THE HISTORY OF
CAMP COURAGEOUS OF IOWA
Camp Courageous was founded in 1972, when 40 acres of land was donated by John R. Gallagher for the
sole purpose of establishing a camp for individuals with disabilities. Among the first to be recruited to turn
this dream into a reality was Gary Turbes, in 1970. Gary moved to Monticello, obtained a part-time job, and worked full time to establish Camp Courage. Gary's first two years, of his five years with the camp, was as a volunteer.
One of the first hurdles for the camp that was the donated land was "landlocked," with no accessibility to it. There also existed fundamental problems with the land due to its ruggedness and location. According to C.L. "Gus" Norlin, Gary came into his office and was preparing to leave because the project had dead ended. It was at this point that Gus suggested a possible swap with the state of Iowa for 40 acres of accessible land west of the Pictured Rocks Park and south of the Pictured Rocks Methodist Camp. With the assistance of Representative Richard Norpel of Bellevue, an agreement was made to trade the original 40 acres of land for the state's 40 acres of accessible land with the following stipulations: (1) No pine trees could be removed from the pine tree plantation without the State Forester's permission; and (2) If the camp ever ceased to exist as a recreational facility for persons with disabilities, the property would revert back to the state.
The first board meeting took place September 6, 1972, at the Monticello Community Building with John Gallagher, president; C.L. "Gus" Norlin, treasurer; and Robert Beckman as secretary. Ground was broken for the construction of the camp on October 1, 1972.
On July 1, 1973, Gary Turbes was hired to assume the duties of Executive Director of Camp Courage. In July, Tait and Dotty Cummins kicked off their publicity campaign for Camp Courage. Their efforts worked so well that in December of 1973, the Minnesota Society for Crippled Children and Adults contacted Camp Courage in regards to name infringements. Since 1955, this group had used the service mark "Camp Courage". On July 26, 1977, an agreement was struck for the Iowa Camp Courage to be known as Camp Courageous of Iowa.
In the spring of 1974, Betty Wagner, Editor of the Monticello Express, laid out and printed the camp's first four page newsletter called the "Courier." Today the "Courier" is a 24-page quarterly newsletter that goes out to over 15,000 campers and supporters.
Throughout 1973 and 1974, building trade unions and other volunteers gathered at the camp to build the first five buildings. These buildings included the main lodge, two camper cabins, a guest house, and a maintenance building. Besides the trade unions, Merle and Bill Hennessey, and Bill Weber are credited with much of the major construction. Over 100 tons of stone was donated by Weber Stone in Stone City. Individuals like Bernard and Clarence Kuriger, along with Clete Goedken, gave their days and nights to get the camp ready for those first campers.
Gary Turbes coordinated volunteers to build the first five buildings. Area church women took turns preparing meals for the workers. The first staff consisted of an Executive Director, Program Director, Assistant Program Director, two instructors, five counselors and a nurse. The first 211 campers came during the summer of 1974. Today the camp has a staff of over 40, and over 3,200 campers are served each year.
The camp's dedication and open house was held on July 16, 1974 with Governor Robert Ray attending. During this time the camp was nearly $20,000 in debt, and many creditors were becoming concerned. Thus, was born the world's largest garage sale, the idea of Tait Cummins and Jerry Brady (General Manager of WMT), which was held November 1 and 2, 1974, at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids. This sale, along with other smaller fund-raisers, was enough to pull the camp out of debt. WMT-Radio and WMT-TV also provided desperately needed publicity for what was then a brand new, unknown charity. The camp also received widespread publicity when we were chosen as the state-wide fund-raising projects for Beta Sigma Phi Sorority, The Eagles, VFW, and VFW Auxiliary.
In 1975, three A-frames were purchased at $ 1,000 each to house the Program Director and male and female staff. In March of 1975, through a grant from General Mills, Camp Courageous became the area crisis center. It would have beds and facilities available at all times in the event a person with disabilities of any age would need emergency housing. This program has been in such demand that in 1984, the camp hired its first Respite Care/Volunteer Coordinator.
By 1975, the camp accommodated 805 campers. Campers began coming from as far away as Glenwood
(State Hospital). In 1975, starting pay for a counselor was $ 100 a month, plus room and board. Today, non-volunteer counselors and activity specialist are on a pay schedule that ranges from $450-$600 a month.
In 1976 Gary Turbes resigned to spearhead group homes in Sioux City.
On January 15, 1977, Bud Ewell was hired to serve as Executive Director. Plans had already been
approved for a Multi-purpose Building that would include a gym, shower facilities, and staff quarters. Work began early in 1977, and by May the ground floor of the Multi-purpose Building was complete. It cost nearly $100,000!
