Camp Gray’s founder, Monsignor Francis X. Gray

The Beginning

It all started with a simple dream way back in 1953.

Monsignor Francis Xavier Gray, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Baraboo, WI, dreamed of a “place where youths would be free and away from the temptations of the streets; where they could enjoy nature and become acquainted with it firsthand. . . a place where they could commune, under supervision, with their Creator and away from paths so frequently leading to delinquency.”

Msgr. Gray personally scouted many potential sites, but became enamored with an unoccupied, uncultivated, 100-acre wooded tract west of Highway 12, about 8 miles northwest of Baraboo.  Msgr. Gray persuaded the parishioner-owner, Charles McGinnis, to sell at a reasonable price, and the title to the land was transferred in March of 1953.  The purchase money was immediately donated by 6 locals.  On July 15, Bishop William P. O’Connor officiates at the dedication of the camp.

In the autumn of 1953, local parishioners began work on the first structures (the St. Clare cabin is the only original cabin remaining), using surplus ammunition crates from the inactivated Badger Ordnance Works.  The cabins were constructed in Baraboo near the county fairgrounds, then moved to the camp.  During those early years, the camp was used primarily by boy scouts and other local groups would use the land for camping.

In 1957, A chaplain’s cabin – “the Cottage” – is built on the site of what is now Camp’s St. Francis of Assisi Chapel, but unfortunately  Msgr. Gray died (July 27, 1957) before he had the opportunity to use it.  Fr. Vincent Browne succeeded Msgr. Gray as camp director, and soon thereafter officially named the camp, Camp Gray.

In 1958, a large, open-air shelter-house (currently Helen Hall) is erected for meetings and meals.  Food is cooked in the “barbeque pit” (fireplace in Helen Hall).  Several more cabins are erected (Sts. Patrick and William).  The timing of these new facilities couldn’t have been better, because during the summer of 1958, Camp Gray held it’s first summer camp (which was for boys only!).  A mere 25 boys attended that first summer, but it was a huge success, and is the foundation upon which all of Camp’s future successes have been built.

In 1959, a kitchen is added to the shelter house (currently Helen Hall).

Were you around Camp Gray during the 50s? We would love to learn more about Camp Gray in the 50s.  Please contact us with more information.

The 60s

In 1961, the Diocese of Madison purchases, for $1,500, 125 acres of property adjacent to the southern boundary of camp, with the

Even in the early days of Camp Gray, cabin group photos were a must!

expectation of someday developing a lake on the site.  The proposed 40-acre lake was to be formed by damming Harrison Creek, however, the DNR would not approve the plan for the 40-acre lake.  (Can you imagine Camp Gray with a 40-acre lake?!)

Because the DNR wouldn’t allow for the damming of Harrison Creek, in 1964, a freshwater, sand-bottom swimming pool (eastern half of present day Lake Jake) is excavated, and a spring is diverted to feed the pool.  Because of this improvement, boys no longer have to be transported to Mirror Lake or Devil’s Lake for swimming.

On May 31, 1964, the Chapel of St. Joseph (present day “The Joe”) is dedicated by Auxiliary Bishop Jerome J. Hastrich.  This building served as our chapel until June 2005, when the St. Francis of Assisi Chapel was built.

Believe it or not, there was an era at Camp Gray that dodgeball wasn’t played.  Arguably the most improvement in the history of Camp Gray came in 1965 with the construction of the Gymnasium.  No doubt dodgeball was first played in the summer of ’65, and has been played every summer since.  The 90’x 45’ recreation hall is built for $2400.

By the mid-60s, summer camp at Camp Gray has grown by leaps and bounds, with roughly 500 boys attending per summer.  The summer camp program includes daily morning Mass, evening Rosary and Benediction, rifle and skeet shooting, basketball, football, free movies twice a week, overnight campouts, cookouts, horseback riding, and craft classes.  On Friday nights the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) Indians from the Stand Rock Ceremonial would perform at the camp.  During this time, college seminarians served as the camp counselors for the campers.  The going rate for campers for a week of summer camp at that time was $45/week.

In 1968, The Diocese of Madison incorporated the camp.

