35-year tradition ends with camp demolition
By John Warren
Over a span of
35 years many Church of God youths and adults made a summer pilgrimage
to the North Woods of Minnesota. What could draw people from around
the world to a secluded retreat three miles from a little town called
was a piece of property on Pelican Lake donated by Minnesotan Scott
Erickson to the Radio Church of God in the early 1960s.
What started out
as a primitive campground developed over the years into the Worldwide
Church of God's first-class Summer Educational Program (SEP) for
thousands of WCG youths, adult counselors and college-student-age
The Journal contacted
Floyd and Mardell Kielczewski of Orr, who lived and worked at the
camp for many years.
In 1965 the WCG's
first camp director, Floyd Lochner of Pasadena, Calif., contacted
the Kielczewskis to ask them to move to Minnesota in February of
that year to begin preparations for the camp to open in July.
At the time, Mr.
Kielczewski (pronounced kill-ches-kee) was working as a guide and
trapper in Canada.
After 35 years
of employment as everything from guide to campsite manager, Mr.
Kielczewski lost his job with the WCG in May 2000.
The WCG sold the
SEP property in May of this year. A firm called Taylor Construction
bought it and is busy developing it as sites for private residences.
1965, before Scott Erickson donated the property, he considered
dividing the property up and selling lots," Mrs. Kielczewski
said. "Now that is what Taylor Construction is doing."
The new owners
have conducted auctions to sell the contents of the buildings. In
one case an auction took place one day and a demolition crew was
there the next day with the wrecking ball to knock down a building.
report that all the old buildings except two dormitories and two
houses are gone.
"It is just
too painful for us to go out there now," Mrs. Kielczewski said.
is writing a book about her experiences and memories about summer
camp at Orr that should be in print by the Feast of Tabernacles
"It has been
a wonderful 35 years," she said. "With an average of 1,000
campers and staff each year, it is almost impossible for us to travel
to any state or province where we don't know someone."
worked the first 12 years for Dr. Lochner. In later years camp directors
included Jim Thornhill, Kevin Dean, Kermit Nelson and Jeb Egbert.
The Journal contacted
John Havir of Huntington, W.Va., because of his long history with
the Orr camp and asked for his reaction to the demolition of the
property and its rebirth as a housing development.
Mr. Havir first
went to Orr as a 12-year-old in 1972. He returned to SEP seven years
later as a staff worker. From 1978 through 1982 and from 1984 through
1986, Mr. Havir served on the canoe staff. During the off seasons
from 1984 through 1986, Mr. Havir lived at the camp and worked full
time for the Kielczewskis.
Mr. Havir told
The Journal that, as far as camp personnel were concerned, Floyd
and Mardell Kielczewski were irreplaceable.
years," he said, "camp directors, department heads, instructors,
counselors, maintenance personnel and other workers came and went.
The Kielczewskis remained. The Kielczewskis are a common thread
between all administrations, workers and campers. In many ways they
were counselors to the administrations and staff who were involved
More than that
were more than site managers.
are the Kielczewskis the link to the thousands who attended camp
from the WCG, they were also the ambassadors to the local community,"
Mr. Havir said.
"No one knows
how many times throughout the years the Kielczewskis were the go-between
for the camp and the local community, performing damage control
for ill-fated plans of camp administrations or reassuring the community
that unchristian behavior from a few camp personnel was not acceptable
to them or representative of camp ideals."
he said, "viewed camp from a year-round perspective."
Mr. Havir said
he helped out with instructing skiing, canoeing and basketball,
as well as in the service and maintenance of the buildings and the
Mr. Havir remembers
the memorable "closing sessions."
"One of the
greatest scenes to witness at camp was the last evening," he
said. "Depending on the camp director, the last activity of
the camp was either a banquet, talent show or dance in the gymnasium.
campers were in the gym, buses would be lining up down by the dining
hall getting ready to take the campers to the airport."
After the activity,
the campers gathered near the dining hall and got ready to board
the buses. "It was at this time the emotions of campers, counselors
and staff erupted into tears of sadness," he said. "Strong
bonds had been built between all, and the people young or old did
not want the experience to end."
Mr. Havir said
Church of God members can learn a thing or two from their SEP experiences
and the camp's history.
the lesson for those who donate to churches or other ministries
is to realize that, once you let go of the money or piece of property,
in most cases you lose control of that asset. Beware of where you
give your time and money today.
property has been sold and will never be like thousands once knew
sad. Yet the memories cannot be destroyed."
The Journal talked
to Dr. Nelson, who served as program director from 1965 until 1975
and camp director from 1986 until 1994.
He recalls the
team effort it took to make the camp sessions a success.
we would recruit 115 to 125 Ambassador College students to work
as counselors and staff," he said. "Seventy-five percent
had been to camp before, so we had continuity of leadership. You
couldn't have 100 percent new staff because you needed people who
had been there before."
During his years
as director, Dr. Nelson said about 12 WCG elders and their wives
would assist in the camp each session. He said the couples quickly
realized they weren't on vacation and were in for a lot of hard
Dr. Nelson spoke
glowingly about Mr. Kielczewski.
held the place together," he said. "He taught us how to
take care of the camp. He put in the lagoon and water-treatment
plant, which won awards from the state. He has a good name in Orr
and in the surrounding fishing and camping community."
Dr. Nelson said
after each session the staff invited the campers to evaluate the
of the canoes
Most years there
were three sessions at Orr, with 288 campers in each session.
Dr. Nelson remembered
one year during which there were so many applications that a fourth
session was added and recent Ambassador College graduates stayed
to work as counselors after the other students had returned for
the beginning of school.
The canoe program,
a favorite activity for many campers over the years, was a major
trips really pulled people together," Dr. Nelson said. "When
they [the campers] came back they worked as a unit. You could tell
which dorms had been on the canoe trip and which campers had not."
Dr. Nelson said
that in all his years at Orr only one person left camp after having
participated in the canoe trip. That camper had contacted her parents
and they were already traveling to pick her up so she had to leave
even though she changed her mind after canoeing and wanted to stay.
Dr. Nelson mentioned
staff members such as father-and-son duo Gil and Dave Goethals,
who worked in many areas including canoeing, riflery, archery, basketball
and Christian-living classes.
Others who played
leadership roles were Randy Dick, Nate Berg, Larry Haworth, Kevin
Kennedy, Jeff Broadnax, Glenn Roberson, Gerald Weston and Ted Budge.
In the early years
some camp sessions were six weeks long, but over the years they
were shortened. In the 1970s they ran four weeks, and in the 1980s
and 1990s most sessions lasted three weeks.
Dr. Nelson says
Orr residents used to complain because the camp, as a church-sponsored
facility, didn't pay taxes. But "now that we are gone the village
realizes how important we were to them in so many ways."
The WCG continues
to sponsor regional camps.
over his years working with the camp in Minnesota, Dr. Nelson summed
up his memories of the staff and facility.
"It really developed and improved over the years," he said. "We wanted to give the youth the best of everything."
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God