If one were to name all who contributed to making this camp what it is today, the list would be almost never ending. Many persons, churches, business firms and foundations have contributed time, talent, money and prayers. But most important of all, lives have been committed and strengthened to grow in personal allegiances to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior here in God’s out of doors.
Very briefly our history is this: The dream of a camp for Detroit’s Baptists was born in the living room of Frank Carlsen, a fine Christian layman who, as a public school teacher, spent his summers operating his own camp for boys. Mr. Carlsen and Dr. Reuben Nelson, Executive Secretary for Detroit, dreamed the dream which they shared with other Detroit Baptists. Together they secured Dr. Wilbur Bloom as Director of Christian Education to guide the development of this project. He later became the Executive Secretary and continued to be a guiding light in the development of the camp.
After many miles of traveling about southeastern Michigan, eighty acres of rolling meadows and woodland were found on the shores of beautiful Skinner Lake. This was purchased in the fall of 1946 for $13,500 with the help of World Mission Crusade funds. Work camps in 1947 helped prepare the eighty acres by draining swamps, clearing underbrush, removing barbed wire fences, etc. Tents were pitched on “Flag Pole Hill” for housing.
The first permanent camp committee was appointed in April, 1948, with Mr. Carlsen as chairperson. Other members were Mrs. Ray Bailey, Fred Brune, George Gleiss, Glenn Murill, O.E. Robbins, Rev. A.L. Roth, Mrs. Frank Sack, George Small, Rev. W.W. Bloom, ex-officio, and Rev. George E. Riday as Camp Director. The next step was to develop a master plan which would outline the dream.
By January of 1948, bulldozers started leveling the hill where the dining hall now stands. When July of that summer rolled around, the dining hall was complete and Bethel Unit, consisting of four cabins, a lodge and a utility building had been constructed. The dedication of the camp was held on June 19, 1948. Detroit Baptists and friends who attended used umbrellas as protection from the rain as they stood in the unfinished dining hall. Our summer camping program started on our grounds with the boys in tents over the baseball field and girls in Bethel Unit. The first year had three camps with 210 campers in attendance. The Detroit Baptist Camp had become a reality in the lives of boys and girls, not in just a physical way but as an influence in their way of life.
The year of 1949 saw strides forward with Kresge Unit dedicated in June and a manager’s residence started in the fall. Rev. Floyd Crompton was hired as the first full-time manager as church groups were using the camp for weekend retreats and fellowship. In 1950, Northwestern Lodge and utility building were built and the manager’s residence completed.
The four cabins of Northwestern Unit were completed in time for the summer camp of 1951. A construction building was given to the camp and was moved from Detroit to the hill above Kresge Unit and rebuilt into a chapel. It now stands as a memorial to Mr. Frank Carlsen, the man who allowed God to use his special abilities in such a way that many lives have found new meaning and direction. In December, 1951, Mr Carlsen literally gave his life for the camp in a tragic accident while working on the camp property.
A health center, a director’s cabin, a staff cabin, an extra cabin in Bethel Unit and 160 acres were added in the mid-1950’s and 1960’s. The total acreage at present is 240. Detroit Baptist Camp became known for it’s quality camping experience. The facilities were used many times for state-wide and denominational-wide training events. Rev. Loyal (Bud) Weimer followed by Mr. William Haw were the directors during this period.
Many changes took place in the early 1970’s. All cabins were completely refurbished and were equipped with new electric heaters to provide for year-round usage. The Bethel bathhouse burned down on a winter weekend in 1972. The present bathhouse was it’s replacement. It was also during the early 1970’s that the Detroit American Baptist Churches of Michigan and the Michigan Baptist Convention merged to form the American Baptist Churches of Michigan. Detroit Baptist Camp was leased by the Detroit Baptist Union to the newly formed region. Detroit Baptist Camp joined Lake Louise Baptist Camp, between Vanderbilt and Boyne Falls, and the Michigan Baptist Assembly, near Grass Lake in serving the camping needs of American Baptist of Michigan. Rev. William Leroy provided the direction for the camp during this time of change, 1967 to 1976.
A much needed maintenance building was made possible through a generous gift by the Kresge Foundation in 1978. Rev. J. Leonard Raker was serving as director during the period of 1977 to 1979. He also served the region as minister of youth.
The camp faced a couple of major decisions in the early 1980’s. With attendance dropping and cost increasing, the camp was in need of spending $150,000 for a lagoon septic system or be forced to close. In 1982, the Detroit Baptist Union set aside the money for the construction and the American Baptist Churches of Michigan committed themselves to upgrading the facilities and grounds. The estimated final cost of the lagoon septic system is $135,000. The American Baptist Churches of Michigan spent nearly $100,000 between 1981-1985 in upgrading projects and employed a full time maintenance person in mid-1981.
The second major decision was to change the name from “Detroit Baptist Camp” to “Lael Baptist Camp” in 1983. The new name means “belonging to God” or “of God.” The new name has allowed for a broader identity among the American Baptist Churches of Michigan churches. Attendance has been growing since the change with a higher usage among our state churches.
In 1986, the septic system was nearly done. Work continues on upgrading the facilities. William Herriman, Jr., celebrates his 25th year with the camp. Bill came to work at the camp in 1963. Since January, 1981, Rev. Charles “Chuck” Armstrong had been serving as minister of camping and youth for the region and the director for the camp.
A 30 x 60 picnic shelter was added to the waterfront area in 1988 through an estate gift designated by Cherry Hill Baptist Church of Dearborn Heights. A smaller shelter was added at Sonrise Point in honor of Oliver Ude during the summer of 1992.
Also in 1992 work continued to make the camp accessible to our campers who are physically challenged . The hill outside the dining hall toward Bethel Village was ramped and a sidewalk added.
As growth continued, personnel was needed to meet our needs. Linda Jerome came to serve as secretary, Ken Heathcock took over the maintenance department and Jim Davis moved into the assistant director role.
In the fall of 1994 Rev. Chuck Armstrong moved down to Ohio to become an area minister, thus making Jim Davis, the interim director. In August 1995 Jim Davis was made the camp director and took over the camp full time.
In March 1995 the nurses cabin/administration building caught fire and burned to the ground. The cause was old electrical wiring. Over the next 3 years, through contributions from the American Baptist Churches of Michigan, a replacement of the old building was built.
On July 26, 1997, the camp celebrated its 50th year of business. There was a program and meal that night as well as tours of the camp. Workers from years ago were invited and 120 people attended. Some of the speakers at the program included Rev. Chuck Armstrong and Dr. Bob Shaw, the Executive Minister of American Baptist Churches of Michigan.
In the spring of 1998, a frisbee golf course was added to the front yard by Dave Hall and Bruce Pherson from Redford Baptist Church. During the summer of that year, the cabins in Northwestern Village were repainted and all the cabins in Kresge and Northwestern received new doors.
In 2005, Northwestern village bath house was replaced at a cost to the camp of $106,000. Major gifts to the project were received from the First Baptist Church of Royal Oak, First Baptist Church of Detroit, the American Baptist Churches of Michigan, the American Baptist Women, First Baptist Church of Birmingham and the First Baptist Church of Midland.
Since 2005, Camp Lael has been working towards financial independence from the American Baptist Churches of Michigan. The scope of this transition is still a work in process.
Detroit/Lael Baptist Camp continues to grow in attendance, quality of program, and Christian influence. May it always be a place “belonging to God,” bringing Glory to God, as it has for 70 summers.