Two more important facility additions came in 1969, when the St. John showerhouse was built, as well as the new basketball courts.  A total of 644 campers attended the 9-week summer camp season that year.

Were you around Camp Gray during the 60s? We would love to learn more about Camp Gray in the 60s.  Please contact us with more information.

Shooting the rifles at Camp’s old riflery range was a popular activity in the 70s.

The 70s

Fr. Cassidy, Camp Director in the 1970s, oversaw much growth in not only our summer camp programs, but also our buildings and facilities.  The Sts. Peter and Paul bunkhouse was built in 1973, and the St. Vincent Retreat Center (Vinnies!) was built in 1974 (extensive remodeling was done to “Vinnies” during the winters of 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, infusing new life into this beautiful cabin – meaning it’ll be a staple of Camp Gray for many, many more years).

Another interesting milestone during the 1970s was that every year between 1970 and 1979, Camp Gray hosted the Wisconsin All-Star Basketball Camp, run by coaches from the University of Wisconsin.  The camp was run in the first few weeks of June each year.

As the decade wound down, a major decision was made by the Diocese of Madison that continues to affect Camp Gray to this day: Fr. Larry Bakke, who had been serving in the Diocesan Office of Youth Ministry, was hired as Camp Director in 1979 (Fr. Bakke is still incredibly active at Camp Gray, and currently sits on Camp Gray’s Board of Directors).  During Fr. Bakke’s first year on the job, he oversaw extensive remodeling to bring several buildings up to code, and also was responsible for the winterization of several buildings to enable year-round usage of camp.

Were you around Camp Gray during the 70s? We would love to learn more about Camp Gray in the 70s.  Please contact us with more information.

The 80s

Fr. Bakke, former Camp Director, was instrumental in countless improvements to Camp Gray.

What was the best thing to happen to Camp Gray in the 1980s?  Was it the new in-ground concrete swimming pool?  Nope.  Was it the expansion of the Camp Gray office?  Negative.

Though these projects did occur during the 80s, the answer is:  For the first time ever, girls are given an opportunity to experience Camp Gray!  Initially two weeks were set aside to accommodate girls only.  This only lasted a handful of summers until 1984, when Fr. Bakke and the Board of Directors decided to make Camp Gray entirely co-ed.

If you’ve been out to Camp Gray in the last 25 years, you’ve probably noticed that the color of nearly every single cabin, building, and bathroom, is brown.  The local hardware store probably quickly ran out of brown paint the summer during the 80’s when Fr. Bakke and the staff at Camp Gray made the decision to create some uniformity around Camp.  Before the brown paint extravaganza, the buildings at Camp were a random assortment of colors.  These days, it’s easy to steer families to the cabins they’re campers are staying in: “You’re in the brown cabin.”  Works every time…

Were you around Camp Gray during the 80s? We would love to learn more about Camp Gray in the 80s.  Please contact us with more information.

The 90s

In addition to serving as Camp Gray’s Director, Fr. Bakke also served as Pastor at St. Albert Parish in Sun Prairie.  In 1993, Fr. Bakke’s Associate Pastor at St. Albert Parish was reassigned, and no replacement was announced, leaving Fr. Bakke as the only priest serving his parish.  Because of this, later that year, Fr. Bakke decided to step down as Director of Camp Gray.  The Board of Directors decided at that time to search for a year-round, lay Director.  As the sun set on Fr. Bakke’s time as Director of Camp Gray, a new and bright chapter in the Camp Gray history books began.

Phil DeLong addresses campers and parents at the Friday evening Parent Program

Camp Gray’s first lay director, Jake Czarnick-Neymier (Lake Jake, anyone?), was hired by the Board of Directors, and one of Jake’s first decisions was to hire a fresh-faced school teacher from Madison to be his Assistant Director.  His name?  Phil DeLong.

Jake played a huge role in kick starting enormous growth in both the summer and year-round programs, but after four years at the helm, he stepped down as Camp Director.  DeLong seamlessly transitioned into the Camp Director role, and immediately sought to expand on the number of programs for older campers – for he felt strongly that high school aged campers needed summer camp as much – if not more – than younger campers.

