History of Lake Retreat
The story of Lake Retreat can be summed up briefly as: Seventy-five years of God’s people working together under God’s direction to accomplish a vital task.
Prior to the purchase of the Lake Retreat campground, the Columbia Baptist Conference had held camps at Covenant Beach in Des Moines for twelve years. They met there each summer for one weeks of relaxation, fellowship and Bible study, with all ages meeting together. The facilities were very limited and there was no swimming available due to a rock barnacle-infested salt water beach.
As early as 1936, there were questions raised about this arrangement. The editor of the conference, in October of that year, suggested, “We have just finished paying $600 (in rent) for the (Des Moines) Bible Conference Grounds and cabins (for 8 days) … Why not do a thorough investigation of all camps before going to Des Moines next year?”
Many voices over the years prayed and advocated for a search of a fresh water campsite. And at the Columbia Baptist Conference Annual Meeting on May 17, 1946, the assembled delegates voted to authorize a search for a suitable property.
Immediately following this decision, Mr. and Mrs. Howard Almquist who owned a summer home on Lake Retreat, out of Ravensdale, Washington, investigated the old Raymer Resort situated on the west end of the lake. The resort had been closed during World War II due to a fire that destroyed the dance hall on the lake front. The Goering Construction Company held the property and had been accumulating top grade lumber to rebuild the dance hall. Howard did find, however, that the resort was for sale. It consisted of twenty-seven acres of land with nearly 100 feet of waterfront, one large dormitory (Bethany Lodge), two small dormitories and eight small cabins, plus the accumulation of lumber.
The Almquists informed their pastor, Rev. A. C. Conrad of the Ballard church, who then notified the Conference Board of Trustees.
Within three or four days after the CBC decision had been made, executives of the board met at the resort. Those in attendance included: Victor Larson, Chairman; Dr. Elmer Nicholson, Treasurer; Mrs. P.B. Miller, Secretary; Walter R. Anderson, Youth Advisor; and some of the following: A.C. Conrad, Bror Lundgren, Walter Hamstrom, Albert Dahlby, Julian Runbeck, C.G. Tegenfeldt, Don Shogren, and Fred Lind, Lawer.
Excitement ran high - a prayer meeting took place near the entrance to the resort under towering firs. There was an unanimous “Praise to God” for answered prayer. Positive action in the form of earnest money and a commitment to purchase followed. The total price for the package was set at $25,000.
According to the diary kept by Rev. Ole Larson, another significant meeting took place on May 25, 1946. “Five ministers, Rev A. H. Johnson, Rev. A.C. Conrad, Rev. Victor Larson, Rev. Everett Backlin, and myself made a tour of the grounds and then held a prayer meeting at the site of the burned out dance hall where we knelt and committed the project to the Lord.”
Next, the Trustees moved to find someone to put together a camping program. They designated Walter Anderson, Pastor at Puyallup, to become a director and business manager.
In the providence of God, this was a timely decision. Military surplus items were abundantly available at 10 cents on the dollar, new or used. Discharged Army Chaplain Anderson went on an authorized spending spree. Tents, bunk beds, mattresses, pillows and many other items were obtained to fill the needs for the camp scheduled in August. A large outer fly canvas became the cover for the outdoor dining area, and large Chaplain’s tent served as the first tabernacle seating 500 people.
By August 18 – 25, nearly 300 campers assembled for the first family camp at Lake Retreat. Rev. Ole Larson was asked to be the temporary caretaker, a position he held until the following September. On “All Conference Sunday”, the last day of the camp week, a thousand people assembled on a beautiful afternoon with as many outside the tent as inside.
Gordon Larson relates that the people came “expecting to give and exulted in doing so.” This was not a painful experience; they came offering “golden ornaments for the tabernacle.” That day twenty thousand dollars, of which $19,000 was paid within the year, was received in cash and pledges. Dr. Fritz Salstrom or Portland led the businessmen with a $1,000 dollar pledge. Clifford Johnson offered his army “mustering out” pay of $500 to lead the young people.
