||Jeff and Rebecca Hoeben, co-directors of Camp Gray, live at the camp with their three children. As Jeff returned to work after a battle with cancer, he was able to raise funds to build a new camp swimming pool. (Contributed photo)
REEDSBURG -- Last fall, during a mere six-week period, over $100,000 was donated to Camp Gray for the construction of a new swimming pool.
Anyone who’s been to Camp Gray in the past several years knows that an upgrade to the camp’s nearly 30-year-old swimming pool was a necessity.
The surface of the pool floor had become worn rough, and because summer camp has grown abundantly since the mid-1980s, the old pool had become too small to accommodate camp’s larger numbers.
Once the fundraiser was launched, support was overwhelming, as checks rolled in at an incredible rate from families of long ago campers, staff alums, and current camp families. Many checks even arrived from current campers themselves, knowing first hand the great need for a new swimming pool.
Digging hole for new pool
On March 22, crews from Terra Construction and Badger Swim Pools were at Camp Gray to dig the hole for camp’s brand new swimming pool.
The new, twice-as-big swimming pool will be in the same place as the old half-as-big pool, which meant demolition of the nearly 30-year-old pool was the first and most exciting step of the process.
The new swimming pool is scheduled for completion in early June, two weeks before the start of Summer Camp 2012.
Impact of Camp Gray
To raise that amount of money over such a short span of time was certainly a powerful testament to the belief people have in the powerful impact of camp.
By giving to the pool project, countless donors reaffirmed all that goes on to make Camp Gray such a fun, loving place. This project was crucial in terms of the immediate and vital role it plays in the third “F” of Camp Gray’s tagline: Faith, Friends, and FUN!
While the funds for the pool were raised last fall, and the ground-breaking was done in March of this year, the story of a new swimming pool at Camp Gray actually begins in May of 2011.
The month of May is a busy month for summer camps. At Camp Gray, the planning and coordinating to hire 40 seasonal staff and register 1,200 campers for each summer takes every bit of the nine months between each summer. All of that work and planning culminates in May, as Camp Gray’s seasonal summer staff arrives in mid-to-late May to begin training.
Things turned upside down
May of 2011 was unlike any month of May Camp Gray had ever seen. On May 9 of last year, Jeff Hoeben, co-director at Camp Gray, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma — a cancer of the lymph nodes.
It was a mere two and a half weeks before the start of staff training for Summer Camp 2011, and just like that, things were turned upside down.
Jeff was scheduled for 12 bi-monthly chemotherapy treatments, starting the week after his diagnosis. With the barrage of treatments on the horizon, Jeff’s doctor recommended that he sit out the summer in order to properly take care of himself. Being advised to sit out summer camp was a tough pill to swallow for Jeff.
“Cancer takes many things away, and taking away a job that I love was difficult,” he said.
The other half of Camp Gray’s co-directing team is Jeff’s wife Rebecca. Jeff and Rebecca and their three kids live at Camp Gray all year, which is certainly a blessing.
Time to heal
Being at Camp Gray while having to sit out summer camp wasn’t easy, but Jeff recognized that taking a step back was what was best.
“I knew deep down that camp is not the kind of thing that a person can do only half-way,” he said. “In the end, the time away was just what I needed to heal.”
There were some nerves as camp’s full-time staff began adjusting to the thought of summer camp without Jeff. However, any anxieties that may have arisen were vanquished the minute the seasonal summer staff arrived in late May to begin training for the summer.
“For Jeff” became a rallying cry, as every member of Camp Gray’s summer staff stepped up in incredible ways to ensure that all of camp’s 1,200 campers had nothing short of the most amazing summer of their life.
“I was able to turn camp over into totally capable hands and my focus was completely on getting healthy and on caring for my children, as much as that was possible,” said Jeff.
Culling through the hundreds of parent evaluations during and after the completion of summer camp was reassuring that, though camp was without Jeff, kids’ lives were still impacted.
Need for a new pool
However, there is a section of camp’s parent evaluations that parents are asked for suggestions for improvements, and in this area, there was a common theme; Camp Gray needed a new swimming pool.
In early October, Camp Gray’s Board of Directors, aware of the need for a new swimming pool, secured the pledge of an anonymous donor to donate up to $100,000 of matching funds to a new swimming pool. The caveat was that only the funds which were donated before the end of 2011 would be matched.
In the months after summer camp, though still undergoing chemotherapy, Jeff began easing himself back into a regular work schedule. Receiving word of the $100,000 pledge propelled him into an unexpected, fast-moving campaign.
“I learned of the matching donation a week before my last chemo treatment in mid-October. I knew the funds had to be raised by the end of the year to take advantage of the match,” he said.
To have $100,000 on the table was certainly an enormous step in getting a new swimming pool. However, an additional $100,000 would have to be raised before Camp Gray could take advantage of the generous donation.
“I did not know how to proceed, but it turned out that proceeding was just what I needed to do in order to heal. After chemo finished, I had about five weeks before radiation began. That time allowed me to begin feeling better, and it in turned allowed me to start making phone calls and planning a strategy [to raise the matching funds],” said Jeff.
Impetus for diving back
Stepping away from camp for so long was difficult for Jeff, but the task of raising the matching funds was the challenge he needed to dive back into his role as the co-director at Camp Gray.
“Having such a worthy and focused goal to work towards made the transition back to camp fairly smooth. It was a wonderful way to jump back in.”
A mere six weeks later, $122,000 had been raised, far exceeding the amount pledged by the donor. “The amount of people that gave to the project gives me great hope,” observed Jeff. “It goes to show just how many people value this place and all that it does for children.”
Oftentimes, we don’t ask for, nor do we understand the challenges that are put in front of us in life. We’re simply called to have faith, and to lean on each other for support in order to overcome times of difficulty. The lessons which are learned, both from those receiving and those giving the support, can have an enormous impact if they’re given the proper time to reflect.
Much to be thankful for
With what promises to be another great summer at Camp Gray on the horizon, much reflecting on last summer has been taking place lately. A year ago at this time, no one could have predicted what the upcoming year would hold.
Jeff is six-months cancer free, and a new pool is being built before our eyes. Other improvements have been the fruit of the work of the last year, as well. Camp’s basketball court will be resurfaced in the coming weeks; plans for a new retreat space and office are in the works; and registrations for Summer Camp 2012 are up 21 percent at this point compared with last summer.
Though lots of work has gone into the new pool already, for Jeff, it still is difficult to wrap his mind around the fact that a new pool will be at Camp Gray for Summer Camp 2012.
“I don’t think it will sink in until kids are splashing about this summer. And, that’s okay. Sometimes we’re called to press on, work hard, and power through until a job is done. Upon completion we can revel in our successes and thank God for the many blessings he has given us.
“The pool and cancer have blessed me in their own way. Our time to revel will be short. There is much work to be done . . . Here we go; hang on; it’s going to be a wild ride.”
Thanks to all for your support of the continued improvements of Camp Gray, and for the prayers of support for the Hoebens.
Hope to see you out at Camp Gray soon!
Chris “Topher” Aderhold is assistant director of Camp Gray.