History- 90 Years of Excellence

Camp’s Early Years

Florence “Flossie” Foster was Camp Director and Director of Health and Physical Education Department at the YWCA.

As far back as the early 1920’s, the need to escape the hustle and bustle of city life was considered important for young women who had moved to the city to find work. The YWCA served as a safe haven for this new work force of young single women, a place to recreate, an appropriate place to eat their meals together in the YW cafeteria, a place for Bible and book study, and a place to find friendships.

A group of forward thinking Grand Rapids women decided that it was imperative that they provide a venue for these young women and girls to get back to nature, to take in the healthy fresh, smog free air and a place to recreate. In a very progressive move, this small group of highly motivated women went door to door to raise the funds necessary to purchase property to develop a camp for women and girls. With the purchase of 40 acres of beautiful hilly pristine wooded property overlooking Pickerel Lake and bordering Emerald Lake, Camp Newaygo was born. Taking its name from the nearby town of Newaygo, camp was established in 1926 under the direction of Florence A. Foster.

In 1927 when operations began, the camp had only the lodge, the garage and the central bathhouse. During the first summer, all the campers resided in the lodge while the cabins were being built. As each cabin was completed, 10 campers and one staff member moved from the lodge to their new cabin. By summer’s end, all five cabins were completed and full! The first camp program included swimming, hiking, campfires, and of course lots of singing. At that time only the diving platform existed and campers either swam or rowed to the diving platform. Camp cost campers $7.00 a week!

Camp served as a girl’s summer resident camp during the summer months and on weekends and other available times hosted places for women from the city to get-away and recreate.

Throughout the 30’s and 40’s, Camp Newaygo expanded and flourished. The acquisition of a new sloop added sailing to the program, and the opening of a nearby golf course created a keen interest in golf at Camp. Other additions included crafts, horseback riding, dramatics, aquettas and lifesaving and first aid classes. Along with the increase in activity options, Camp Newaygo was acquiring a reputation as a valuable community asset.

In 1943, during World War II, campers volunteered their services to neighboring farms to assist in cultivating neighboring fields, weeding and growing vegetables for their part in the war effort. The campers were transported to and from the farms by horse and buggy foregoing the use of the Camp station wagon in recognition of the gas shortage due to the war. These first years established Camp Newaygo as a camp of high quality camping experience and a socially-conscious neighbor.

Thelma Sorter Cowen, previously the nature counselor at Camp, replaced Miss Foster who retired after 21 years as director. Even during this period of transition, Camp broadened its program offerings. Walden Worship Area was dedicated in 1949. The swimming area on Pickerel Lake was enlarged and a new comprehensive dock system was constructed. A teen leadership program was initiated, training young women as future counselors and group organizers. In 1950, a Camp Alumnae donated funds for the construction of the Florence A. Foster Craft Cabin, a gift that immensely expanded the arts and crafts program at Camp. Thelma was Camp Director from 1948-1950.

The Growing Years
Mary Lang – Camp Director

In 1951 Mary Lang, a lifetime camper, Counselor-in-Training and counselor, was selected as the permanent Camp Director. Under Miss Lang’s guidance for twenty-seven years, the camping program continued its progressive trends. Three new outdoor tent units and additional cabins were built, an administration building was constructed, the antiquated bathhouse was refurbished and additional property was purchased.

As well as physical alterations, Camp enrollment hit its peak forcing campers from all over the country to register early or be placed on a waiting list. Camp broadened its program offerings to include not only resident camp but a conference center and a school camp facility. From 1951 till the mid 1970’s, Camp Newaygo continued to maintain its tradition of impressive residential camping and began to spread its accessibility to more people.

Camp continued to grow and expand under Mary’s leadership; a new unit Tinuwen was established in 1961, a new bathhouse was added which included “hot showers”, additional 7 acres of property was purchased on Emerald Lake, and Grace Hunting Lodge was built to house the administrative offices and serve as the Camp Director’s dwelling. In 1966 the fourth outpost unit, Wakonda, was built to accommodate ever growing camper numbers.

1966 could have been a turning point for this very successful camp when the Main Lodge burned to the ground. But under Mary Lang’s leadership, camp continued throughout the summer, with campers eating under the summer skies and the cooks making their delicious meals in an army tent.

1967, just one year later, campers and their parents were greeted by a brand new state of the art lodge. The lodge continues to serve as the main gathering place for camp activities and stands as a testament to Mary Lang and her unstoppable spirit to make certain that her beloved Camp Newaygo continues on for future generations.

Modifying Camp Newaygo’s philosophy strengthened and further improved its program and service capability. Once a place for young women to escape city life in a natural, healthy recreational setting, Camp Newaygo provides an opportunity for people of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds to enjoy the beautiful, natural environment. Campers, many of second and third generation heritages, participate in a program that sought to build strong character, leadership skills, constructive recreational alternatives, and introduced young people to our precious natural environment.

The Challenging Years
Bev Cassidy – Camp Director

When Bev Cassidy joined Camp Newaygo in 1976, camp was experiencing low enrollment and for the first time in camp’s history a session was cancelled. Specialty camps like sports camps were challenging the traditional YW camp. Cassidy faced the challenge of modifying program and rebuilding the camper base or, as presented by the YWCA Board of Directors, close the camp.

