Editor’s Note: Each year, at the annual Camp Gray Benefit Dinner, we recognize the recipient of Camp’s Luke 22:26 Servant Leadership Award. The following text is from the speech which was delivered by Topher to honor the 2016 Luke 22:26 Servant Leadership recipient, Mr. Sam Ballweg.

The energy, the goofiness, the shenanigans, the outpouring of support by you – the Camp Gray family – I look forward to the Camp Gray Benefit Dinner each year. My favorite part of the evening is this part – it is a true honor each year to recognize the recipient of the annual Luke 22:26 Servant Leadership Award.

For many, many years, Luke 22:26 has been a foundational verse for us at Camp Gray. The verse reads: “Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, the leader as the servant.”

Topher greets Sam for a photo after Sam was recognized as the recipient of the 2016 Luke 22:26

The annual recipient of this award is a person that exemplifies servant leadership. The annual recipient is someone that, in their own selfless way, lead by serving – someone that embodies Christ’s example of service to Camp Gray.

This year’s recipient is Mr. Sam Ballweg.

A few words about Sam…

Camp Gray has been a part of Sam’s life from nearly the beginning. Way back, in the fall of 1978, after it was announced that Fr. Bakke would soon be taking over as Camp Gray’s Director, one of the first calls of support he received was from Sam’s dad, Ken. Ken, the CEO of Endres Manufacturing in Waunakee, soon after sent a crew from Endres to build a new backstop for the athletic field. It must have been made from Ken’s best steel because that same backstop remains to this day…

A few years later, in the mid-80s, Sam arrived at Camp Gray as a camper for the first time. He estimates he was only 6 years old that first summer – a year younger than protocol, but since his older brother Ben was going, Fr. Bakke let Sam come, too.

Sam was homesick the first couple of days of that first experience at Camp Gray, but Camp Director Fr. Bakke helped him through those tough times, and before long, he was having the time of his life at Camp Gray. It helped that each day Sam received a letter from his Mom and Dad. Perhaps it was the comforting words from his parents that eased Sam’s homesickness. Perhaps. One of Sam’s earliest memories of Camp Gray was Fr. Bakke’s mail distribution process. He’d bring the big stack of mail into Helen Hall each day during lunch, and he’d wing those letters at the campers – this was surely an era before ACA accreditation. Perhaps it was the words in the letters that cheered Sam up, or maybe it was seeing joyful Fr. Bakke daily launch an envelope at his face that cheered him right up!

Sam, a Summer Camp Counselor back in 1997, poses with a group of trailblazer campers. 

We’re grateful Sam had an awesome first experience, because that led to 10 more years of Summer Camp experiences, one year as a member of our Summer Camp Staff as a counselor (a summer that Sam still refers to as one of the best of his life), and for the past dozen years, Sam has generously served on Camp’s Advisory Board.

Over the years, a strong bond has been built between the Ballweg’s, Endres, and Camp Gray, and we’re grateful it continues to this day. Sam has served as president of Endres – the family business – since 2013. For more than 90 years, Endres has made the best steel money can buy – they make backstops that last 40 years.

And if Endres is the family business, then pitching in at Camp Gray is the family pastime. And that bond between the Ballweg’s, Endres, and Camp Gray – it’s sort of weaved together a legacy that makes it difficult to separate one from the other.

As I began writing this speech, when I would make notes about Sam’s service to Camp Gray, I would find myself on a road sharing about Endres, which would lead me to writing notes about his mom and dad, Diane and Ken, and their long and incredibly generous service to Camp Gray. Sam’s sister Katie served on our staff for a couple of years, and now and again guys from Endres will still come to Camp Gray to pitch in – the boardwalk to the stables was built by Endres men. And Sam has made sure that for the past few years, Endres is a title sponsor of the Camp Gray soccer team – a team of Camp Gray staffers that is formed for one game a year to face off against the staff of a nearby Jewish Camp. Endres’ support remains firm despite a four game losing streak.

It was only while reflecting on Endres steel that I was able to somewhat separate Sam in order to better explain and clarify his service to Camp Gray.

Sam with his wife, Annie, and their three kids, Michael, Brandon, and Brooke.

In the new Camp Gray dining hall, Endres structural steel plays an integral role, but it’s unseen. There’s a massive beam holding up the entire dining hall floor- you can’t see it, but it’s there, providing invaluable support. Without that steel, the new dining hall would crumble.

Sam, like his steel that supports our dining hall, is oftentimes supporting Camp Gray in unseen ways. He’s not typically the one up front, banging the drum, making a lot of noise for Camp Gray. Sam quietly, humbly, generously does outstanding work for Camp Gray behind the scenes. His experiences as a camper and staffer back in the day were impactful in shaping him into the man he is today – this inspires him to give back by serving on our board, our fundraising cabinet, Camp’s finance committee, and in many other behind-the-scenes roles.

Sam provides invaluable support to Camp Gray, and without him, Camp Gray would crumble.

Lastly, I’ll close by sharing one more story for y’all. It’s not about Sam, but it is about Sam’s oldest son, Michael – and it’s a story that further demonstrates the bonds between the Ballweg’s, Endres, and Camp Gray.

Michael, a 4th grader, loves to run. This past fall he began searching for a 5k race to compete in, but was less than satisfied with the race options available. A resilient and determined 9-year old, Michael decided that, well, if he couldn’t find a race, he’d make his own. Before long, he’d organized a race in his neighborhood. This wasn’t just some random fun run – if Michael was going to organize a race, it was going to be a fundraiser. With the help of his parents, he spread the word, and 33 hearty souls arrived, paying $5 each to run on a bitter cold, January day.

When asked what the fundraiser should be for, he suggested the money go to Camp Gray, because of course, it’s the family pastime. When Jeff asked him specifically, how he’d like the money to support Camp Gray, Michael – an observant young guy who twice has been a camper at Camp Gray – suggested the money be spent sprucing up the decrepit, aging, rundown St. John’s bathroom. We’re grateful for Michael’s generosity and I’m confident that each and every male camper and staffer that sees that improvements have been done to St. John’s will be overcome with gratitude.

For all you do for Camp Gray – for your selfless and humble service behind the scenes to help make Camp Gray great, we thank you Sam. It’s a privilege to serve with you, to learn from you, and to call you a friend, and on behalf of Jeff, Rebecca, and the entire Camp Gray family, I’m honored to present you with Camp’s Luke 22:26 Servant Leadership Award.