The first "Pineapples for People" fund-raiser took place on the first two weekends of August, 1978. Marty Klosta, of United Airlines, arranged for pineapples to be flown, jet fresh, from Hawaii to Chicago; and CRST provided refrigerated trucking from Chicago to Cedar Rapids, where they were sold. On August 22, 1979, Stouffer Five Seasons Hotel in Cedar Rapids began their participation in the "Pineapples for People" campaign. A Pineapple Ball was held, with food and entertainment from Hawaii. Most of the preparers and servers donated their time. The "Pineapples for People" campaign continues to this day.
On October 7, 1979 ground was broken for a new indoor swimming pool. Bud Ewell resigned as Executive Director on December 1, 1979 and accepted a position with the Realtor's Association in Des Moines.
Charlie Becker was hired to serve as Executive Director in April of 1980. At that time contracts had been signed for a new $100,000 indoor swimming pool, the camp owed $35,000 to the bank on a loan for the Multi-purpose Building, and bills were past due. On May 29, Dr. Earl DeShaw, after carefully reviewing all aspects of the camp, proposed a Camp Courageous of Iowa Perpetual Fund. He spotted the camp's biggest financial weakness, we had no guaranteed source of income. Yearly interest from the Perpetual Fund would be used by the camp to help meet operating expenses, with the principal left to grow. Dr. DeShaw, then 80, told the camp board he planned to devote the rest of his life to Camp Courageous and the Perpetual Fund. Since Camp Courageous has been, and continues to be run entirely on donations, without government support, formal sponsorship, or paid fund raisers, the Perpetual Fund is its only source of future solvency.
During the summer of 1980, rock climbing and rappelling in Pictured Rocks County Park were added as permanent program activity options for the campers. A map of Indian Bluffs Cave in Pictured Rocks Park
was obtained from the National Speleological Society. With a donation of helmets, campers could now explore all 550 feet of this challenging spelunking adventure.
An Open House and Pool Dedication took place on September 21, 1980.
Alfred Egger, a board member since September 27, 1973, passed away on October 30, 1980. Alfred started the Manchester Garage Sale. The garage sale not only raises money for the camp, but also supplies the camp with many needed items. In 1992 the Garage Sale was the camp's largest fund raiser.
Highlights of 1981 included, the Monticello Lions Club donated a beautiful 54 passenger bus. The President of the Petroleum Marketers of Iowa, Norb Bahl of Jesup, brought his board for a tour of Camp Courageous.
The Petroleum Marketers of Iowa have become one of our largest contributors, and annually sponsor the statewide Cent-a-Gallon Day to raise funds for the camp. With a large number of campers wanting to come to camp, and not enough space to house so many, Merle Hennessey set out to build a third camper cabin. This would also have a basement for the camp's infirmary, and be used as a storm shelter.
In the spring, a new ropes course was built near the Rainbow Trail. The Burma Bridge, The Wall, and several new elements on the Initiative Course (then called Confidence Course) were added. This work was done by the volunteers from First Presbyterian Church of Claridon Hills, Illinois, who had been coming to the camp doing projects (like the Chicago Trail) off and on since 1976. During the Summer, the Wilderness Trackers Programs were started. Campers canoed 30-50 miles along the Maquoketa River for a week. Campers cooked all of their meals over a campfire, and camped Under the stars every night.
In May, 1982, through Don Lamberti, President of Casey's General Stores, we began a close relationship with the Variety Club of Iowa. The first gift from the Variety Club was a non-ambulatory bus. A grant for a capital improvement has followed each year.
The Tenth Anniversary of the founding of the camp was celebrated in 1982. In 1982 Terry Rehling became
President of the Board.
During the spring of 1982, the Zipline was built and the Airborne Course (now called Sensory Course) was finished. In the summer, the first Leaders in Training (then called Counselors-in-Training) program was started. Two weeks out of the summer, campers are invited to return as Leaders-in-Training. They are assigned to a group of younger campers and work as an assistant counselor.
In 1983, Dotty Cummins assumed the duties as President of the Board and the camp continued growing to meet the needs of the large number of campers. About 300 meals a day were now being served in the camp's small kitchen, with many of these meals being for campers with special diets. The offices were moved from the main lodge into a new building, and the kitchen was expanded. The office was to become the last project Merle Hennessey was to accomplish, due to health concerns. It was also this year that a new bus barn was built to house the camp's ambulatory Monticello Lions Club bus, the non-ambulatory Variety Club of Iowa bus, a Variety Club van, a pickup, and a small tractor, along with housing the camp Maintenance Supervisor's shop.
In 1984, the camp built an Old McDonald's barn and farmyard. It is one of the camper's favorite areas. The farm has been home to a variety of animals including ponies, sheep, goats, chickens, pigs, all donated by friends of the camp.
On November 26, 1984, Camp Courageous of Iowa lost one of its greatest supporters, Tait Cummins, who passed away, but left us a world of love and dedication for this camp.
