Celebrating 60 years
Lake Geneva Youth Camp a testament to history
July 21, 2010 | 08:56 AM
On some sunny and pleasant spring and fall days, Bill Pollard ventures out for a long walk. He leaves his home near Stone Manor and heads down South Lake Shore Drive toward his destination — the Lake Geneva Youth Camp and Conference Center. Then, he slowly meanders across the campus property.
"I think about my dad and all the people who have been touched by this camp," Pollard said. "It's a very special place."
Pollard's father, Charles, was one of five Chicago area businessmen who purchased the former farm property for $100,000 in 1948 and opened a Christian youth camp two years later.
On Saturday — 60 years later — Pollard was reminded of the times he and his family spent on the property. Along with about 1,000 guests, he attended Saturday's 60th anniversary open house event at the camp.
"He would have been happy today," Pollard said of his father, who died in 1957. "To see the fulfillment of his vision is great. He wanted children to have the same opportunities he had — to enjoy Lake Geneva and to learn God's love for them."
But, the history of the Pollard name on the property goes even
Pollard's grandfather, came to Lake Geneva in the 1890s as the farm manager on the property that now is youth camp. Charles was born on the property in 1897.
The family left the Lake Geneva area to head to Chicago around 1910, Pollard said. But, after his father married and started the family, they came back to Lake Geneva, spending their summers here.
"We were regulars here," Pollard said. "That was our summer."
When the opportunity to purchase the farm occurred, Pollard's father and his four partners couldn't pass it up.
Although it took two years to renovate that farm, including reworking chicken coops to be turned into cabins, by 1950, the camp was opened.
Pollard said his father made sure he attended the first camp. Since that time, Pollard has attended, counseled, worked and helped with the camps. His children and other family members also have spent their fair share of time at the facililty.
"Our family has been involved all these years," Pollard said.
Pollard's niece, Wendy Soderquist Togami, who now lives in Arkansas, also has fond memories of the facility. She comes back to the camp every summer and her children volunteer and work at the camp regularly. Charles Pollard was her grandfather.
"This is one thing my children and I have as a huge family tie to share with everyone," Togami said. "It has had a profound impact on me."
She said she has experienced spiritual growth and has gained "generations" of friends through her family ties with the facility.
Togami called her grandfather's efforts to create the camp "powerful and inspiring."
"It's all about helping others," she said. "That's bigger than yourself."
Current Lake Geneva Youth Camp Executive Director Ross Adams said he was brought into the family as well. Although he is in only his fourth summer at the camp, he said Saturday's anniversary event was something that shouldn't soon be forgotten.
"Each year that goes by, this all feels more and more like family," he said. "It's a great group of people. It really felt like home. I met a lot of families and families of the founders from the early years. A lot of them came back and have stories from the 60s, 70s and 80s."
Pollard said the anniversary brought together the current with the past.
"I think it was great, it engaged a lot of people who helped build on this property using their time and talents," Pollard said of the anniversary event. "A lot of this was volunteer efforts. The reconnecting theme was nice."
Togami said anniversary events such as these are important.
"Sometimes history gets lost," she said. "We are trying hard to keep history alive and ensure that it remains intact for our children."
She also hopes the connection remains and some day her children bring their children to the camp.
Togami said summers at the facility have always been "special."
That's why Pollard said he expects the camp to see a 100th anniversary celebration.
"I won't be there, but I think there is a need for this kind of place where kids can get away and be exposed to water and sports," Pollard said. "There is and always has been a need for this."