A first-hand account by Louis L. and Gladys Ortmayer, 1963 (edited for publication)
On the tenth of March, 1923, a district missionary conference was held in Livingston. One of the items of business was the responsibility of locating a site near Yellowstone Park for the Epworth League Institute. As I recall, Cecil L. Clifford was present, representing the state Epworth League. On the second day the conference members were invited to the Pine Creek church for a noon luncheon, following which all who would were asked to go up to Grinnell Park, which had been suggested as a possible location for the institute. Saddle horses and a three-seated buckboard, driven by Albert Allen, were the means of transportation. Although the ground was covered with two or three feet snow, the conference unanimously authorized the District Superintendent, Robert C. Edgington and a committee, to proceed with all the necessary arrangements to make Grinnell Park the location for the Yellowstone Park Epworth Institute.
With this authorization, Mr. Edgington went to work. He entered into an agreement with Mr. Allen to purchase 25 acres, the southeast corner, or a section, bounded by the national forest on the east. The purchase price was $2500.00, but all Mr. Edgington had was his faith in the young people of the district. Grinnell Park was a beautiful spot, but how to get to it? Otto G. Ponath, pastor of the Pine Creek church, undertook to build a road up the hill which the highway department said was a $6000 job. The people of Pine Creek and Livingston rallied to the task and by July first were able to drive, push and pull a Model T Ford up the hill and onto the camp ground.
We are collecting stories, of people, buildings and experiences. Each cabin will feature it's story just inside the door, and we are adding a memorial register to the chapel. Please send your contributions, photos, and memories, no matter how small, to email@example.com
LUCCOCK PARK CHURCH CAMP
“PRESERVING THE PAST TO SERVE THE FUTURE”
I found this little piece of Luccock history tucked in a file, and while I don’t know who to attribute it to, we thought you would enjoy this look at Luccock. ~karen grosz, Director 2020
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead
THEY HAD A VISION:
Methodist clergy and laity conferenced in Livingston on March 10, 1923 to plan for a summer institute near Yellowstone Park. The next day, they moved to Pine Creek and left the gravel Livingston-Gardner highway to ascend an old logging trail to a mountain meadow with about 2-3 feet of snow. This, they brashly proclaimed, would become a summer institute designed to transform disciples into Christian leaders for not just the church but for the state, nation, and the world.
Here, they envisioned a “place in the wilderness” where people of every age and stage could safely ask big questions. In a place “away” from the struggles of daily living, not swamped by the mundaneness of ordinary life, they would help each other to hear the voice of God, in their individual and their common life.
“(One) does not have to end the earthly life to taste “eternal life.”..Therefore I summarize this book (Montana Methodist Camps from 1920-38) as “Tastes of Heaven.” Dodds Bunch
Institutes have been built on the belief that the day will come when 300 leaguers will register at each of them. They will come joyously to search for life's wider limits and bounds; they will bring their questionings and their problems. They will face the facts of life and they will accept their full part in the responsibilities of life. They will endeavor to build a Christian community. They will learn to sing, to play, to pray, to share experience for the common good. They will mold character, form ideals, determine destinies, and they will make life infinitely richer because they have built this 'City of God.' But must we say that the day will come? Rather let us say, “The day is now here.” Jesse Bunch, 1929.
THEY HAD A MISSION
Jesse Bunch, (1887-1946) a 35 year old minister and early leader in the Epworth Conventions and Summer Institutes was almost certainly a member of that March 11 expedition to Luccock's mountain meadow. He became known for camp programing, sound teaching methods, inspiring youth, and building camp facilities. He was Montana's first Wesley Foundation director and later became president of Intermountain Union College, the state's first school of higher education.
Through him and other visionary leaders, summer institutes became an immersion experience in Christian living. More than lectures and Bible reading, institutes integrated mind, body, and spirit into a conscious and intentional opportunity to experience a different way, a Jesus way, of living together. Camping brought together youth from farms, ranches, small towns, urban and mining communities; it would bring youth from functional and dysfunctional homes, kids sometimes isolated and insecure, sometimes starting down destructive paths. Their leaders, clergy and laity, would build a wilderness community away from the distractions of life.
To enter the camp gate was to leave negative attitudes and behaviors behind while bringing wounded parts of life to a place of healing. Camp was an invitation to intentionally enter sacred time and space. There was intention that campers would discover God's love in dark and hidden corners of their lives, would commit those lives, their gifts and talents to follow Jesus,
Leaving camp was intentional also---acknowledging oneself as a different person, taking “a “mountain top” experience to the prairies and dusty roads of daily living. One early institute song asked, “How did you feel when you come out the wilderness, come out the wilderness, come out the wilderness? How did you feel when you come out the wilderness, a leaning on the Lord?”
These camp leaders envisioned camp as a time and place where campers could choose the song they wanted to sing throughout their lives and where adults could pause to reconsider the songs they were singing. It was a safe place to reflect and practice the ways of meaningful life, the “Kingdom of God.”
(We are looking for a place) “in the out-of-doors” to “develop the best in us” an “outing intended to make us stronger in mind and body,” a “training school for leadership,” to which youth could“come expecting to have the best time (they) have ever had in (their) life.” Vernon Lewis, active layman and state senator from Floweree, MT.
THEY HAD A FOCUS
According to Mark, the oldest Gospel, Jesus' ministry began in two wilderness events. First, at the River Jordan, he saw himself as God's beloved son with gifts to share. Second, in a wilderness of wild beasts and angels, he determined how he would use those gifts to serve God.