In 1985, negotiations were started with the state of Iowa to try to gain a clear title to the land that is today known as Camp Courageous of Iowa. As originally drawn up, Camp Courageous was under several stipulations including a restriction that we could only borrow to put up new buildings. An agreement was worked out with the state where the, camp would provide the state with a piece of land equal in value to the difference between the original 40 acres and what is today the camp. The original 40 acres was valued at $2,875, and the land the camp sits on today was valued at $7,800. Final settlement was obtained in 1987, giving Camp Courageous of Iowa full and clear title to its property. The board voted unanimously to purchase full rights to the property the camp now sits on with funds from the Tait Cummins Memorial Fund.
Among the activities added in 1985 were the Tree Climb, Super Zipline and Mini-Burma. New seasonal activity specialist positions added were the Adventure Activity Specialist and Tripping Specialist. Six week-long trips were offered throughout the summer for Wilderness Tracker campers. In 1985, Camp Courageous of Iowa began to open its facilities for rental during times the camp was not being used by campers.
The county road leading from Highway 38 to the camp was hard surfaced in 1986. With the new road running from camp to Highway 38, bicycling was offered to campers. The Natural Sauna was built and two new orienteering courses were set up in the pines. Also the new treehouse was built by a Presbyterian volunteer group from Neenah, Wisconsin. Kay Pitlik was elected to president of the board.
On February 18, 1987, Irv Gadient, an original board member who gave endless hours to Camp Courageous passed away. In the spring the camp opened its doors to regular education school groups. Soon the word spread, and camp now serves several hundred outdoor education students during the months of November through April of every year when campers with disabilities are not using the facilities. During the summer a bicycle trip on the Cedar Valley Trail from Cedar Rapids to Waterloo was added to the Wilderness Trackers trips. Indian Lore was added to the program activities. This year the camp obtained its first computer. Working closely with the Bollwitt Family of Monticello, all donor information was transferred from cards to computer and the camp began laying out the Courier for camera ready production.
During the summer of 1988, the fitness trail was built for ambulatory and non-ambulatory campers. Also, the new sensory maze was added to the Sensory Course. Beginning in November, the camp pool was kept open year-round. Red Cross swimming lessons, exercise classes, open swim and aqua tots were new programs open to the public during the winter season. Leigh Clark, with the assistance of Lyman Perkins began spending half the year planting and caring for thousands of flowers and plants throughout the camp. It was also this year that Leigh Clark donated his fruitcake recipe to the camp and headed up the baking and selling of fruitcakes. This is one of the camp's major fund-raisers. Lyman Perkins was elected president of the board.
On January 20, 1989 the board lost John Sill. John was a very hard-working booster of camp. He was the right hand for Jackie Snyder and Betty Wacker as the garage sale in Manchester grew by leaps and bounds. The Cedar Valley Street Rod Club built a new Arts and Crafts Center, Ruritan put in a new main sidewalk, and the Variety Club provided funds to completely remodel the multipurpose building and a new archery range was built behind Seneca cabin. This year all camper information and finances were computerized.
During the winter of 1990, the camp completely remodeled its indoor pool, added a new and challenging high element, the Dangle Do to the adventure activities. A Braille Trail was built, along with putting in a new septic tank system, cementing a path from the Infirmary to the Archery Range, an indoor climbing wall in the gym, a kiln was added to the Arts & Crafts Building, and hard-surfacing the drives and parking areas. Skip Manternach was elected to president of the board.
The year 1991 started off sadly with the deaths of two longtime and dear friends of the camp. Wilfred "Shelly" Shellenbarger passed away on January 5. Shelly was always there to help in a quiet and wonderfully supportive way. Dr. Lyman Perkins passed away a week later. Past president of the board and a very active, sincere, and outgoing gentleman, Lyman's almost daily work and photography for the camp is dearly missed.
In November of 1991 the old lodge was dismantled due to structural concerns, and thus the inability to add on. The old lodge, which measured 40' X 80', was replaced by a new lodge measuring 100' X 100' and having a full basement. The new lodge was completed in April of 1992, at which time an open house and breakfast was held and attended by over 2,100 individuals. That summer new expanded parking areas and drives were hard surfaced. A new ceiling was put up in the pool area and work began on the land expansion of Camp Courageous. On August 18, Dr. Earl DeShaw passed away. Charlie Becker had the honor of giving part of the Monticello memorial service for whose vision brought stability to the future of the camp.
As a result of a gift from the Robert South Family, plans began on a new camper cabin in January of 1993. Also additional expansion and remodeling of the infirmary began. South Cabin was completed in April of 1994. During the spring of 1994 the entire ropes course was redone and professionally certified. A new garage was added to the Program Director's Home.
Thanks to a generous gift by the Bill and Kay Pitlik Family, 30 acres of land was added to the South of
Camp Courageous, bringing our total size to 70 acres.
