Dear Family and Friend of Camp Henry,
When I arrived in 1961, as Assistant Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church, our family consisted of Joan, my wife, Deborah our daughter and two sons, Steven and Daniel. One of the reasons I came to Westminster was because in the job description there was the enjoyable task of being the Director of Camp Henry, owned and operated by Westminster since 1937. It was a gift to Westminster by Henry Idema and now consists of approximately 200 acres bordering Kimball Lake with access, by water, to three other lakes. In 1961, being Director consisted of a summer program for children and families mainly from Westminster. In concert with a very active Camp Henry Board I hired staff and planned the summer program. The rest of the year Camp Henry was rented and managed by an onsite Facility Manager.
Joan, the children and I quickly developed an affection, sheer delight, for anything and everything that epitomized the spirit and joy of Camp Henry. Suddenly in 1963, Joan was diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite the efforts and gracious care of doctors, who were members of Westminster, she died in August of 1965. Because of Joan’s affection and relationship with Camp Henry, it was prayerfully decided by the Session, Camp Henry Board and members and friends of Westminster to build the N. Joan Gordon Memorial Chapel. In 1966 Paul Bowers, a member of Westminster, and co-owner of Wold and Bowers Architects, designed and oversaw the construction of a beautiful outdoor Chapel with wooden benches seating 150 people. The Memorial Chapel nestles just off the lake in a hillside rock wall canopied by the overhanging branches of a giant oak tree, all graced by the sacred symbol of Christianity, a white Cross, held high by tall uprights built in a semicircle. Finally age and the rigors of Michigan weather caught up with this sacred place where all campers meet as one community morning and evening; families gather for worship, weddings are performed, children are baptized and a Witness to the Resurrection and Celebration of the Life of those who from their labors rest, are celebrated.
Our family thanks all Camp Henry followers who have faithfully given financially to the care of the Memorial Chapel for needed replacements and repairs and for all those others, including staff, who have given their time and talents in the maintenance of this sacred space. But after 50 years it became evident, because of the deterioration of the wood especially the benches, cross and podium, that restoration and now redesign was needed to accommodate the increase in the number of children, youth and adults attending Camp Henry.
I requested, in good Presbyterian practice, permission from the Camp Henry Board, for the Gordon Clan and friends to restore the Memorial Chapel according to the original Wold and Bowers Architects concept for an outdoor chapel. Permission was granted with the concurrence of Camp Henry’s Executive Director Dr. Jacobs. The original plans were not to be found. I needed advice! Therefore, I contacted James Morgan, LLA/ASLA, owner of RJM Design (Land Planning & Landscape Architecture) and his brother Thomas Morgan, AIA (family friends and past campers at Camp Henry). Also Dr. Jacobs, Camp Henry staff and family and friends were consulted. Their combined expertise and advice have been invaluable in the process of recreating lost architectural plans.
Since the fall of 2016, the Camp Henry staff has been very patient and helpful not only in the early work of restoration of the Chapel, but working with RJM Design to meet the present and future needs of an ever expanding number of campers and other programmatic Memorial Chapel needs. Because of the increased participation, the Memorial Chapel, originally designed for 150 people now requires seating for approximately 250 people. To date all the old deteriorated benches and supports have been removed by staff and Milo DeVries’ “big machine.” The original great white Cross that graced the Memorial Chapel was beyond repair. It was removed, redesigned and replaced by a work crew several years ago. That Cross has been removed. Daniel Gordon, my son and a finished carpenter and Nick Boersma, my brother in law and an engineer have recreated the plans of the original Cross and will build and install it in time for Camp Henry’s use in June. The podium was also beyond repair. Tom Morgan, architect, is preparing plans for a new, redesigned, easily moved podium. The rock wall for which I have assumed the responsibility will be cleaned and stabilized. The uprights built in a semicircle are still surprisingly sturdy but the platform on which they rest needs to be cleaned and enlarged for present and future programs. A ramp to the enlarged platform is being added to meet disability code.
It quickly became apparent to Executive Director, Dr. Jacobs, RJM Design, Facility Director, Ryan Reisler and myself that a General Contractor was needed to excavate the site, remove 50 years of decomposed wood chips and reconfigure, build and install benches and supports to accommodate 250 people. Note in the picture the crowding of campers and one sitting on the ground. We all agreed that we should ask Jim Simon, President of Tailored Construction which is a division of Pioneer Construction, who has been the General Contractor for all the other construction at Camp Henry, to be the General Contractor to restore and redesign the N. Joan Gordon Memorial Chapel to meet the present and future needs of Camp Henry. I am excited about all of the changes that have happened and are still taking place – and now the restoration and redesign of the Memorial Chapel.
This is where you, family and friends can participate. Those skilled in construction have estimated that the work that needs to be accomplished will be $70,560 plus 10 percent that is always needed for unforeseen problems. Gifts to achieve this goal are to be made out to Camp Henry with a note on the memo line that the funds are designated for the N. Joan (Eldred) Gordon Memorial Chapel, and addressed to Camp Henry, 5575 Gordon Ave. Newaygo, Mi 49337. In addition, donations can be made online through Camp Henry’s website – www.camphenry.org – and donors can select on the donation page that their contribution is for the N. Joan Gordon Memorial Chapel. Camp Henry is owned and operated by Westminster Presbyterian Church, Grand Rapids, MI., and has non-profit status and is recognized as such by the IRS and therefore all gifts are tax deductible.
Thank you for your gifts.
Rev. Don Gordon HR (I am the one pictured holding the flowers prior to a wedding).