Jesse Bunch knew that many campers needed to hear those two messages in their lives – – that they were beloved children of God, that they had gifts to give, lives to be respected and shared. He knew that older teens and young adults were making two critical life decisions. First: they were determining their future life relationships – – marriage partner, family expectations, peer and friendship affiliations. Camp was an opportunity to explore ways of living in Christlike relationship and community. Secondly, camp was an opportunity to explore Christian vocation. It was a chance to consciously explore their gifts and graces and see where those talents and personal interests intersected with the needs of God's world. That intersection was “their cross.”
All of camp, from the morning watch to the evening campfire was built around experiencing God's love, knowing oneself and respecting the other as a child of God, developing an awareness of one's personal strengths and encouraging others. All of camp was focused on joyful and meaningful commitment to a new way of living, leading, and serving.
Two choices in life are of fundamental importance: the choice of life partner, and a choice of a life work. How many, many folk there are who make both of these decisions blindly, in the dark, by chance! Look all around you, pick out the failures, the 'dead ones,' the grumblers and growlers; there they are – – they just took 'a chance' and went blindly ahead.... Will you find that meeting point of your abilities, your preferences and God's will for your life, that means success, real success, or will you just drift on toward tomorrow?.” Joseph Penneypacker in 1926,
THEY HAD A STRATEGY
These early frontier pastors knew their personal limitations. They knew that the pressures of daily living and the world's resounding noise and activity obscured their voices from the pulpit on Sunday and mid-week services; even church school, youth group, and VBS sometimes appeared to have minimal effect and even tended only to inoculate or provide a shallow veneer of religion. They early-on recognized that life-giving faith often required on-going, intensive immersion events. They spent months planning and promoting summer journeys to the wilderness.
Many clergy and church workers had limited formal education and differing abilities. Working together at summer camp (one early portrait shows a camp staff of 18 adults—9 men and 9 women) allowed them to combine talents, learn from each other, and provide an exciting, well-rounded faith experience. Together they mentored and modeled lifestyles of Christian love.
They sought to bring the very best leaders and teachers to camp. Dodds Bunch reports that the first institute staff included a medical missionary from China, a general secretary of the Epworth league, and the Secretary of the Board of Prohibition and Public Morals of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Bringing in outside camp speakers became a model for all Institutes for decades to come.....local church ministers and church education leaders completed the staff.
“The cabinet has looked the country over in a radius of 2000 miles, and selected the best talent available in that area. Most of the faculty are experienced Institute workers. They come with fine preparation for their special work, and with the spirit of enthusiasm.” First Institute pamphlet.
The first paved highway in Montana was built in 1932, ten years after the pioneers first visited Luccock Park and 12 years after the first Montana Summer Institute was held at Wolf Creek. From some parts of Eastern Montana, it was a two-day trip to and from camp---a far-cry from modern Interstates.
In 1923, a passable dirt road from the gravel Livingston-Gardner Highway to the camp would have cost $6,000--- money they did not have. For less than $50 and one broken arm, volunteers built the Parnath Trail, named for the Pine Creek pastor, Charles Parnath, and by late summer they were able to “push, pull and drive” a Model T into the camp.
The first camp meeting place was a Ringling Brothers circus tent that had been replaced and left behind in Billings. For $90 the tent, stakes, and poles were hauled to Luccock. Many of the first cabins were built by Livingston church members. Each cabin owner was given a 99 year lease for the land beneath their cabin; in return their cabins were available to church campers throughout the summer. All but three of those cabins have since been turned back to the camp.
Summer was not a vacation time for pioneer families. Camp dates had to be set to avoid harvest or haying. Someone had to pick up farm and ranch chores at home for a young person to have a mountain top experience; feeding of cattle and horses, milking of cows made a one week journey to camp a challenge for the entire camper family.
Church leaders were, themselves, a marketing plan. They sold the positive power of Christian Camping. Congregations were sold on the importance of laity joining their pastor as camp staff. Together, congregations and pastors promoted and sold their young people and their families on the rich time they could have at camp.
“A week amid such surroundings will send you home feeling that your lives have been made purer and better, that you are better qualified to take your places as leaders in the best life of your community.” – an early writer
HISTORY THAT IS NOT '”THEN” BUT “NOW”
Re-Membering this story, might provide a basis for renewal of camping as Paradise-Living. Our history can help us evaluate our vision, our sense of purpose. Remembering those who went before us allows these “pioneers of faith” to remain part of our DNA, to be compasses that guide and direct us in our ministry to the future and our children's children.
Only through remembered history do we see what we may be missing. This history suggests to me that we have lost a vision, a mission, a focus, and a strategy for next generation ministry. In the mid-eighties, we began to move away from camping and youth ministries. Today we say, “We live in a time when youth camps are no longer needed.”
We say, “there just aren't young people in our churches and our communities any more.” We say, “There are too many other summer activities for young people.” We say, “Young people aren't attracted to ministry like they used to be, We need second career or retired ministers to fill our pulpits.”
Yet some churches and youth organizations are flourishing, providing community to young persons caught in the isolation of impersonal telecommunication, ministering to struggling families with limited financial resources or even dysfunctional influences, and the addictive and noisy promotions of society. This history suggests to me that “Where there is vision, the people flourish.” “Where there is a will there is a way.” Without vision, we become a church of old folks, marking time until we die or fade away. Increasingly, I hear some people of faith saying, ”Don't worry about me. In fact, use me to serve and to nurture our children's children.”
By remembering our history and reinvesting our financial and personal resources, I believe we can rekindle our vision, and sense of mission; it is time to focus, not on ourselves and what is dieing but on life and what is needed to build a future through “next-generation” and “Re-Igniting” camping and children/youth ministries.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead
We have several projects designed to make our guests more comfortable, stays more powerful. Please reach out to us at 888-223-8131 to discuss how you can help.