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Fifty Years of a Developing Dream – Part 5

Chapter Five:
The Ministry Grows, Construction Struggles to Keep Up!

By 1965, just ten years after the decision was made to create a new Christian Camp Center, the young Warm Beach Camp was bursting at the seams. Under the creative and faithful leadership of Director Winfred McMullen, an increasing number of new groups and camping programs were calling Warm Beach Camp their home.

Among these early signers-on were the Lutheran Brethren Bible Camp, Cascade Family Camp, Young Life, Apostolic Christian Church Camp, Youth for Christ, Winning Women, and, of course, the Free Methodist and Warm Beach programmed events: Junior, Junior High, and High School Camps, Women’s and Men’s Retreats, and the annual Family Camp and Annual Conference. And there were many others.

But this wonderful growth produced “awesome challenges,” too. There was a myriad of pressing infrastructure issues clamoring for care. It was a constant scramble to try to keep up, and the need for ongoing financial backing was always urgent. A short calendar of development issues paints the picture:

December, 1964: Firm of Beckwith and Spangler engaged as consulting architects. They would continue to serve the Camp into their retirement.

January, 1965: Prayer Chapel plans approved-to be built in memory of Seattle Pacific College (University) professor, Burton Beegle.

February, 1965: Chinook Village Longhouse plans approved-to be the activity center of Chinook Village Tepee Camp.

Spring, 1965: Actual Construction projects included:

  • Beegle Memorial Prayer Chapel
  • Chinook Village Longhouse
  • First section of the “trailer court”
  • Enlarging of the “caretaker’s house”
  • Enlarging the water and waste water systems

All this flurry of work demanded that additional full-time on-site staff be added. Director Winfred McMullen continued his huge task as a part-time leader, while serving as a full-time educator!

Eldon and Gerry Gudgeon joined the staff the day after Easter, April 13, 1965. They “hit the ground running,” Gerry recently said as I chatted with her. When I asked what they did when they first arrived, she responded, “Everything!” Eldon, capable at anything, worked the maintenance and construction…then came in to cook meals! Gerry helped in the kitchen, becoming the baker for many years, but other days of the week cleaned all the lodging rooms. I asked her if she knew how many cinnamon rolls she baked in her 20-plus years. “I have no idea!” she said, “but one summer we baked 10,000 cookies!”

Their commitment to Warm Beach Camp would continue until Eldon retired in 1984, with Gerry continuing on a few years more. “I was younger, remember,” Gerry said. Eldon has since graduated to heaven, while Gerry still lives in the “retirement home” that Eldon built. When I asked Gerry for any other special note or memory, she answered, “I have no regrets. God led us all the way!”

Pressure continued on into 1966 for new facility construction:

  • The Tepees in Chinook Village needed to be replaced by frame buildings. (It rains in western Washington!) An A-Frame design was approved.
  • The aging “circus tent” needed replacing by a new Auditorium building.
  • There had been a dream of a “Western Ranch Camp” down near where the horses would be kept, but until now there didn’t seem any way to finance it. A call from the Seattle School District suddenly catapulted this project forward. A series of outdoor education camps would bring scores of kids to Warm Beach if we could house them. Once again the leadership rose to the challenge.

According to Eldon and Gerry, there were 27 buildings under various stages of construction during the winter, 1965, through spring, 1966! They included: 12 Chinook Village A-frame Cabins, 12 W-Bar-B Cabins, the W-Bar-B Restroom Building, and the Program Barn. The continuing work on the Program Center Auditorium rounded out the total construction count!

Thanks to scores of volunteers, along with a cadre of paid workers, the W-Bar-B Ranch Camp and Chinook Village cabins were ready for use in time for the summer season. Director McMullen reported to the Board in July, 1967, that both youth camp facilities were all paid for and “in the black”- funded by operational funds! The Auditorium would take two more years to complete.

1968 saw continued growth in ministry opportunities. Director McMullen reported in January that through May, eighteen groups were scheduled to bring 2500-3000 retreat attendees to the Camp. Some weekends saw up to 350 people pack the place.

Staff reinforcements arrived when Willard and Dale Trepus joined the staff June 1, 1968. Willard brought a wide range of skills to maintenance and construction, while Dale became the Dining Room Hostess. They teamed up with Eldon and Gerry excellently.

Jerry and Loree Bussard came on staff as Food Service Cooks in 1969. For several years Loree continued to serve before changing to other employment. While Jerry is nearing retirement, he is still onboard at this writing. With the exception of his training years in restaurants, and a few years served at The Firs Conference Center, Jerry has given his entire professional food service career to Warm Beach Camp.

1969 brought a difficult issue to the forefront. Warm Beach Camp’s tax-exempt status was challenged. The case went to the Washington State Supreme Court, where, because of ambiguity in the law at that time, the decision went against the Camp. This immediately raised great concern among all non-profit camps in the state. Warm Beach Board Chairman Forest Bush gave excellent leadership to the concerned group in drafting and promoting a clarified law, which was enacted by the State Legislature. This new law gave clear exemption to qualifying non-profit camps. While costly in time, money, and energy, this action put Warm Beach Camp in a position of serving the larger camping community, and won for it a place of leadership.

1970 brought some relief from the frenetic building process, and once again, the Board carefully reviewed its purpose … especially emphasizing the need for continued clear evangelistic thrust in the camp programs. In a cooperative endeavor with the parent Free Methodist Conference, it was decided that a Conference Director of Christian Education and Camping was needed. Duties would include serving Warm Beach Camp as Program Director, as well as giving Christian Education support to the local churches of the Conference. The Conference session, held at Warm Beach Camp in August, 1970, approved the new position and an immediate personnel search began.

It was at this point that this writer, then serving as a local church pastor, was asked to consider the assignment. After prayerful thought, we accepted the invitation. I could not have imagined the personal ministry course-change that was going to take place. Four short years later I would be thrust into the marvelous and huge task of directing Warm Beach Camp! And the trek would take me all the way to retirement!

But more about that in the next installment.

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