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Fifty Years of a Developing Dream – Part 4

Chapter Four:
The Tough Years: To Stay the Course–Daring Faith, Struggle, and Strategy!

By 1962, seven years had passed since the historic decision in 1955 to launch into the unknown territory of creating a new Christian camping center. Seven tough, stretching years!

There were times of great jubilation … like when the “Warm Beach property” became available and when the members of the parent Free Methodist Conference swung behind the venture.

There were also periods of faith-testing … like the oftentimes when there wasn’t enough money to keep the construction moving ahead to keep pace with the ministry demands.

A few times there were even moments of asking, “Did we go too far?” – But only moments – because the profound conviction was that this was God’s time and God’s leading.

So, the frequent committee meetings in 1962 and onward were devoted both to prayer and strategic planning. And the workers, paid and volunteer, “stayed the course.”

Elmer McDowell had sold his grocery and meat business in Centralia, and came with his wife, Eva to serve as the Development Manager in 1957. That position evolved and grew as the new Camp’s development progressed. Almost as soon as basic facilities were at some stage of completion, new groups were asking to bring their people to retreats and camps. Elmer and Eva began to host, and with other volunteers, cook for and serve these early guests. Living in the “farm house” on the lower property, their work became almost a seven-day-a week proposition. Elmer’s reports to the Board would include progress on clearing land, installing utilities, purchasing both construction and grocery supplies, and the number of guest groups being served. The McDowell’s continued until 1962.

It became apparent that the Board must hire Warm Beach Camp’s first Director. It found a very committed and capable person from within its own ranks. Rev. Winfred McMullen was a Free Methodist pastor, also serving on the Christian Education and Camping committees of the Conference.

Winfred accepted the challenge and was named Director in 1961. This was a major shift for Winfred, his wife Eleanor, and their family. He shifted his work from being a pastor to teaching school to support his family, and spending evenings at his desk at home scheduling camps and retreat groups.

The job description was part-time, mind you…but the work was “full-time,” on very slim part-time pay! In reminiscing about those days, Eleanor remembered the Friday afternoon routine: pack their family into the car, stop on the way north to pick up last-minute supplies, and hurry to Warm Beach to face the challenges of the weekend ministry of service. Summers became full-time as the camp schedule grew. The McMullen’s would continue this grueling routine for thirteen amazing years! Theirs was a ministry of love and determination that set the course of Warm Beach Camp!

A Warm Beach Camp Women’s Auxiliary was formed, under the leadership of Ivanelle Kirkpatrick (now Foreman), along with a core group of ladies. They proposed to the Board that the Auxiliary would tackle such projects as bedding and curtains for the lodging rooms, sewing aprons for the food service staff, and would even take on painting projects. Their work would soon expand to funding an annual project and sponsoring annual Women’s Retreats … an effective ministry that continues to the present.

Finances for the ongoing Camp development always seemed in short supply! A Warm Beach Camping Association had been inaugurated in 1962, with people committing to support the Camp with $10 per month. The Board minutes show the continuing concern and work in communicating with donors to keep this flow of support coming, especially as the years of facility development continued. Meanwhile, the Board had several other items on the agenda.

1962 ushered in the construction of Cascadian Lodge, the swimming pools, sewer lines to the new treatment lagoon (that replaced temporary septic tanks), and the ever-present need to complete the work on projects begun earlier.

Because the finances were always so tight, and yet the demand to provide more space for the growing numbers of campers was constant, the process of camp development became a struggle. Often, a project was completed just enough to be barely functional, when the work would jump to the next much-needed project. In retrospect, one wonders why campers accepted the unfinished buildings. But the answer seems to be that the fledgling camp was new enough and the dream grand enough that they wanted to be a part of it. In fact, about this time, Director Winfred McMullen reported to the Board that the 1963 summer schedule was completely filled.

That summer, a new vision for an “Indian Village” children’s camp site was presented. The idea came from Forest Home Christian Conference Center in southern California, where their Indian Village Camp was constructed of real tepees at a very low cost and had a waiting list of several hundred kids.

The concept was approved, planning got underway, tepees were ordered, and construction was scheduled for the next spring, with first use planned for the summer of 1964. Enthusiasm was high, the children signed up and the new Indian Camp, now named Chinook Village, was a reality. The first season was very successful, but there was just one problem … in Western Washington it often rains! In southern California, it almost never rains. The plan imported from California needed some modification for our Washington weather. But that’s a story for the next chapter.

1964 addressed another crucial need. Because of the large groups coming each summer, a huge “circus tent” was erected for the season to serve as a “general assembly” meeting facility. There was considerable rain that summer, which resulted in several “water pockets” forming in the aging tent. I remember serving as pianist for one service when one of these sagging sections suddenly split, dumping a cascade of gallons of water on the sawdust floor, just feet from the piano. For an instant I thought I was going to have a shower right there!

It may have been the weather that summer that urged the decision, or maybe it was just the right time … but the minutes of a July, 1964, meeting record that a new “Christian Education Center/Multipurpose Auditorium” be named as a two-year project. This would become a very significant decision!

Stay tuned. In the next installment we will learn about a fantastic feat: twenty-seven buildings under construction at the Camp at the same time!

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