.
Like so many women, Stang of Andover faced a bumpy road out of marriage, one that seemed daunting financially, legally and emotionally. When she heard about Daisy Camp, a three-day retreat for divorcing women, she couldn’t sign up fast enough. A year later, Stang returned as a speaker. When she married widower Ed Stang two years later, Jennifer Morris was among her cherished wedding guests.
“Jennifer is one of the most real people I know,” Stang said. “She is a true friend.”
Many women have said the same about Morris, Daisy Camp’s thoughtful, professional and exceedingly low-key founder. She started the camp as a one-shot deal. Ten years and 1,300 women later, she’s still holding the camp and changing lives.
“Helping all the other women really helped me,” said Morris, 46, a full-time Realtor with Edina Realty. “The life I have now would not be what it is had I not met all these women.”
Morris, who was divorced in 2005, quickly faced a dearth of reliable financial, legal and practical information. Having done some event planning, she envisioned a weekend retreat where women could relax and support one another, and receive useful information from financial planners, legal and parenting experts, nutritionists and career counselors.
She picked the daisy theme because daisies are hearty “and they flourish,” Morris said. “I believed with all my heart that it was a good idea.” She had no idea just how good.
The first camp quickly filled and had a waiting list of 50. So she planned another, then another. Sisters brought sisters. Mothers brought daughters. Friends brought friends.
Early on, Morris, who lives in Excelsior, answered every e-mail and phone call personally. Today, she has two part-time assistants helping with that.
In 2011, she turned Daisy Camp into a nonprofit with a board of directors. The structure has changed a bit, too. Instead of three-day retreats, Morris now holds four daylong camps a year, alternating between Edina and Woodbury, as well as minicamps that zero in on specific topics. (For more info, go to daisycamp.org or call 952-405-2060.) The cost for a full day, including lunch, is $60. Evening events are $25. “We never turn anyone away,” she said.
Men have asked to stop in at times, particularly to learn more about shared parenting and financial issues, and she’s supportive of that. Divorce, she said, “is very emotional” for everyone.
Creating a tribe
Ten years of watching women and their soon-to-be-exes struggle have altered Morris’ view of the world. “I think I looked at things as black and white back then, and now they’re more gray,” she said. “I’m not making assumptions about people. Everybody has a story, so just be nice to everybody you meet, because you don’t know what might be happening at home.”
Janis Borchers, 57, of Minnetonka, attended Daisy Camp in 2007. “I really did not want to go,” she said. “Friday night, you’re a sad-sack, sorry self, dragging your heels. By Sunday, you are a different person.”
Borchers was struck by how quickly she felt part of a “tribe” of women who, despite different ages, circumstances and backgrounds, “were tied together by this common experience.”
She’s kept in touch with about a dozen women who have attended Daisy Camp.
“We’re not bitter, lamenting, male-bashing women,” Borchers said. “We’re making lemonade out of lemons. This was so forward-thinking of Jennifer.”
Carolyn Riley participated in Daisy Camp when she faced divorce after a 46-year marriage. “I was feeling unsteady,” Riley said. “I was so unsure of what to do next,” she said. Daisy Camp “seemed like a lifeline,” helping Riley deal with psychological, financial, legal and housing issues. Today, Riley is an active volunteer, tennis player, singer and a doting grandmother to four.
The camp, and Morris’ guidance, she said, “taught me that there is going to be a future and I will find the way.”
Not all women who attend Daisy Camp get divorced, Morris noted. Some come, listen and go home to try to mend their relationship. “They’ll say, ‘You know what? I’m going home to give this another chance,’ ” Morris said.
Because Daisy Camp is a volunteer effort for Morris, she keeps it afloat with retreat fees, plus donations. Many women are more than happy to pay it forward after attending by sending a check so that another woman can attend.
Her compassionate approach has made Morris a local hero to some. Last summer, a woman approached her at a restaurant and said, “You’re the Daisy Lady! Daisy Camp saved my life.”