The Counselors in Training (CIT) Program (now known as the Leaders in Training – LITs) was launched in 1994; the Explorer Village welcomed its first campers in 1996; the Voyageur program sent campers down the rivers of the northwoods for the first time in 1997; The Pathfinder program launched in 1998, and finally, campers were given the opportunity to spend extended time out at the stables starting in 2000 with the launch of the Ranch program.

Aiding in the creation of the Ranch program, was the leasing of 80 of Camp Gray’s acres (the area south of Harrison Creek) to Wagon’s West Riding Stables, which that summer began providing horseback-riding services to Camp Gray.  No longer were campers bussed into the Dells for riding lessons, for a leisurely 6 minute walk to the south side of the Camp property now brought you to a pasture of 20 horses.

Were you around Camp Gray during the 90s? We would love to learn more about Camp Gray in the 90s.  Please contact us with more information.

The 2000s

Oh, the 21st Century!

Thanks to the creation of many programs in the mid-to-late 90s, once the turn of the century arrived, summer camp at Camp Gray was humming like a well oiled machine.  Because of this, DeLong decided that the time was right to take advantage of the availability of Camp’s beautiful 225 acres by creating a year round program, with the purpose of serving Diocesan schools and churches with a wide variety of retreats.

Huge smiles aren’t uncommon at Camp Gray during a year-round retreat.

In the autumn of 2000, DeLong hired Tommy Ngo and Katie Bolcar to serve as Camp’s inaugural Program Specialists for the 2000-2001 school year, leading the aforementioned retreats.

Because of the enormous growth during the first couple of years of the year-round program, DeLong hired a year-round Program Director, Brad Feider, in 2002.  Brad oversaw the volunteer team, scheduled retreats, and aided in the continued expansion of the program.

The year-round program has grown by leaps and bounds since those first few year, and these days a team of 6-8 missionaries is hired each year to serve as a part of Camp’s Servant Leadership Team.

The Hoeben’s began their tenure as Camp’s Co-Directors in January, 2008

These missionaries live at Camp Gray with our full time staff, and have the opportunity to plan and facilitate countless Confirmation, teambuilding, leadership, and Environmental Stewardship retreats.

After 11 years as Camp Director, Phil DeLong announced before the start of summer camp 2007 that he would be stepping down in December of that year as the Director of Camp Gray.  Phil left having been responsible for enormous growth and improvements in both the summer and year-round programs at Camp Gray.  DeLong’s dedication will be felt at Camp Gray for years to come.

Jeff & Rebecca Hoeben (formerly Rebecca Andraska) were hired in the fall of 2007 to take over for DeLong as Camp Gray’s Co-Directors beginning January 1, 2008.  Rebecca was a long time camper and summer staffer, who had been serving as the Program Director at Camp since the fall of 2006.  Jeff had previously served as a part of Camp’s year-round retreat team.  They both had numerous experiences working at other camps, and both had served in varying roles at Camp Gray before their call-up to Directors.

The Hoeben’s have dedicated their time as Directors to improving every aspect of the summer and year-round programs, as well as improving the many physical shortcomings at Camp Gray.  During the winters of 2009-2010, and 2010-2011, the bathrooms, lobby, and rooms of the St. Vincent Retreat Center were completely remodeled.  The spring of 2012 saw improvements to Camp Gray’s basketball court, swimming pool, and a new retreat space/office building was begun and completed in late summer.

Were you around Camp Gray during the 00s? We would love to learn more about Camp Gray in the 00s.  Please contact us with more information.

The lobby of the recently remodeled St. Vincent Retreat Center (Vinnies!)

The Future

Much has happened in the many years since Msgr. Gray first purchased the land for Camp Gray.

Camp Gray continues to be a place where thousands of children’s lives are changed each year thanks to the amazingly fun and faith-filled young adults that serve on both our summer staff and our school year Servant Leadership Team, and thanks to the generosity of our countless donors and supporters.

With an eye constantly looking ahead toward the future, we’re thrilled with the many building projects, program enhancements, and other improvements that are being planned here at Camp Gray.

Whether you’re a long ago camper or staff member, or you’ve been to Camp Gray in the past several years, or you’ve never stepped foot on our beautiful 225 acres, we invite you to come and see all that we have to offer at Camp Gray.