Big Lake Celebrates 50 Years
by Jilany Wellman


In 1962, Big Lake Youth Camp opened its doors to its first year of camping ministry. Camp looked quite different back then; campers stayed in tents, the camp ranger had a pet bobcat, and campers participated in activities like canoe jousting, trampolining, or campfire cookery. Needless to say, camp’s programming and its physical appearance has changed a lot over the past 50 years; now campers stay in cabins, eat in the lodge with a new, industrial kitchen, get emails from their parents, and can take part in activities like digital photography or wakeboarding. But despite these major changes, the one constant thread throughout Big Lake’s history is the staff who show up summer after summer, eager and ready to change camper’s lives.

On August 23-26, 2012, Big Lake Youth Camp celebrated 50 years of summer camp ministry. The weekend started off with registration and housing assignments with many alumni requesting to “rough it” and stay in their old A-frame cabin from their summer as a camp counselor because they wanted to give their children the true Big Lake experience. On Friday, alumni enjoyed classic camp activities like archery, canoeing, sailing, waterskiing, and horseback riding. Morning worships and church service on Sabbath started with rousing renditions of “Do Lord,” “Side by Side,” “I Like Bananas,” and “Everyday,” followed by stories and testimonials from camp a l u m n i and past directors. And in true Adv e n t i s t form, we fell o w s h ipped over a delicious lunch of veggie-burgers and sweet potato fries.

While about 120 people registered and stayed at camp for the weekend, approximately 300 people attended the 50th Anniversary Celebration. Included in this 300 people were three former camp directors – Jim Robertson, Ron Wisbey, and Rob Lang; five former cooks – Clara Brown, Sandi Christensen, Karen Thornton, John Rivera, and Travis Sandidge; and two former camp rangers – Nick VanTassel and Bruce Christensen. Additionally, Judy Christensen-Griffin, wife of deceased camp director BJ Christensen, also attended.

As I reminisced with fellow staff and old friends, I noticed our conversations often trailed off into: “Do you remember when…” and we had a really good laugh about the time we were out too late and had to run away from night watch, or how we shoveled snow out of the campfire bowl in late June, or spread wood-chips for 12 hours straight during staff training. But beyond all the funny memories we love to talk about, camp also gave us this other thing we’ve come to recognize as adulthood. In a talk he gave on Friday night, Big Lake alumnus Donny Veverka talked about the impact of camp and how it shaped and molded us into who we are today. Yes, camp taught us how to cook, mend a fence, fix a generator, care for children, get up on time, and be good employees. But it also taught us some heavier things – like the stress of responsibility, the deep concern we can feel for others, and the discomfort of failure. For many of us, camp was a good, hard introduction into our own vulnerability and humanity – a gift we now get to carry out into the world and our real, grown-up lives.

As the weekend ended and people made the trek up the hill from the lodge, past the boy’s and girl’s villages, past the flagpole and bell, through the wood-chips up to the parking lot, you could hear echoes of “let’s stay in touch” and “it was SO good to see you.” So, here’s to another 10 great years of summer camp ministry and we’ll see you at the 60th!

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