Thank you to all who attended, donated to and helped celebrate this amazing event!
It was a gorgeous day and a major success. We were glad to see so many come back to a place that they keep near to their hearts.
The Annandale Advocate featured 2 great stories about camp recently. Read them below!
|A half-century of changes and challenges|
Any business or organization that has been active for 50 years or more has likely weathered ups and downs along the way.
Camp Friendship is no exception, but fortunately the highlights have far outweighed the low points.
Camp Friendship and True Friends President and CEO Ed Stracke reflected on some of the changes, challenges and fond memories from before and during his 30-year tenure at Camp Friendship that began in 1984.
Camp Friendship was well-supported from the beginning, and even the physical ground on which it was located had a lengthy history of hospitality.
According to a 2004 edition of the Advocate, Octavius Longworth was the first owner of the property. He built a log cabin there and became known for his generosity in welcoming passing trappers, hunters and fishermen into his home. Later, the Tuelles resort opened on the same land with the mission of creating a vacation place for the wealthy.
During the Great Depression the resort changed hands, and Beecher’s Resort opened its doors at a more affordable price. That made the pristine shoreline a haven for the common man as well as the elite.
When Art Beecher decided to get out of the resort business, according to that 2004 Advocate, he made it clear that he wanted the land to be used to benefit those with mental disabilities. A member of what is now known as Arc of Minnesota, which advocates for people with disabilities, Beecher sold the land to the organization through the efforts of members like John Holahan, Mel Heckt and Jerry Walsh, and Camp Friendship was born.
In 1966, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, who had been a friend to the Beechers and visited their resort, returned by helicopter for a dedication ceremony. He had taken a special interest in the camp when his granddaughter attended, and she returned regularly until 2009.
Changes and challenges
In 1984, Stracke left a seven-year job as a camp director in Iowa to take over at Camp Friendship.
He came at a low point in the camp’s history, when the budget was in the red and Arc of Minnesota was looking to jettison a feature of its work that wasn’t high on the priority list.
“Arc was having to put resources into the camp to subsidize its operations because we weren’t making ends meet. The day I arrived I knew they had a negative budget and had lost money for two or three years in a row,” said Stracke.
The camp became independent on New Year’s Day in 1986.
“To be honest, that was the best thing that could have ever happened to Camp Friendship because at that time ARC’s primary focus was on education, advocacy and lobbying on behalf of people with disabilities. Direct service was not a main part of their focus,” said Stracke. “Although they had the camp for 21 years, it had ceased to become integral in their mission and was a drain financially.”
While the separation was ultimately a positive for the camp, the change brought significant growing pains.
“We started off in the hole. We had to go to the bank from day one,” said Stracke. “The first three years it was really hard because we had to establish our own donor base, generate our own revenue, pay our own bills, do our own accounting – things we were used to having the parent organization do.”
A business plan showed the camp reaching positive territory again three years after the separation, but things didn’t come together as planned and layoffs were the result. Fortunately, the turnaround that had been planned for 1988 arrived in 1989, and the park has not faced such a dire circumstance again.
When Stracke arrived, the camp had an annual budget of about $350,000. Today, that budget is around $7 million.
With greater resources has come a dramatic expansion of services offered. In the mid-1980s, the camp was strictly a summer venture. Now it offers respite care year-round, along with travel services, retreat facilities for non-profits and organizations, and much more.
When Camp Friendship joined Camp Courage and three other camps to become True Friends in 2012-13, the possibilities and facilities dramatically expanded.
“I believe that Camp Friendship really has been the driver of this because we serve so many people and we’ve been so successful,” said Stracke.
The camp now is the main headquarters for the entire organization.
Part of the reason the camp has been so successful is the almost overwhelming generosity of its supporters, which has allowed expensive projects to be undertaken with a combination of fundraising and in-kind donations.
“We’ve been able to take a dollar and stretch it as far as possible because of the goodness of people wanting to help,” said Stracke.
As an example, Stracke referred to Nick DeGross, who did much of the plumbing work and purchased the plumbing materials himself for numerous construction and expansion projects to the camp’s facilities over the years. His individual contributions and labor ran to the tens of thousands of dollars in value.
Another example was Gilbert Schmidt, an excavator who was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer the year the dining hall was built. Despite his failing health, he continued to plan and execute the project, dying just weeks after the excavation was complete.
“He could have done anything with the last few months of his life, and he spent one of those months doing the excavation at Camp Friendship,” said Stracke. “Those are the kind of people you meet here. You’re just humbled in their presence. They’re just salt-of the earth, kind, generous people. I have been able to meet so many of those people over my 30 years. This is a job; they pay me, but those people never got paid for what they did. You can really learn a lot from people who give at that level.”
Another highlight has been taken from the attitudes of the campers themselves.
“We can learn a lot from people with disabilities,” said Stracke. “Our campers here don’t care what kind of car you drive or how much money you have. They just love life, love friends, and sometimes I think we could take a lesson out of their playbook to figure out how we should be living our life. I feel like I’ve learned as much from our participants as we’ve helped benefit them and their families.”
The merger into True Friends has also been a major milestone in Camp Friendship’s history.
“Bigger doesn’t always mean better, but when you combine resources it allows you do more things for more people,” he said.
When Stracke interviewed for the job at Camp Friendship, he was asked to commit to staying for at least three years. He has met that commitment ten-fold.
“I think what drives me in terms of why I’ve stayed for so long is that there are so many opportunities for people with disabilities, things that we helped create, and we provide life-changing experiences for these children and adults and families,” he said. “People ask how long I’m going to stay. I say, ‘I’ll leave when it stops being fun or I feel like I’m not being effective any more.’
“We’re not the same Camp Friendship today that we were 50 years ago in terms of facilities. But we still have campers coming and having a great time, caregivers are getting a break, and we still have wonderful young people working in our seasonal programs. We want to serve as many people with disabilities as we possibly can.”
If you were unable to join us, you can watch a short highlight video below.