The dream of a family church camp in Idaho came to some Brethren who were camping and fishing together in the early 1920s along Goose Creek in Meadows Valley. The question was raised, “Why don’t the Brethren from the Idaho churches assemble together in the summertime at a convenient time and place for fishing, study, and worship?” In the summer of 1923, a Summer Assembly was convened on the Fruitland school grounds, and this event featured local and national Brethren leaders. The response to this event was encouraging and the Brethren enthusiastically endorsed the proposal for a family church camp.
The Rev. Herschel Shank was a prime mover in the quest for church camps, and the first camp became a reality in the summer of 1924. Because the Meadows Valley was centrally located between the churches in southern and northern Idaho, this location was chosen as a site for the camp. Campgrounds were rented from the Kreigbaum family and Brethren families pitched a tent and cooked their meals outside over iron grates. Despite Idaho’s remote location, this camp attracted prominent national leaders of the Brethren and enthusiasm for church camping continued to grow. Evidence of widespread support is confirmed by the fact that camp registration in 1931 was 304, a significant achievement in a church district with approximately one thousand members belonging to congregations separated as much as 500 miles apart.
By 1927, it was evident that the response by the Brethren in Idaho for a church camp was enthusiastic. On the basis of this confirmation, the camp leadership sought a permanent location. A contract to purchase forty wooded acres bounded by two creeks one mile downstream near Old Meadows was approved. These forty acres comprising the current camp site were purchased from Frank Keska for $700 in 1927. Since this property had to be prepared for habitation and program activities, our camp program was held one more year on the Kreigbaum site above Packer John’s cabin. During favorable weather in 1928, an access road was developed, a bridge constructed over Goose Creek, navigable roads were built to various locations on the campgrounds, a well was dug, rest rooms built, and very few structures. The first Brethren camp on the new property was held in 1929. One of the featured speakers that year was the pioneer missionary to India, Rev. Wilbur Stover. No private cabins had yet been built and all families were housed in tents. Many people slept on straw ticks and straw was conveniently available from Mr. Kreigbaum. Since there was no dining hall, families were requested to host guest leaders for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Meal preparation for guests under those conditions required considerable effort. Their reward was one on one contact with some of the great leaders of our denomination. The evening worship service featured sermons by some of our distinguished leaders and subsequent relocated to a campfire. I vividly recall a sermon by Rev. Harper Will, then pastor at Twin Falls, when he said, “Not many people come to Christ head first. It is their heart, not their brain, which draws them to Christ.”
After retirement of the debt on the campground plus one successful camp season at the new location, a highlight of the 1930 camp was the dedication of our church camp. At the time that the Idaho camp was established, foreign missionary activity among the Brethren enjoyed strong support and the campers made an easy decision to name the camp after Bro. Wilbur Stover, pioneer missionary to India. The cabins built for camp leadership have also been named in honor of Idaho Brethren who served on the foreign mission field. It is noted that Bro. Stover died on October 31, 1930, less than four months after we honored him by choosing the name “Camp Stover.” The building of cabins was encouraged by a provision that families could build their own cabin on land whose title was retained by the camp. Strict rules have been enforced to ensure that these cabins do not fall into the hands of non- Brethren who might be unsympathetic and uncooperative with the program activities of camp.
The first two private cabins built at Camp Stover were constructed by the Kenepp and Keim families. Sam Kenepp was the first camp manager and his cabin was built where the road diverges after crossing the bridge. This was a very strategic location for observing traffic entering and leaving camp. Currently Marvin and Mary Blough have renovated the Kenepp cabin. Transportation in Idaho 80 years ago was a different story. Today many people coming to Camp Stover from the Nampa-Boise area travel Highway 55 along the Payette River to McCall. I never traveled it before World War II but I clearly remember the hazardous one lane road from New Meadows to McCall with turnouts for negotiating the problem of oncoming cars. The most dreaded stretches of the road from Weiser to New Meadows was the Midvale hill and the ascent to Mesa Orchard and the switchbacks required to descend.
After attending ten out of the first eleven years of Camp Stover, I left for McPherson College It is my conviction that Camp Stover is the greatest unifying force for the Brethren in Idaho. No other event in the life of the church in Idaho brings so many people together as our annual church camp. When people from several congregations wash dishes together, play together, work together cleaning camp or building new facilities, participate in common discussion groups, and sing and worship together for a week, the positive contribution toward cohesion is truly significant.
My objective in writing this paper was to define the early years of Camp Stover. After researching the archives, I discovered that I couldn’t do that at this time. There are comprehensive bound minutes from 1946 forward but none are available earlier. The fact that the first camp was in 1924 is confirmed by the minutes of the Nampa congregation.
(July 13, 2004) W. LaMar Bollinger