On December 31, 1993, John and Maxine Menster donated a farm, located in South Central Iowa to the camp. After consultation with the Mensters it was decided to raffle the farm. Legislation was drafted to allow the raffle and by the end of April, 1994 tickets were on sale. Proceeds from the raffle went toward building the Menster Cabin. The first floor of the cabin will be used for campers with the second floor used for staff housing. Cree Cabin was dismantled in the fall of 1994 with construction of the cabin following. Also during the fall of 1994 work began on the Natalie and Joe Cohn Nature Center. This building, located in front or the Old McDonald's Barn is made out of logs.
During 1994 we began hiring 15 counselors for 11 month time periods. This enabled us to stabilize the program staff and not be constantly looking for new staff. The summer season was increased to 76 campers (from 60), with 38 program staff (from 28) and the fall season is 30 campers (from 60) with 18 program staff (from 28).
The Board established an Honorary Board which is the highest honor bestowed on an individual, by the camp. Members include: Norb Bahl, Jesup, who started the Petroleum Marketers of Iowa participation with Cent-a-Gallon Day; Clete Goedken, Monticello, volunteer since day-one; Dave Cuckler, Reno NV, major supporter since day-one; Winifred Fleming, Mt. Vernon, major supporter of the camp; Leo Greco, Cedar Rapids,WMT personality; Bill Hennessey, who was involved in the original construction of the camp; Jim Hynes, Cedar Rapids, former board member and an engineer active in construction of the first buildings, who also continues an active role in "Pineapples for People;" Bernard Kuriger, Monticello, longtime volunteer; Marty Kloska, Reno, Nevada, who originated pineapple sales; Don Lamberti, Ankeny, president of Casey's General Stores, and is active in Cent-a-Gallon Day and Variety Club of Iowa; William Longer, an original board member; Clark McLeod, Cedar Rapids, TeleCom*USA, major supporter; Bill Pitlik, original board member, Pepsi Co., and major supporter; Herald Smith, Cedar Rapids, CRST pineapples for people leader; Jackie Snyder, Manchester, chairperson of the Manchester Garage Sale; and Gary Turbes, Sioux City, the camp's first director. In 1994 Lucille Shellenbarger, long time supporter and advocate for camp and John and Maxine Menster, who donated the farm to the camp, which turned into our largest fund raiser ever, were nominated to the Honorary Board.
In 1995 the Loren Norby Family donated a building in Manchester to the camp to be used as a permanent home for the Manchester Garage Sale. In 1995-96 the office was expanded and completely remodeled thanks to the generosity of Lucille Shellenbarger. The Variety Club provided funding for the Program Specialist area.
Dozens of hard-working volunteers have served as board members. The present dedicated board is composed of 30 members and include: President, Alan Gravel; President Elect, Randy Faulkner; Secretary, Teddy Wazac; Treasurer, Mag Welter; Dale Adams; Leigh Clark; Justin Connolly, Past President; Jim Foels; Gary Gadient; Jim Gadient, Past-President; Harland Hetzler; Richard Jacque; James Klinger; Jim Knippel; Jim LeMaster; Skip Manternach, Past President; Jerry Naylor; Bill Northup, John Parham Sr.; Kay Pitlik, Past President; Ed Recker; Steve Supple; Robert Thoem; Theron Thomsen; and Helen Watts.
Year-round staff by seniority include Charlie Becker, oversees all aspects of the camp, with emphasis in the growth and finances; Pam Mayo, handles the bookkeeping; Jeanne Muellerleile, is directly responsible for the program, and rentals; Mike Simmons, directs the maintenance and building projects; Aileen Schneiter, records donations and handles the many secretarial and receptionist responsibilities, Helen Sperfslage, is responsible for dietary; Elmer Klocke, handles the large volume of laundry and housekeeping responsibilities; Stephen Fasnacht, assists with the program and is responsible for scheduling campers, the internship program, and the after school program; Linda Goedken, assists with dietary; Harry White, assists with housekeeping and other maintenance responsibilities, Sharon Roller is responsible for the medical needs of the camp; Dina Grant, is responsible for respite care weekends, emergency respite care, and volunteers; and on June 19, 1995 Mike Fortman was hired as the Associate Executive Director.
In 1997-98 work began on Pitlik Cabin. This facility is being provided by Kay and Bill Pitlik, who have been active with the camp since about day 1. Half this facility will be used as a dormitory for campers and the other half will house the camp's medical facilities. During the summer of 1998 The Tom & Nan Riley Court will be constructed on the front lawn for basketball/tennis/ice skating and other activities.
Volunteers and staff have come from all 50 states and a majority of foreign countries. Clete Goedken, camp's longest running volunteer, continues to dedicate his time to camp.
Camp Courageous of Iowa would not be what it is today if it was not for the endless dedication and support it has received from so many.