By: Chris “Topher” Aderhold

As I sit at my desk in the new Camp Gray office, on this beautiful autumn day, surrounded by the amenities of a modern office, I am abundantly humbled.  This isn’t a post about me, however.    This is a post about new and old.  It’s about “the Joe,” a tiny old office, and a great new retreat space and spiffy new office.

But mostly, it’s about a 19th century saint, and a present day businessman and his wife.

“The Joe” – formerly the St. Joseph Chapel, served Camp for nearly 50 years.

For years, there has been talk of the need for a new Camp Gray office.  Built originally as a garage in the 1970s, the Camp Gray office has slowly been falling in on itself ever since.  Finally, this past winter, plans were begun to build a new modern Camp office.  As plans were being made, it was apparent that the best location for the new office would be roughly where “The Joe” – our large retreat space – sits.

Built solely as a summer time space, “The Joe” was proving to be inadequate for all of our wintertime retreats.  The Camp Gray staff and the Board of Directors agreed – while it would cost Camp more now – rebuilding both the office and the retreat space into one building was the most prudent decision Camp could make.

The new retreat space is larger than “The Joe,” has higher ceilings, and is equipped with a soapstone fireplace in the center of the far wall (Thanks to John and Diane Karsten and Bachmann Construction for providing the unit).  The design is simple – a large open room, with six large windows – but it’s a beautiful place to gather youth from all across the Diocese.  Several sizable White Pine trees had to be removed to make room for the large building, and now that milled wood serves as wainscoting around the inside of the new space.

Jeff Hoeben, who along with his wife Rebecca, serve as Camp’s Co-Directors, has been a proponent of a new retreat space for years.  He couldn’t be happier with the new Hall.

The large gathering space in the new building will serve as ‘Retreat Central’ for thousands of campers per year.

“The difference is dramatic!  There is no doubt that the old space had character but change is not always a bad thing.  The new space is warm and sunny and functional.  I absolutely love it!”

Phil DeLong, Camp Director between 1998-2007, recently visited Camp Gray to see the new building, and was thrilled about the improvements to both the office and the retreat space.

”The new building is an answer to many years of prayer.  We began talking and planning for this more than a dozen years ago, and it’s turned out to be just as I imagined it.  I love the fact that staff will be able to be more efficient, vehicles will not travel into the ‘activity’ area of camp, and there’s a beautiful new program space for campers and retreatants to enjoy.”

So, what of the aforementioned businessman and his wife?

2013 marks exactly thirty years since John Karsten – president of Terra Engineering and Construction – and his wife Diane, first became involved at Camp Gray.

While Fr. Larry Bakke (Camp Director 1979-1993) was serving as Director at Camp Gray, he also served as Associate Pastor at St. Albert the Great Parish in Sun Prairie – which is where he first met John and Diane.

Left to right: Gary Zimmerman, John Karsten, Phil DeLong, and Fr. Larry Bakke get together for a photo during Lake Jake’s expansion in 1998.

”John was very involved in the parish in leadership positions and I was always impressed with his person, his faith, and his knowledge.  He is a man of such integrity, one of the most generous persons that I have been privileged to know.”

After Fr. Bakke stepped down, Jake Neimeyer became Camp Director in 1994.  John was still very involved at Camp Gray at that time, as he was serving on Camp’s Board of Directors.  John’s support was a blessing to Neimeyer.

”I knew John would always be there for me and had the best interest of Camp in mind/heart always.  Despite how busy he was he always managed to take time for a meeting or phone call.”

DeLong took over for Neimeyer in 1998, and John’s guiding hand was as palpable as ever.  It was a huge benefit to DeLong to have someone with such experience helping him lead.

”John was a rock – someone I could count on for advice, encouragement, insight, time, and service.  John exemplified the humble service and generosity that we are called to.  I will always be grateful to John.”

That experience and knowledge has come in handy for Jeff & Rebecca, as well.

John and Diane receive Camp’s Luke 22:26 Award in 2000 – Left to right: Phil DeLong, John Karsten, Diane Karsten, Melanie Carter Pfeil.

”John is never more than a phone call away.  As cliché as that sounds, it is true.  He is always there with the right words when I bounce tough situations off him.  He has used his involvement with Terra to move Camp Gray ahead in so many ways.”

I’m honored, on behalf of Jeff & Rebecca and the Camp Gray Board of Directors, to announce the name of Camp’s new retreat space, in honor of all of the work done for Camp Gray by John with support of Diane:  “Karsten Hall.”

Much has changed in the past thirty years at Camp Gray – programs have been created and improved; buildings knocked down and buildings built; Lake Jake even saw an expansion.  Every step of the way has seen great leadership at Camp Gray.  And every step of the way, a constant for these past 30 years has been John Karsten.

I asked Neimeyer, “What was the most memorable thing Karsten did for Camp Gray during your time as Camp Director?”  I thought he would answer with any number of stories of projects that Karsten helped to complete; instead Neimeyer’s answer was simple.

”John encouraged Camp Gray to dream and to grow.”

John and Jeff pose with the ground-breaking golden shovel just before destruction of Camp’s old swimming pool made way for the excavating of Camp’s new swimming pool.