Development of the grounds and construction of buildings to provide an adequate camping program were urgent needs. Consequently, the trustees asked the Puyallup church to allow their pastor, Walter Anderson, a leave of absence for the summer of ’47 to supervise construction of a dining hall and to install a complete water system with suitable plumbing. Volunteers came from everywhere willingly and faithfully to accomplish almost a miracle. Again equipment and materials were obtained from military surplus sources at fractional costs. For example, dining hall tables were bought at $10 dollars each.
From that day, there has been steady progress, both in facilities and in program development in order to use the property to utmost effectiveness for the Lord. Under the leadership of dedicated men and women, great things have been accomplished.
Year after year, countless men, women and young people from all over the Columbia Baptist Conference went to the camp on weekends to assist in various programs of improvement. Some years, each church was assigned a specific project. At other times all worked together on one major assignment. Little by little, piece-by-piece, the campgrounds were upgraded.
A "Grounds and Plans Committee" was formed to provide a consistent schedule of improvements and guide the work forward. By the summer of 1948, the programs increased to three camps: Junior Camp, Bible Conference and Senior Youth Labor Day Weekend.
During the Bible Conference, when 342 people were registered, the dining hall was dedicated. On the final Sunday of that week, a thousand once again converged on “our” camp.
For 1949, the list of improvements included: tent huts built to accommodate more families, ventilation for the dining hall, large auxiliary power plant, new waterfront landing, new guard rail for non-swimmer area. In December of that year, the committee laid out cottage sites and drew up plans for a series of cottages. Churches were invited to choose a site and erect a building. With the need of a meeting hall, large trees were selected and taken to the Preston mill to be cut into lumber for the proposed tabernacle.
Early in 1951 volunteers were asked to participate in building this facility, the second major building to be constructed. Over the years, countless hours of volunteer labor have gone into this building in its first phase of construction, as well as subsequent remodeling projects. The Lord blessed the work of many dedicated hands. Over the years in this building, many decisions have been made for salvation and commitment of life and service - in numbers that are recorded only in Heaven.
That year there were two junior camps, one for boys and one for girls. The Conference Call records this item regarding the boys camp, where 140 were registered: “On Wednesday evening we witnessed a sight that I feel was equal on a percentage basis to the sights seen at the Billy Graham meetings. So many of the boys came forward that many of the other boys felt compelled to remain and pray. After that it was a common sight to see, especially two of the boys, with a group gathered around them doing personal work.”
Soon rental groups were coming in to increase the effective usage of the property. A number of fall, winter, and spring events were added, including the men’s retreat, woman’s houseparty, CYF winter retreat, and pastor’s retreat.
In the late fifties, a third major project was undertaken, the building of Johnson lodge. This filled a need for a facility that could be used year round for smaller groups with cooking, lodging and meeting rooms all under one roof, and with a heating system. Ronald Johnson, who was chairman of the Lake Retreat Board at the time, and Dr. Linus Johnson of Portland bore the burden of seeing the project through.
In March of 1958, Dick Troup became the first CBC Christian Education Director, which gave new direction to the camping program. That same year, the women of CBC decided it was time to replace the old sawdust floor of the tabernacle with a cement one and raised funds for the purpose.
In 1960, a Long Range Planning Committee was formed, and Rev. Clifford Gustafson was elected Christian Education Director to succeed Rev. Troup who had resigned.
In 1963, a full-scale program of camps was being held, with two family camps, two junior camps and a senior camp. That year the front of the tabernacle was remodeled by members of the Clatskanie church which sent groups up ten weekends in a row to complete the task. It was dedicated in July as the Ole Larson memorial. In the same summer, Rev. Gordon Carlson, assisted by Norman Box, undertook the building of the beautiful entryway to the campgrounds.
In May of 1965, the Gordon Vance Johnson (GVJ) Memorial Cabin, designed by architect Pat Mitchell, was built. This rustic, attractive and functional structure signaled the start of a new look at camp construction along natural design compatible with lake-woods area.
A never-to-be forgotten day, for the 1200 people who attended was the “Prove Me Victory Rally" held on Labor Day weekend, September 6, 1965. An offering of over $35,000 in cash and pledges were received for the purchase of an additional 16.8 acres adjacent to the original camp site, increasing the total acreage to 54. Within five years the total price of $53,00 had been paid off. It was but another indication that God had indeed put His seal of blessing on this work in which so many of His people were concerned.
