LuWiSoMo began as a dream over 60 years ago as members of the LCMS South Wisconsin District (SWD) Lutheran Laymen’s League (LLL) set their hearts on developing an outdoor ministry in the South Wisconsin District.
An initial fifteen-member Camp Committee was established with representation from the LLL, LWML, Walther League, teachers, SWD, LCMS Synod and Gamma Delta LCMS scouts.
To get the ball rolling they sent out a promotional questionnaire to the pastors and teachers in the SWD in April of 1958, which contained the following introduction 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 first, and perhaps the most significant challenge was finding and selecting a suitable location. After inspecting numerous sites in southern Wisconsin, in the spring of 1961, the Camp Committee approached George Peacock about the possibility of purchasing his farm in Wild Rose, Wisconsin. George offered 340 acres with 800 feet of frontage on Round Lake for $60,000 and on October 8, 1961, at a meeting in Watertown Wisconsin, the LLL voted to purchase the Peacock farm and took possession on November 1, 1961.
Herbert Jaeger, who was put in charge of finding a suitable name for the new outdoor ministry camp, asked each of the SWD Lutheran schools to have 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 1961, the Camp Committee named the camp “LuWiSoMo”, a name submitted by Karen Rieck (now Gromowski), a fifth grader from Bethany Lutheran School in Milwaukee. “LuWiSoMo” is an acronym for Lutheran Wisconsin South (District) Missouri (Synod), although some people are convinced it is a Native American name.
On July 22, 1962, more than 1,000 people gathered on the newly purchased property for the dedication. The following year, many of these people met at 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 Family Weekend event, complete with fireworks and Brakebush Brothers’ much-acclaimed chicken barbeque.
After the purchase, 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 an office. The granary a dining hall and kitchen, which now is used for arts & crafts. The pig pens became staff lodging and storage. The largest building, the barn, originally constructed in 1943 for $33,000 (expensive for 1943), became Saint 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 LuWiSoMo, bringing the total acreage to 420 acres. In 1971 the cement platform for the outside crib feeders became the foundation for the metal maintenance building and a shower house was constructed in the campground.
After 20 years of outdoor ministry, the LLL offered LuWiSoMo to the SWD and on September 10, 1981 the SWD Board of Directors voted to accept and took over operation.
Improvements to LuWiSoMo continued. In June 1988 LuWiSoMo celebrated groundbreaking for the Harvey Krueger Retreat Center to further expanded year-round ministry opportunities. In 1998, two tree houses and a picnic shelter were constructed. In 2012 ground was broken for a new dining hall, commercial kitchen and Welcome Center attached to the Retreat Center, which was dedicated at Family Weekend in August 2013.
Ed Goetsch served Camp LuWiSoMo as the first camp director / ranger, living on the grounds from 1961 to 1972 and was instrumental in helping LuWiSoMo grow in the early years. After his retirement, David Gordan was hired as maintenance man and supervisor of LuWiSoMo. In June 1972, Harlan Limmer was installed as director, and David Gordan continued as maintenance man and advisor. After August 1973, David served as both maintenance man and camp administrator until Eugene Sattler became director in 1975. Eugene, who served until 1982, initiated a number of programs including the Golden Agers Retreat, Pee Wee Camps, Boundary Water Canoe Trips and Colorado Backpacking Adventures. Scott Hirssig served as director from 1982 to 1996, followed by Kurtis Bueltmann from 1996 to 2008, Terry Schmeckpeper from 2008 to 2009, Mike Stapleton from 2012 to 2013, Bill Durling from 2013 to 2016, Matt Kohler from 2016 to 2017 and Dan Freiburger 2017 to present.
In 2013 Camp LuWiSoMo was incorporated as plans were made to transfer ownership from the SWD and establish LuWiSoMo as an LCMS Recognized Service Organization governed by its own Board of Directors. The official transfer took place in January 2015.
The first LuWiSoMo motto was “For a greater appreciation of God’s creation.” This is echoed in the current mission statement: “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 these nearly 60 years, LuWiSoMo has been a special place for people to relax and enjoy Christian fellowship and the beauty of God’s creation, while growing spiritually as the Gospel is shared through Bible study, song, devotions and worship.
This is only a brief overview of LuWiSoMo history and a small handful of the multitude of people and many congregations that have helped make LuWiSoMo what it is today. God has blessed His ministry at LuWiSoMo, and through it the lives of so many. We pray His continued blessings for generations to come as He continues to write “His-Story” at LuWiSoMo!