Christian camp marking 80th birthday has hosted generations of young people
For the Matt Larson family, spending the summers at Camp Joy is like having a lake place for the season.
“But we share it with hundreds of other kids and families,” laughed camp director Larson, who has lived lake life every summer since 2018 at Camp Joy.
With 17 acres on scenic Star Lake, Camp Joy is more-or-less a traditional “Bible Camp.”
Enjoying the privilege of living on site for the summer is Matt, his wife of 21 years Krista, and four kids ages 12-18.
He has the distinction of hosting, along with the Camp Joy board, the camp’s 80th anniversary this weekend. The public is invited to check in at the camp for a visit, starting at 11 a.m., with a lunch at noon and program at 1 p.m.
Typically, the camp hosts about 400 every summer.
“Things are starting to get back to normal after the pandemic,” said Larson, whose “day job” during the school year is at Park Christian in Fargo-Moorhead.
COVID-19 has been replaced by another challenge: Drought.
“The grass is dead on the camp grounds, with the exception of a few spots we’ve watered,” lamented Larson. “We could use rain, that’s for sure.”
A graduate of NDSU with a masters degree in theology at Northwestern Bible College, St. Paul, he teaches Bible and history at Park Christian.
Camp Joy’s roots are actually on Lake Lida in 1938, with a modest, one week operation launched by P.C. and Lillian Sorenson.
It was 1941 when Camp Joy made a big move. A small strip of land was bought on Star Lake near Dent, and the Sorensons began a rich history that continues eight decades later.
“A lot of kids and families, sisters-brothers went to Camp Joy,” said Chad Young, Camp Joy board member and volunteer. Young is Pelican Rapids businessman, and owns Pelican Power Sports.
“Camp Joy has very strong ties to the Pelican area,” said Young, who is helping coordinate the 80th birthday party. “There are many fond memories…Camp Joy has a special place in the hearts of so many people in the community….It’s a wonderful place we have out there.”
There is a unique bond between the community of Pelican Rapids and Camp Joy. A number of volunteers, donors, board members and camp boosters have had Pelican ties. Meanwhile, Camp Joy youth have performed community service in Pelican Rapids, including painting the Senior Citizen building and gardening at the Pelican Public Library, in recent years.
Looking back on the history of Camp Joy:
The Sorensons founded Camp Joy with the desire to see the kingdom of God better reached.
Water was heated for dishes over an outdoor fireplace, in the early days. Campers would then wash and dry their own dishes in two tubs outside. There was also no food or mail delivered to camp, so Mr. Sorenson would drive to the local farm for milk every morning and pick up the mail that was dropped off in a box by the highway. There was no electricity, so gasoline and kerosene lamps were often used. However, lamps weren’t permitted in the dormitories due to safety concerns, so flashlights were used instead. Some children still had to sleep in tents.
From there, camp grew. In 1942, it was expanded to two weeks; one junior week and one senior week. On one of the opening days, there was such a large crowd that some of the boys had to sleep in a shed. By 1944, bread was delivered to camp by a truck from Fergus Falls. During the same year, 74 children registered for camp. Three weeks of camp were introduced in 1945, and by 1948 Camp Joy had electricity!
The chapel was built in 1955. By 1960, camp celebrated its 20th anniversary on July 10th with a service of 400 people.
P.C. retired from being director of camp in 1962.
By 1969, there were now 4 weeks of camp. A piano was donated to be put in the chapel and restrooms were built. Campers came from California, Wisconsin, 38 Minnesota towns, and 9 North Dakota towns.
Today, improvements continue at a steady pace at Camp Joy.
The kitchen has undergone improvements, including more commercial, stainless steel equipment, noted Larson.
Siding has been added to several buildings; and the well pumphouse has been improved.
Most camp activities continue to be centered around the dining hall and chapel, said Larson.
Lodging includes 14 cabins and three sets of rest rooms.
Camp Joy has been blessed with a steady stream of support, both volunteer and financial, from churches and congregations throughout the region, noted Larson.