The Mincemoyers

By Chad Hershberger

It is my firm belief that Camp Mount Luther would not be where it is today if not for the stewards of the camp in the late 1960s. Don and Betty Jane Minemoyer served on staff for the latter half of this early decade in CML’s life. Don served as director and would also serve as the first vice president of the Upper Susquehanna Synod in the late 80s. Both he and Betty Jane provided strong and steady leadership and developed the program staying true to the core values of its founders.

Recently, I had the great opportunity to visit with Betty Jane in her home in Boalsburg. She is 97-years-old and is absolutely remarkable. BJ lives in the home she and Donald lived when I visited them both shortly after I became director. She is growing seeds in her basement to plant this spring in her gardens, and she daily reads three newspapers on her computer. She enjoys getting out to visit her family and keeps in touch with her grandchildren and great grandchild via the computer. BJ and I correspond regularly through email, and it always brightens my day to hear from her. Spending a few hours with her and Marianne Brock, our regional ELCA gift planner, was a joy and a gift to me! Betty Jane says she is anxious to come to camp and see the new bathhouse and Maple Hall renovations. Her first “office” as nurse was in that building and for years she served as food service manager.

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In fact, BJ was asked to come to camp in 1963, the camp’s first year, because they needed a nurse to get started. She was asked to be there for a day. She stayed seven years!

At the start of the Mincemoyer Years, a new program would be explored which would be part of Camp Mount Luther’s identity in years to come. In January 1965, the Sunbury School District requested to use and rent the camp facilities in early May for a special project for sixth graders, thus beginning Shikellamy’s Outdoor Education program. The board told Mincemoyer to extend the use of the facilities to the district. BJ said, “It was a really big program. They took so much time that you could just count on them so you really didn’t advertise for anybody else. It worked out so well. They had a principal who was really gung-ho on this.” This relationship, which is still in existence today, would be part of Mount Luther’s identity throughout its history. Many people from the Sunbury area distinctly remember their elementary outdoor education experience and tie that memory to Mount Luther, helping Mount Luther’s own identity.

Other groups would also rent the camp facilities in the non-summer camping season. The Mincemoyers recalled that during their tenure, some sports camps operated at Camp Mount Luther at the end of the summer, including one from Lewistown. They played in the field at Oak Cottage and stayed in Maple Village. At this same time in the camp’s history, the Managing Board, as related in the minutes, tasked the Finance and Property and the Program and Leadership Committees to study the use of Oak Acres (later known as simply “Oak Cottage”) as it related to the camp program.

A few weeks later, the synod’s Executive Board authorized the Property Committee, in consultation with the Board of Parish Education, to designate an architectural and engineering firm to be retained as consultants in the development of the synod’s camp properties. While unrelated, that spring, the Managing Board approved construction of three staff arks for summer use by the camp director and chef.

The design of the arks was unique, just like the rest of the buildings in Maple Village. “We thought we had to have something [different]. I don’t know whether we saw something like that, but we tried to make it with as much room as possible because the beds had to sit on the floor and at shoulder height it gives you a little bit more room,” Donald Mincemoyer recalled in a 2001 interview. They called them arks because, Mincemoyer said, “They do look somewhat like a boat.” The Mincemoyer family lived in one of the arks next to the kitchen that summer. “It was nice. We were right there. We could hear the telephone ring,” Betty Jane Mincemoyer said. They would then stay at Oak Cottage the next two summers.

The camp addressed other property issues that spring. James Reamer of Rural Millmont expressed interest in selling his property adjacent to the camp to the synod. He proposed selling timber from the parcel and then giving the land to the camp. Ira Sassaman suggested that two other property owners, Mr. Shively and Mr. Mensch, be contacted to see if they would like to sell their land. Meanwhile, on April 22, 1965, Ira Sassaman and others met with the architects, Lawrie and Green, to discuss what might be planned for the Oak Acres section. On May 4, 1965, the synod’s Executive Board approved that the Board of Parish Education and the Managing Board of Mount Luther Camp and Conference Center be authorized to proceed to erect a single-unit, all weather retreat house to accommodate approximately 24 persons. It was never built.

Camp Mount Luther’s third summer season, and Donald Mincemoyer’s first as director, began on June 10-12, 1965, when staff training took place and included sessions on fellowship, decision making, leadership, counselor objectives, outdoor cooking, life and living, fire prevention, crafts, worship and music, study, and camp layout. During senior high week that summer, a foreign exchange student from Switzerland, Werner Richner (known as “Ali”) spent the week as a camper, a newspaper article reported. Youth camps in 1965 averaged 63.5 campers (capacity was 64) for the nine-week season. The camp turned down about 180 applications due to lack of space.

That fall, a few events of note happened. It was reported that the camp custodian residence on Moll Road was vacated after the death of Kermit Boob. On October 28, 1965, in a report to the Managing Board, Donald Mincemoyer suggested the well near the pond be tapped and used for the fresh water required for swimmers. The pond measured 15 feet deep and included separate areas for non-swimmers, swimmers, and boaters. The state approved the private beach.

The synod held several events at Camp Mount Luther in 1965. A weekend retreat was held in the spring and the Leadership Education Division of the Board of Parish Education held a weekday retreat for pastors in the fall. On October 8-10, a conference was held to train duties for Christian Education Committees. During Thanksgiving weekend, a young adult conference was held.

Now that there was some stable leadership through Don and BJ Mincemoyer, the camp was ready to take off! New additions were set to come to Mount Luther in the latter half of the 1960s that would help expand the camp’s facilities and programs.