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Paynesville Press - November 20, 2002

Church resurrects TTT camp

By Jennifer E. Johnson

After a two-year hiatus, summer campers will again inhabit the eastern shore of Rice Lake in 2003. Hope Presbyterian Church of Richfield plans to reopen the old TTT camp as Camp Ojibway next June.

Camp Ojibway For 40 years, the 2,000-member congregation has operated its own summer camp for its youth and families. From June to August, 600-700 congregation members will participate in either weekly youth camps or weekend family retreats.

The dock and boathouse at Camp Ojibway await the return of summer campers to the shores of Rice Lake. Last open as a camp by the TTT Society, the site has been unused for several years. Hope Presbyterian of Richfield has bought the camp, has started remodeling, and plans to open the camp next June.

Each season there will be 10 college-aged staff hired to work as camp counselors and support staff. Additionally, the camp employs nurses, kitchen staff, and a site caretaker.

The church purchased the original Camp Ojibway - near Siren, Wis. - in the 1950s. The need for a new location arose after a tornado destroyed the property, buildings, and beach in June 2001. "Not one of the campers or staff was harmed," said David Laufenburger who with his wife, Kim, will return for a fourth season as camp directors. "Three minutes. F-3 tornado. A half-mile wide. Two-hundred and six mph winds. Sixty-five campers and staff. Zero injuries. One all-powerful God."

Immediately following the tornado, a rebuilding committee was formed to find a new location that embodied the qualities valued in the first Camp Ojibway. Funded through their insurance settlement and the church's capital drive, they began an extensive search. Guidelines included a good amount of acreage with lakefront access, an acceptable travel distance from the church, existing structures and capacity, natural buffers, and proximity to town.

The TTT property stood out among the several viable options the church had located. "Through much prayer and waiting," said Laufenburger, "we found the Rice Lake camp."

To their delight the committee realized that the owners had held onto the land in hopes of maintaining the property as a functioning camp. Long-time lake residents Pete and Kathy VonBank sold the 15-acre property to the church after purchasing it from the TTT Society two years ago.

"It was one of the nicest properties on the lake," said Pete, "When it went up for sale, we made the TTT Society an offer. It wasn't until three days later that we went through the buildings."

After seeing the cabins on the lot, Pete and Kathy agreed that it would be a sin to develop the property. They decided to hold onto the land for a few years, then advertise for another camp. The decision to sell to Hope Presbyterian was an easy one for them. "To us, camp gives kids a better walk of life," said Pete.

Both Kathy and Pete, a Rice Lake Association (RLA) board member, are committed to keeping the lake clean and safe for those frequenting its shores. They plan to donate to Camp Ojibway a year's membership to RLA and hope the camp will take an active role in the lake association. Relocating to Rice Lake posed some capacity challenges. The church will strive to accommodate the expected number of campers by building several structures as well as refurbishing the existing TTT camp.

The initial building phase - to be finished by next summer - includes: moving a few of the six existing cabins; erecting four double bungalows; constructing a new shower building; and replacing the existing pole barn with another for multi-purpose use.

Cabins and canoes at Camp Ojibway The second phase - scheduled for 2004 pending funding from the church's capital drive - will be centered around building a main lodge by the lake to house the chapel, cafeteria, and ten bedrooms for year-round adult retreats.

Working with local contractors and area businesses is important to the camp's planners. With construction already under way, Keith Koenig, the camp's property manager, has contacted local businesses for the first of two projected phases.

Though closed for the season, Camp Ojibway will host between 600 to 700 members of Hope Presbyterian's congregation each summer.

Worship is the core of the camp, with programs that include singing, skits, small group devotions, and Bible study. Part of the camp's mission reads, "We strive to create an environment, in the natural surroundings of camp and away from the chaos of life, where the Holy Spirit will challenge and encourage all who come."

In addition to providing an arena for spiritual growth, Camp Ojibway offers plain old fun and games throughout the season. Campers enjoy a full range of both water and shore-bound activities, including an early morning swim affectionately named "Penguins."

Pete VonBank couldn't be happier that kids and families will be enjoying the lake property once again. He recalls his time at church camp being a moving experience. "Being young and having the opportunity to spend a week away from your parents, interacting with all walks of life, rich or poor, it didn't seem to matter. Parents give you a lot of support and input, but camp was a step above that," he said.

Camp Ojibway promises to continue the site's history of providing kids of all ages a bit of sanctuary by Rice Lake.

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