Camp Gray has grown by leaps and bounds in the past 30 years, thanks in large part to the leadership of John Karsten.  Through his behind-the-scenes generosity, he has played a huge role in impacting literally thousands of youth.  The man that first asked John to serve on Camp’s Board of Directors, Fr. Larry Bakke, puts it best;

”John has been fully committed to Camp Gray, not only in leadership, but providing expertise and manpower and resources, and lots of money for many projects that have furthered the facilities and the life of Camp Gray.  I believe it is totally worthy that his name is attached to the new space, as it will always herald the modeling of his commitment for all who gather there.”

The new building has even more to offer than a comfortable, modern retreat space.

When Fr. Bakke took over as Camp Gray Director in 1979, Camp’s “office” was merely the front portion of the old office, which was a modified garage.

”There was a pot-bellied wood stove in the middle of the floor that coughed smoke, but took the chill off the room.”

Fr. Bakke can’t recall how long the “garage” had served as Camp’s office before he arrived, but it took him only one year at Camp to decide that an expansion and improvements to the office were necessary.

The old Camp office receives a facelift in the form of a porch prior to Summer Camp 1986.

”It was in the spring of 1980 that a couple of friends and I ‘fashioned’ the office addition.  I remember going to a lumber yard in the area and found the chicken coop windows to adorn the upper level to let in extra light.  It was built by a carpenter from Middleton, with my help, who would drive up every day.”

Likely no one could have predicted that this quaint little office would continue to serve as Camp Gray Head Quarters (HQ) for 32 more years.

Fr. Bakke served as Camp Gray’s Director for another 14 years, all from the friendly confines of the garage-office

(Wrigley Field – home of the Chicago Cubs – is known as the friendly confines.  What does Wrigley Field and the old Camp office have in common? Green plant growth! Ivy on the outfield walls at Wrigley; and moss on the roof of the old office!)

The Camp office was still going strong in 1998, when DeLong took over for Neimeyer as Camp Director.

“As our staff grew to meet the demands of our growing ministries, we felt increasingly ‘cooped up’ in there . . . but, it certainly contributed to the closeness of our staff – literally and figuratively.”

Jake Neimeyer takes a quick break on the porch of Camp’s old office.

When Jeff & Rebecca stepped in as Camp Co-Directors in 2008, very little had changed in the office.

Jeff’s favorite part of the old office was the “attic” above Tricia’s work space.

”I always enjoyed retrieving items from the tiny crawl space above Tricia’s desk.  Every venture into the aerial abyss would leave me wondering if I would fall through and land on Tricia’s lap.”

So what of the aforementioned 19th century saint?

Born in 1815, John Bosco was an Italian priest who dedicated his life to the betterment of children.  He was inspired early on during his priesthood to draw young people to the path of virtue with charity and gentleness. In this spirit, he lived out his passion of impacting youth and changed the lives of countless young people throughout his ministry.

At Camp Gray, our passion also lies in positively impacting youth.  With a new Camp HQ, we’re even better equipped to meet the demands of Camp Gray’s operation – an operation that impacts over 1,200 campers in the summer, and another 3,000 youth during the school year.

On behalf of Jeff & Rebecca and the Camp Gray Board of Directors, it is with great honor that I announce the name of the new Camp Gray office: “The St. John Bosco Office.”

The St. John Bosco Office is nearly three times as big as our old office.

The new office has a large work area for Camp’s year-round Servant Leadership Team – which will also serve as work space for Camp’s Summer Camp Administrative Team.

While Rebecca loved the collaboration that came with the old office, it was difficult to have meetings and a challenge at times to speak on the phone, because the space was so small and crowded.

”I have a door now which I can close for meetings or to better hear the other person when I’m on the phone.  The visibility is another great feature  – I am able to see out to camp in multiple directions – including the window between my office and Topher’s office, which allows us to continue to collaborate like we did in the old office.”

The new office has an abundance of space for our full-time staff, Camp’s volunteer year-round missionaries, and come June, our summer staff.  It’s a beautiful space which no doubt has already been integral in helping camp to continue to thrive.

So, you see, this post wasn’t about me.  It is about two great men, a 19th century saint and a present day businessman.  Both are wonderful examples – in different ways – of what it means to impact the youth of our Church.  Both are wonderful examples of what it looks like to imitate Christ-like love and service.

We humbly honor both men today, in the naming of Camp’s new office and retreat space.

The newest building at Camp Gray is certainly an answer to years of prayer!

The names of these men will adorn our new building, and will serve as a reminder of our call here at Camp Gray – which is to serve the youth of the Church.  We don’t take for granted the great amount of time and treasure given by John Karsten, and we don’t overlook the great example of St. John Bosco.

So, here I sit at my desk in the St. John Bosco Office, and I am abundantly humbled.

Humbled to have the opportunity to write about two great men.  Humbled to hear the stories of Camp’s growth from the faith-filled folks that have led Camp Gray for the past 33 years.  And humbled to work at a place like Camp Gray – a place of love, service, and faith.

Many thanks to Friede & Associates for the great work done on the St. John Bosco Office and on Karsten Hall.  Also, abundant thanks goes to James Hardie for donating the siding for the new building (Enough siding was donated to cover two future building project needs – a new dining hall and a new gymnasium.  That siding currently sits in our car garage, awaiting the time those buildings are built.)

And thank you for your continued support of Camp Gray.

God bless!


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