That fall, the men’s brotherhood decided to undertake raising funds to improve the kitchen.
And within a few years, the beautiful Okerson Lodge was built on the new property. Designed by Pat Mitchell, the structure has filled a great need for weekend retreat use during winter. Between the groundbreaking in March, 1969, and the dedication on Labor Day, 1971, thousands of hours of volunteer help went into the building. On the day of dedication a special offering brought in $15,000 in cash and pledges. The building, valued upon completion at $144,000 was completed for $72,000.
The dingy little office-bookstore shack, and the totally inadequate nurses’ quarters became increasingly unsuitable as the rest of the campgrounds improved. And in 1974 the Carlson Center, a memorial to Rev. Gordon Carlson and his wife, Hilma, who gave so freely of their time and effort to the work of Lake Retreat, was dedicated.
That same fall, The Tabernacle was beautified with siding, porch, insulation, drywall, indirect lighting and a public address system. A fund was started to purchase plastic chairs, which were installed the following summer.
Thus, the record over the years shows a constant upgrading of the camp, with never a year going by that many positive and much-needed improvements did not appear. And these invariably represented the enthusiastic gifts and labor of many involved people. Groups and individuals saw needs and were challenged to provide for these needs.
An equally continuous upgrading of the program has been going on through the years. Today, throughout the winter there is a lively schedule of ministering to specialized groups: pastors and wives, college youth, church staff workers, couples just to mention a few.
Rev. Clifford Gustafson wrote in the June 1974 Conference Call, “Of greatest importance in a camping program is the caliber of the staff we are able to put together. In the final analysis, the program succeeds or fails with the staff.” Under his direction, effort has been made to weld together each year a strong and effective staff to minister to the needs of all who participate in Lake Retreat programs.
God has richly blessed the ministry of Lake Retreat Baptist Camp. Each year hundreds of boys and girls, men and women come here to meet with the Lord in a special way. Only eternity will reveal the sum total of what has been accomplished here for Christ.
It would be futile to begin to name those who have contributed richly to the history of Lake Retreat these past decades. The roll would include dedicated caretakers, committee members, managers, Conference leaders, and laypeople without number. The Lord rewards those who serve Him faithfully, but surely these same people feel blessed as they return to camp and see people still finding Christ, fellowshipping with believers and growing in faith.
Today the camp consists of approximately 56 acres, with about 2,000 feet of waterfront, twenty-eight buildings with a capacity of housing up to 400 persons.
Today, as the world has changed, Christian camping has changed. The summer conference programs have given way to a year around ministry to the broader Christian community throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Adelphia Discipleship School students, housed at camp, now serve as a year-round staff - living, learning and loving others to Christ through Lake Retreats' rental ministries. Today, through the efforts of a new generation of believers, the traditions of fulfilling the great commission through Lake Retreat moves forward.
Until Christ returns, there is more to be done through Lake Retreat Bible Camp.
Fire Destroys Lake Retreat Resort Lodge
Flames destroyed the main lodge at Reymer's Resort on Lake Retreat, two and one-half miles southeast of Ravensdale, shortly after 4 o'clock this morning.
Damage was estimated at $12,00, with $2,500 insurance.
The resort, which covers eighteen acres and includes ten cottages and a large clubhouse, in addition to the lodge, is owned by Mr. and Mrs. C. D. Raymer, who also operate Raymer's Old Book Store, 905 Third Ave.
No one was in the lodge.
Volunteers Battle Flames
The fire was discovered by a resident on the opposite shore of the lake. Neighbors, who formed a volunteer fire squad, were credited by Fred Fraser, district fire warden at Enumclaw, with preventing the flames from spreading to other buildings in the nearest of which was seventy feet away.
Fraser was unable to determine the cause of the blaze. The building was completely aflame when the fire was discovered.
Owners in Seattle
Raymer said nearly all equipment for the cottages was stored in the lodge.
The lodge consisted of a dining room, kitchen, four bedrooms and a ballroom, in addition to the Raymers' apartment. The Raymers were spending the night in Seattle, however. Charles Cosch, custodian, lives in a nearby cottage.