||The St. John Bosco Office is three times larger than the old office. (Contributed photo)
This article is excerpted from a blog post on the Camp Gray Web site. For the entire post, click here.
BARABOO -- As I sit at my desk in the new Camp Gray office, 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 now a great retreat space and spiffy new office.
But mostly, it’s about a 19th century saint and a present day businessman and his wife.
Need for new office
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 had slowly been falling in on itself ever since.
Finally, this past winter, plans were begun to build a new modern camp office. It was apparent that the best location for the new office would be roughly where “The Joe” — our large retreat space — sat.
Building a new space
Built solely as a summer time space, “The Joe” was proving to be inadequate for our wintertime retreats. The Camp Gray staff and Board of Directors agreed that while it would cost more now, rebuilding both the office and the retreat space into one building was the most prudent decision.
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.
Several large 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.
Pleased with new hall
Jeff Hoeben, who along with his wife, Rebecca, serves as Camp Gray’s co-director, has been a proponent of a new retreat space for years. He couldn’t be happier with the new hall.
“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 and 2007, recently visited Camp Gray to see the new building, and he, too, was thrilled about the improvements to both the office and the retreat space.
“The new building is an answer to many years of prayer,” said DeLong. “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.”
The year 2013 will mark 30 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 from 1979 to 1993) was serving as director at Camp Gray, he was also associate pastor at St. Albert the Great Parish in Sun Prairie, where he met John and Diane, parishioners there.
“John was very involved in the parish in leadership positions and I was always impressed with his person, his faith, and his knowledge,” said Father Bakke. “He is a man of such integrity, one of the most generous persons that I have been privileged to know.”
After Father Bakke stepped down, Jake Neimeyer became camp director in 1994. John Karsten was still involved at Camp Gray, serving on the Board of Directors. Karsten’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 Karsten’s guiding hand was as palpable as ever. It was a huge benefit to DeLong to have someone with such experience helping him lead.
That experience and knowledge has also come in handy for Jeff and Rebecca Hoeben. “John is never more than a phone call away. 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,” said Jeff Hoeben.
In honor of all of the work done for Camp Gray by John Karsten with the support of his wife, Diane, the Hoebens and the Camp Gray Board of Directors have decided to name the camp’s new retreat space “Karsten Hall.”
Father 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.”
St. John Bosco Office
Besides the retreat space, the new building also provides much needed new office space. This space is named the St. John Bosco Office after the Italian priest who dedicated his life to the betterment of children.
At Camp Gray, our passion 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.
The St. John Bosco Office is nearly three times as big as our old office. It has an abundance of space for our full-time staff, the camp’s volunteer year-round missionaries, and our summer staff.
Many thanks to Friede & Associates for the work done on the St. John Bosco Office and Karsten Hall. Also, thanks to James Hardie for donating the siding for the new building and enough siding to cover two future projects: a new dining hall and a new gymnasium.