Camp Gray to grow legacy of family and faith Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Jun. 15, 2017 -- 12:00 AM

Camp Gray Dining Hall Blessing
Camp Gray Chaplain Fr. Chris Gernetzke, right, assisted by seminarian Michael Wanta, blesses the new dining hall at Camp Gray on May 27 during an opening ceremony and dinner. To view or purchase photos, go to (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

REEDSBURG -- It's a time of newness at Camp Gray, the Catholic summer camp and year-round retreat center of the Diocese of Madison.

This year's staff members are hard at work serving the first of hundreds of summer campers seeking to grow in faith and fun.

There are also some new looks to the 225 acres located in Sauk County.

The most noticeable is the new dining hall facility serving as a strong and friendly greeting to all those who visit the grounds.

The facility is the first part of a campaign whose purpose is to grow and strengthen the camp for future generations.

Later parts of the $6 million project will include a new, full-size gymnasium, revitalized athletic fields, and refurbished roadways.

The camp is asking for support to make these plans a reality.

Blessings and thanksgiving

The new dining hall was blessed and opened during a ceremony on May 27 during summer staff training.

Camp Gray supporters, staff alumni, and other guests were invited.

The events began with a Mass celebrated in the camp's St. Francis of Assisi Chapel.

In his homily, Camp Gray Chaplain Fr. Chris Gernetzke said the day's events reflected the Sunday Gospel, Jesus' command to "go therefore and make disciples of all nations."

"That's what we're here at Camp Gray to do . . . proclaim Jesus Christ to everyone," said Father Gernetzke.

"What a beautiful place we have to do that," he added.

He praised the camp staff saying, campers "meet these people who are on fire for their faith . . . they meet someone who is a disciple sent to make disciples . . . they meet someone who's called to go forth and proclaim Jesus Christ."

"We have a place, not just to eat meals and sing crazy songs . . . but we actually can show them what it means to follow Jesus Christ," Father Gernetzke said. "This is a place where they can come and encounter Jesus Christ and their life can be changed."

Following Mass, everyone gathered in the new $3.7 million dining hall facility for dinner and a short program outlining the campaign project.

New dining hall

Camp Gray Co-Executive Director Jeff Hoeben welcomed everyone and announced the need for support in the "historic renovation project."

The project, called "Strength for the Journey, Growing Our Legacy of Family and Faith," is now in its public fundraising phase.

"The dining hall was our first priority in a much-needed and long overdue renovation for Camp Gray," said Hoeben.

He noted the record number of campers every summer with more than 200 on the waiting list for summer camp.

"That shows that people desire this place and they desire to be here," said Hoeben. "We want to do all we can to get those kids here."

He also added that $3.7 million of the $6 million needed has already been raised due to the efforts and gifts and many generous supporters, which was enough to cover the cost of the new dining hall. Forty percent of needed campaign funds still need to be raised.

Hoeben went on to say of the facility, "We built it to feed hungry kids . . . but there's another kind of hunger I think that all kids experience today -- they hunger and thirst for genuine encounters with our risen Lord."

He added, "Kids are hungry for love, they are hungry for attention, they're hungry for friendship, confidence, for camaraderie, for genuine role models . . . we can do all that for kids."

Following the comments, Father Gernetzke blessed the new dining hall space.

Features of the hall

In addition to the more spacious area to seat hungry campers, the new building also houses a new storm shelter for the camp.

Bob Flannery, chair of the Camp Gray Advisory Board, said there was a "growing need for a safe place for kids to slow down and connect with God," especially following the high number of storms last year as well as the high number of campers.

The new building also features "Café Gray" -- a smaller dining area for separate or smaller groups -- a large deck for outdoor activities, staff lounge and laundry, a new camp canteen store, a recreational area outside the store, and future office space.

Most of the wood in the building as well as the dining hall tables came from trees on the Camp Gray grounds. Staffers Tom Thill and Nathan Heit made the tables.

A donor wall is also planned for the future, thanking those who gave so generously.

Flannery called the fundraising in the past year a "remarkable achievement".

Next steps

"Every dollar that we raise further supports a critical mission of Camp Gray," said Flannery.

Help is still needed to complete the projects.

A groundbreaking for the new gym -- to replace the one built 50 years ago -- is hoped to be held in the fall.

The new gym will include spaces for team building as well as arts and crafts areas.

There will also be a climbing wall named for former Camp Gray staffer Paul Coakley, who died in 2015 after a battle with cancer.

The athletic field improvements will add more space for individual and team activities.

Another $2.3 million still needs to be raised.

More information on the campaign, including how to donate, can be found at the website or by calling Camp Gray Co-Executive Director Jeff Hoeben at 608-356-8200.

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