Camp LuWiSoMo began as a dream over 50 years ago as members of the SWD Lutheran Laymens League set their hearts on developing an outdoor ministry in the South Wisconsin District. After a committee was set up to get the ball rolling, they sent out promotional questionnaires to the pastors and teachers in the SWD in April of 1958 which contained the following introductory quote from Lutheran Education (April, 1957):
“Camping is here to stay in American life! As our church grows, we must become aware of the tremendous possibilities camping offers our church in training our youth for intelligent Christian living. We must make use of every available means in preparing our children for combating forces of evil in the world today – organized camping is one of the significant contributions of American education. Yet, it is one of the most neglected areas in a church’s program of Christian Education.”
The initial fifteen-member Camp Committee was represented by the LLL, LWML, Walther League, teacher representatives, District and Synodical representatives, and Gamma Delta LCMS scout representatives. The first, and perhaps the most significant challenge was finding and selecting a suitable location. After inspecting numerous sites in southern Wisconsin, during the winter of 1960/61, they selected a plot of land 10 miles west of Waupaca which contained a lake rumored to have the best fishing around. However, when the ice thawed that spring, they discovered that the weeds in the lake, although great for fish, made swimming and boating, pertinent activities for a potential camp, rather impractical.
Then they set their sights on seven acres of land with 700 feet of lake frontage on Big Hills Lake and seven cabins already in place. Although it sounded like a good deal for $73,000, seven acres hardly seemed like enough land for a camp. The land owner directed them across the road to the farm of George Peacock for the possibility of purchasing additional acreage, and when approached, George Peacock offered them 340 acres with 800 feet of frontage on Round Lake for $60,000. On October 8, 1961, at a meeting in Watertown, the LLL voted 154 to 8 in favor of purchasing the Peacock farm. On November 1, 1961, the LLL took possession of the property.
Herbert Jaeger, who was put in charge of finding a suitable name for the newly emerging camp, asked each of the Lutheran schools in the District to have their students come up with names. Each class was to select the best name submitted by the students, and each school selected one of the names submitted by the classes. In June of 1961, the Camp Committee named the camp LuWiSoMo, a name submitted by a nine-year-old fifth grader from Bethany Lutheran School in Milwaukee, Karen Rieck (now Gromowski). LuWiSoMo is an acronym for Lutheran Wisconsin South (District) Missouri (Synod), although some people are convinced that LuWiSoMo is a Native American name.
On July 22, 1962, more than 1,000 people gathered on the newly purchased property for the dedication of Camp LuWiSoMo. The following year, many of these people met at Camp LuWiSoMo again. When they gathered a third time in July of 1964, they decided to serve a chicken barbeque, provided by Brakebush Brothers. This evolved into an annual event which became known as Family Day and grew into a major weekend event, complete with fireworks and the Brakebush Brothers’ much-acclaimed chicken barbeque.
Right after the purchase of the farm, work began to turn the property into a camp. Pages could be filled with stories of the sweat and determination of dedicated Lutherans giving their time and talents to create the foundations of this outdoor ministry. Trees were planted, roads were bulldozed, and farm buildings were transformed into usable camp facilities. The horse barn became a dormitory. The garage became an office. The grainary became a dining hall and kitchen, and now serves as the arts & crafts center. The pig pens became staff lodging and storage; today, while these rooms are no longer used for lodging, they are still affectionately referred to as the pig pens.
The largest building on the grounds was the barn, originally constructed in 1943 for $33,000 (rather expensive for 1943). This became our beautiful St. Barnabus Chapel and recreation hall. Donations from a number of Lutheran congregations provided the chapel furnishings and stained glass windows, turning this structure into a unique landmark for LuWiSoMo. The huge stained glass cross, constructed by Lee Krenzke and family, is one of the first impressions many people have of the camp.
The first cabins and shower house were built in 1966. In 1968, an additional 80 acres of land was donated to the camp, bringing the total acreage to 420 acres of land. The cement platform for the outside crib feeders for the beef became the foundation for the metal maintenance building in 1971, and a shower house was constructed in the campground the same year.
After 20 years of outdoor ministry, the LLL offered Camp LuWiSoMo to the South Wisconsin District, and on September 10, 1981 the SWD Board of Directors voted to accept it and take over operation. Improvements to the camp continued. Groundbreaking began in June of 1988 for the Harvey Krueger Retreat Center which further expanded the ministry possibilities. In 1998, two tree houses and a picnic shelter were constructed.
Ed Goetsch served Camp LuWiSoMo as the first camp director/ranger, living on the grounds from 1961 to 1972; he was instrumental in helping camp grow in those early years. After his retirement, David Gordan was hired as maintenance man and supervisor of Camp LuWiSoMo. In June, 1972, Harlan Limmer was installed as Executive Director, and David Gordan continued as maintenance man and advisor. Mr. Limmer began winterizing more of the buildings and developed plans for more optimum use of the property for Outdoor Education programs, RV and tent camping, and general Outdoors Ministry. After August 1973, David Gordan served as both maintenance man and camp administrator until Eugene Sattler became the Executive Director at Camp LuWiSoMo in 1975. Mr. Sattler served camp until 1982. He initiated a number of programs including the Golden Agers Retreat, Pee Wee camps, Boundary Water canoe trips, and Colorado backpacking adventures. Scott Hirssig directed the camp from 1982-1996, followed by Kurtis Bueltmann from 1996-2008, Terry Schmeckpeper from 2008-2009, Michael Stapleton from 2012-2013, and William Durling from 2013-2016. On April 22, 2016, Matt Kohler became President.
The first Camp LuWiSoMo motto was “For a greater appreciation of God’s creation.” The current Camp Board has articulated the mission of LuWiSoMo as follows: “Camp LuWiSoMo is dedicated to providing faith-growing opportunities, in a Christ-centered outdoor ministry setting, for all ages to refresh the whole person through the blessings of people, facilities, and God’s Word.”
Throughout the years, Camp LuWiSoMo has been a special place where people can relax and enjoy Christian fellowship and the beauty of God’s creation, while growing spiritually as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is shared through Bible studies, songs, devotions, and worship. We pray that God continues to bless this ministry, and reach more people with His Word through the gift of Camp LuWiSoMo.
This is only a brief summary of the history of Camp LuWiSoMo and only a few of the great number of people and congregations that have helped make LuWiSoMo what it is today have been included. If you know of any contributors or events that are part of this story, please tell us about them! The story of Camp LuWiSoMo is still being written, and we welcome your involvement!