A Brief History of Camp Lutherhaven
For many years, a Lutheran organization called the Walther League had been leading summer camps at different rented facilities around the state of Indiana. Beginning in 1949, Gene Burger, principal of St. Paul Lutheran School, Fort Wayne, IN developed one such summer program for his students and for other surrounding schools. This was the beginnings of Camp Lutherhaven.
For the first summer in 1949, Camp Lutherhaven was held at the Kosciusko Fishing Camp near Mentone, IN. The camp functioned primarily on volunteers; teachers from the surrounding areas served as counselors, students from Concordia High School were junior counselors, and mothers served as cooks to earn a free week at camp for their children.
By the fall of 1949, Gene Burger began to look for a more permanent location for this camp. He and his family looked at several potential sites, eventually discovering the ideal location on some farmland on Lake Mucie. It was there on the hills overlooking the lake that Gene began to develop his vision for the long-term ministry of Camp Lutherhaven.
The plot of land at Lake Muncie was purchased for $9000 and the work of building the camp began. By the summer of 1952, Lutherhaven had a permanent home at Lake Muncie and camp could be held on-site. Thanks to the tireless work of many volunteers, in that first summer, the entire camp already consisted of seven cabins and an unroofed bathhouse, in addition to a large tent at the top of the hill where campers ate their meals.
Over the next years, more work took place to construct additional buildings such as more cabins, an office, the Lodge in 1954, and the Pavilion in 1961. In 1976 winterization began on the Lodge which would help Camp to be utilized in the winter months as well as the summer. By 1977, Lutherhaven hired its first full-time director, Rev. Kent Wendorf.
Growth continued to happen as more families and churches began to see the value of a Christian camp experience at Camp Lutherhaven. In 1983 the first prototype of a new cabin was constructed. A total of three of these new duplex cabins would be erected.
After serving many years as a camper and then summer staff, Tom “Digger” Franke became the next director from 1986 to 1992. In 1988, tragedy struck in the form of a fire which burned down the entire Lodge. There was some debate whether Lutherhaven would be able to continue with such a loss. But with the faith and perseverance of the staff, board of directors, and many supporters, a new Lodge was constructed in 1990 which would propel Lutherhaven into even more year-round capabilities and a bright future.
Tim and Brenda Jank, both Directors of Christian Education in the Chicago area, became the new Executive Director and Program Director respectively in 1993 which was the first addition of another full time position. Several non-summer retreats were added along with more outdoor education in the spring and fall. After one year, Brenda stepped down to become a mother full-time. Then in 1994, Don Schroeder was brought on as her replacement. Don brought a special love for and emphasis on outdoor education as well as helping with site management and summer camp throughout his 14 year tenure.
In 1996, Lutherhaven would add another special breed of camp staff person known as a Ministry Impact worker. The position typically paired up with a young adult just out of college or taking a year off to assist Camp with outdoor education, chapel visits, hosting groups, maintenance, and office work. Many workers would soon fill these roles through the upcoming years.
In 2000, Lutherhaven was blessed to receive a competitive grant for $600,000 from the Lilly Endowment to impact more youth. Lutherhaven began constructing the Daniel Retreat Center to replace the current Bathhouse, which would provide a facility that would help Camp impact the faith formation of youth year-round. The Daniel Retreat Center, completed in 2001, added updated bathrooms and showers to serve the cabins as well as additional lodging for 36, meeting rooms, a kitchen, a staff apartment, laundry room, and a store. The grant also helped to bring on a third full-time worker as a new Summer Program Director in 2001. Mike Palmreuter served in that role while also growing the new Stepping Stones of Faith, youth retreats until he stepped down in early 2007.
Celine Newman, past camper, summer staff person, and Ministry Impact worker, joined the Lutherhaven team later in 2007 as the new youth Program Director soon to be called Director of Summer and Youth Ministry.
In 2009, beloved founder and past summer camp director Gene Burger went home to Heaven. His wife Mildred “Marty”, daughters Jeanne, Anne, and Laura, as well as son Mark, not to mention grandchildren, continue to bless Camp in many ways to this day.
After much planning and the work of servant events, work weekends, and individual volunteers, Lutherhaven replaced its Clubhouse Village outpost camp in 2009 with a new Treetop Village in the eastern forest. This addition would prove to be very popular with campers for a more rustic experience.
After evaluating the current cabins, many of which had been in use since the early 1950’s, the monumental task of replacing them was set in motion. Beginning in 2011 and continuing through 2014, 15 cabins were replaced with a totally new design. With an in-house fundraising campaign and 1000’s of volunteer hours under the direction of Board member Jim Berning, a new generation of campers would now experience camp.
Part way through the cabin construction, another tragedy hit as the Maintenance Barn burned down the last week of summer camp in 2013. Thanks to insurance friends and again, the assistance of several faithful volunteers, a new Maintenance facility was back in operation before the next summer in 2014.
In 2016, using a grant from The Lutheran Foundation, Lutherhaven brought on its first, full time Site Director Bob Bickham. Through another grant from the Dekko Foundation, Camp was also able to add a concrete unloading area and sidewalk between the Lodge and Daniel Retreat Center among other improvements.
Following several strong years, Bethany Andrews was added as Camp’s Director of Engagement in 2019, working with rental and outdoor education groups, plus addressing Camp’s communication needs.
Today, Lutherhaven reaches 2000 people each summer and over 3400 more through youth retreats, outdoor education, rental groups, and retreats. It draws from roughly 100 miles away including 3 states, over 260 churches and over 40 Christian schools.
For the past 70+ years, Camp Lutherhaven has been blessed to offer a year-round ministry to its extended community. From its beginnings, Camp Lutherhaven has sought to “reach out with the love of Christ by providing the setting and resources to strengthen the faith of individuals and complement the ministry of churches”. Through the years, as people come and go, this mission to be a shining light for Christ, has remained.
We invite you to join us on our mission and become part of this unique history!
“…I know there are more lights coming. May the Lord bless them as He has blessed me.” –Gene Burger