Camp Mount Luther, the Baby

The story of Camp Mount Luther is a story of the dedication and love that so many have for this expression of the church in God’s outdoors. Those who were instrumental in the founding of camp stayed true to their vision of a place of small-group camping, rooted in the life of the congregation. The camp enjoyed great success in its early days, gathering as much attention as a newborn baby.

The year of the camp’s “birth” began with a special meeting of the synod’s Division of Camping held on January 4, 1963. At this meeting, the division discussed the future of Camp Juniata and named personnel to the Managing Boards of Nawakwa and Susquehanna and the new camp in Union County. They decided to sell Camp Juniata. That same month, the synod Executive Board authorized the sale of Camp Juniata to a buyer at a price and terms to be approved by the president and the secretary of the synod. The sale was to be advertised widely, including to church-related and youth-serving circles. Net proceeds of the sale were to be invested in the development of the Buffalo Valley site.

In January and March 1963, the Executive Board retained the architectural services of Lawrie and Green, of Harrisburg, to develop plans for the Union County camp. They also approved a contract with Berger Associates for a property, topographical, and aerial survey of the property at a cost of $4,520, to be paid for out of the proceeds of the sale of Camp Juniata. The synod told the Board of Parish Education to proceed in the development of camping facilities with an initial expenditure of not more than $30,000.

On January 31, 1963, the synod sent a news release, announcing the purchase and development of a new camp in Union County. In the release, they described the property that contained two houses, two barns, and several other farm buildings. They envisioned that accommodations would be provided for several types of camping and conferences, each in separate areas, with some housing, dining, and health facilities being winterized. The project would include a freshwater pond fed by natural streams and a swimming pool with a filtering system. Programs would be planned for families as well as for children, youth, and adults.

A local newspaper reported that plans to search for a camp site in this area were the result of a recommendation of the Christian Education committee of the former Susquehanna Conference, chaired by the Rev. Jesse E. Wolf, Grace Church, Sunbury. The synod subsequently formed a camp committee which included the Reverend Wolf, and Rev. John G. Bernheisel, Mifflinburg. Rev. Dr. Robert Koons, Christ Church, Gettysburg, and former pastor of Zion Church, Sunbury, served as chairman of the committee. Tentative plans included erecting prefabricated redwood structures on the site and planting trees in the camp area, Rev. Wolf stated in a newspaper article. 

The synod Board of Parish Education instituted a Division of Camping to determine programs, set schedules, select, and train leaders, formulate personnel policies, care for and develop camp properties, and administer camp finances.  The board adopted a long-range goal of establishing four camps on the synod territory: Nawakwa, the new Union County site, Sequanota, and a site in the general area of Lancaster and Lebanon. The camps would serve geographical areas but would likely develop distinctive programs and facilities to serve synod-wide interest. The board planned that each camp would eventually operate on a year-round basis, accommodating retreats, conferences, and other gatherings. To assist in operation, the synod created a Managing Board for each site.

The Managing Board of Camp Mount Luther first met on March 20 and 29, 1963. At the latter meeting, the board decided to tear down buildings on the inner-farm location except for the house, barn, and toilet.

“It was reported that the property of 30 acres north and west of the inner-entrance road was for sale. This property, owned by Mrs. Helen Rehppart of Shamokin, contains some woodland and a rather convenient and attractive cottage. The asking price is $11,000 to the synod. There is some effort on the part of sportsmen to purchase this as a hunting lodge, but Mrs. Rehppart would prefer to dispose of the property to the church, should the church be interested in it. On a motion it was recommended that the synod acquire title of the Rehppart property,” the board minutes read.

In April, the architect received approval for design concepts for the first village. Also, the Managing Board learned that Helen Rehppart reduced the asking price for her property to $8,500. The board also discussed recommending a name for the camp, receiving the following suggestions:  Lutherdale, Luther Valley, Luther Hills, Luther Heights, and Luther Village. The Managing Board voted to recommend to the Board of Parish Education that the name of the new Union County camp be “Mount Luther Camp and Conference Center.”  Ned Pheasant, a board member and banker from Snyder County, proposed the name.

Rev. Robert Logan proved to be an important figure in those early days. “When the plan to develop the Mount Luther Camp first unfolded, I had the privilege of being the first board chairman. It was our hope that we could develop a facility that would provide spiritual and physical enrichment for our youth, and later adults.  After the first two [villages] had been built, the whole ‘family weekend travel camping’ concept grew in America, and the idea was put on ‘hold.’  The financial resources were not available. Still the dream persisted in many hearts,” Logan said.

On May 13, 1963, the deeds to the property were settled. Also, “the Managing Board recognizes the contributions which Camp Juniata and Camp Susquehanna have made toward the new camp which is being born. Such contributions are hard to measure but are nevertheless integral to the development of our new camp.”

Only a month before the start of the summer camping season, the Managing Board awarded construction bids for Maple Village at a special meeting on May 29, 1963. The motion passed that eight winterized cabins, a winterized lodge, and a pond would be built for about $80,000. They would also request additional funds from the synod Executive Board. This amount would be enough to purchase the Rehppart property. The lodge bid (for the building that is now Maple Hall and included an office and first aid room) was awarded to Shipton Brothers of Mifflinburg. They awarded the bid for the eight cabins to George Carr of Mifflinburg. The electrical work bid went to Harold Souers of Mifflinburg.  Materials were to be delivered by June 14 with buildings completed by June 30.

Would the buildings be ready in time for the opening of camp? We will find out in a future blog post!