The Beginning Years

Lutheran Youth Encampment, now known as Camp Bird for Lutherans, began in 1952. Two pastors from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), Pastor Delmar Brick (Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church in Kimberly, WI), and Pastor Ted Hartwig (Riverview Lutheran Church in Appleton WI), wanted to develop a youth camp ministry for the youth in the Fox Valley and Winnebago areas. In the summer of 1951, the pastors visited various camp sites including Camp Bird in Marinette County, searching for the right place. They were both initially impressed with the beauty of the grounds with its pristine Sand Lake and woodlands. To their disappointment, the pastors were informed by the forest ranger that all the summer weeks at Camp Bird were solidly booked and there was very little chance of getting in as a new group. However, thanks to a last minute cancellation, a week did open up in August of 1952. They rented the camp for $200. The area WELS congregations promoted the new camp group and they had a full capacity for their first week at Camp Bird in 1952.

Pastor Brick and Pastor Hartwig wrote Camp policies, developed rules, devised activities, and created the camp schedule. Many of these same schedules and policies are still in effect today. They wanted the campers to be separate from the world around them and to enjoy the camp with its peaceful surroundings – without radios (and now without cell phones, iPods, cable TV, and the internet). They integrated God’s Word throughout the day and even required one hour of rest time after the noon meal. A special camp song was written by Ione Brick, Pastor Brick’s wife, one evening during camp. “Lord, We Thank You for Camp Bird” is still sung today by the campers every year. In order to show their gratitude to Marinette County for allowing them the opportunity to use the camp, they were determined to leave the grounds in excellent condition. On the last day of camp, the final Sunday, every person in camp, the children together with the entire junior and senior staff, gave all the buildings a thorough cleaning and checked the grounds for litter (a tradition that continues to this day).The county supervisors were so impressed that they’ve asked them to return every year since 1952.

Pastor Hartwig wrote a letter in 2002 further detailing some of Camp’s early years, which you can read by clicking here (pdf viewer required).

The Growing Years

Pastors Brick and Hartwig established Lutheran Youth Encampment at Camp Bird and after accepting Calls out of the area, handed the work over to Pastor Richard Waldschmidt who served as the Director for two years. Along with Pastor Brick and Pastor Hartwig at camp in 1952, was a young pastor from Sugar Bush, WI, Pastor Winfred Nommensen. Pastor Nommensen became the Director in 1958. In 1959 a second week became available which was immediately filled with eager campers from the area WELS congregations. 1959 was the year Pastor Ed Stelter, pastor at Crivitz, WI, joined the staff. He served as the lecturer, or Bible study leader. He has been primarily responsible for coordinating and directing the camp since the early 1960’s. In 1971, the county offered a third week during the summer. The combined registration for the three weeks in the summer of 1971 was 507. Pastor Nommensen and Pastor Stelter maintained the camp’s tradition of operating entirely with volunteers so registration fees could remain low. Children in grades 5-8 mailed their registration forms as soon as the registration period opened and waited to see if they were accepted. Even with three weeks available, the camp was filled to capacity.

Camp Bird Today

Today, camp remains a cherished opportunity for Lutheran children.Young campers come from all parts of Wisconsin and other states. Between 1985 and 2010, Marinette County directed financial resources toward improving the camp grounds. Existing log buildings were refurbished, additional bathroom/shower facilities were added, a low ropes/challenge course was built to enhance team building, and recently a new Arts and Crafts building was added. The camp is widely considered one of the finest in the state of Wisconsin.

Many of the early traditions of camp continue to this day as generations of children have had the opportunity to praise God and enjoy His creation at camp. Over 20,000 children have created lasting memories at Camp Bird. Parents bringing their children to camp spend time reminiscing about the weeks they spent there as kids themselves. Over the years many dedicated people have volunteered a week or more in the summer to serve the Lord and help impact the lives of young Christians. Many of these volunteers have returned 20, 30, or even more years and have seen their family members carry on the traditions at Camp Bird. They are happy to see campers enjoy evening camp fires, camp songs, meals in the Dining Hall, the energetic bats that eat the mosquitoes at night and all the fun activities with friends during the day. Above all, Camp Bird provides a unique and encouraging atmosphere where God is worshipped and praised.

For a history of Camp Bird from Marinette County please click here.

Have a Camp Bird picture from the past that you would like to share with us? Please send it to campbirdforlutherans@gmail.com.

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