The purchase of new program equipment, expanded program opportunities, and much hard work by many brought resident camp back to high enrollment. Camp program grew to include windsurfing, river rafting, advanced sailing, photography, pottery and fine arts, scuba diving, advanced backpacking and canoeing trips and more. Cassidy worked to bring nature back into camp which included a small farm, and the Nature Nook which included a wide range of hands-on exhibits and live animals in captivity. In addition, a new focus on utilizing camp as a conference center, school camp venue, women’s fitness camp, senior adult camp and family camp were added.

To introduce parents and very young children to Camp and the opportunities camp offered, My Mom and Me, My Dad and Me, and My Grandparent and Me programs were created.

State law changed the unique mode of transporting campers in “Big Red” – a covered cattle truck. A 15 passenger van, aptly titled Big Red after its predecessor was purchased to meet state requirements for transporting campers. In addition, Little Blue, the truck from the 30’s, expired and was replaced with a gently used Ram Truck.

To help today’s camper transition from the camper cabins to the camp outpost units, Rangers and Tinuwen were replaced with Rangers Star Gazing Unit and Tinuwen Tree House unit. These new units continue to fill to capacity and have greatly enhanced the unit living aspect of our camping programs.

The original camp has maintained its rustic charm and 27.5 acres have been added which includes a cattail marsh and sphagnum bog, both unique environments for campers to experience. In 1986, a boardwalk nature trail was built to allow access to this exciting wetland area. The new land acquisition included 15 acres of land for camping called Blueberry Hill and a log cabin called the Cliff House.

“Nevertheless, She Persisted” Years
Several seasonal Camp Directors worked to keep Camp moving forward from 1989 – 2001.

In 1995 Camp Newaygo was closed by its parent organization, the YWCA of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Plans to log the property began and to sell the lake frontage for development were met with great resistance by a committed group of alumnae and camp supporters.

In 1996, NCCS (now TrueNorth Community Services) reached an agreement with the alumnae/supporters to take over the ownership and leadership of Camp Newaygo. This group of supporters purchased Camp from the YWCA and deeded it over to NCCS.

The Current Years
Jane Vitek – Camp Director

In 2002, Jane Vitek returned to Camp as full time Camp Director and continues to this day. Jane joined camp as a camp counselor in 1975, served as the program director from 1978-1990, and served on the Camp Committee until camp was sold.

Realizing that camp could not survive without year-round operations, Jane worked diligently to put a business plan in place to reach that goal. In 2005, Hunting Lodge was renovated and turned into a year-round residence for the resident camp director/camp staff.

Acquisition of 2.2 acres of property adjacent to the wetland occurred in 2008 which provided contiguous property opportunities and a ranch house that could serve as year round staff dwelling.

In 2008, Jane led a 3.2 million dollar capital campaign to renovate, winterize and expand Lang Lodge into a year round facility. This brought the camp staff offices into Lang Lodge, as well as incorporated new bathhouse and shower facility and four small dormitories. Unfortunately, Council Rock was demolished as a part of this process.

With the Lang Lodge project completed, Camp Newaygo is now a year round program facility. New and innovative community programs, a catering business, year round program staff are all part of this expansion.

Acquisition in 2009 of the Meewenberg Property, which consists of 10 additional continuous acres and a dwelling provide much needed woodlands for camping and outdoor experiences.

In addition, Walden Worship Area has been completely redone as part of the ongoing plan to update camp facilities as needed.
Most recently, camp will complete the acquisition of the Kastelin Property, which is contiguous to the Camp Newaygo Cliff House property and will expand waterfront and camper programming.

In 2016 Camp launched Building a Healthy Future: A Capital Campaign for Health, Leadership and the Arts. This campaign will help Camp meet its growing programming needs as well as meet current health and building standards.

1924-1925 – Fundraise to establish a camp for women/girls
1926 – Purchase property and begin clearing and construction
1927 – First year of Camp Newaygo operations – opened with lodge, garage and bathhouse facilities in place, built a cabin a week to move 12 campers from the lodge to a bran new cabin. On the waterfront only the diving stand existed
1943 – Campers aided neighboring farmers by weeding to help during the WWII war effort including using horse/buggy to save on the gas during crisis
1949 – Pioneer Camp established
Walden Worship Area was dedicated
New swimming dock built
C.I.T. program established
1950 – Florence Foster Craft House was built and dedicated
1961 – Tinuwen established
New Council Rock built, with hot showers
Purchase of 7 acres on Emerald Lake
1963 – Grace Hunting Lodge was built and dedicated
1966 – Wakonda Unit Built
Main Lodge Burned to the Ground
1976 – 50th Reunion Celebrated
1983 – Rangers rebuilt from platform tents to a Star Gazing Unit
Tinuwen rebuilt from platform tents to Tree House Units
1985 – Purchase of 27.5 acres including wetland
1986 – Wetland Trail Boardwalk was built
1996 – NCCS took ownership of Camp Newaygo from the YWCA
Camp’s 70th Anniversary
2005 – Hunting Lodge renovated – year round Camp Director residence
Installation of comprehensive sewer system and connection to chain of lakes sewer project
Foster Park renovation due to sewer project
2006 – Camp’s 80th Anniversary
2008 – Lang Lodge Capital Campaign
2009 – Lang Lodge Renovation and Winterization completed
2011 – Camp’s 85th Anniversary

1926-1946 – Florence Foster, Camp Director
1948-1950 – Thelma Sorter Cowan, Camp Director
1951-1977 – Mary Lang Camp Director
1978-1989 – Bev Cassidy, Camp Director
1990 – Betsy Barger, Interim Director
1991-1993- Lee Ledestich, Camp Director
1994 – Jean King, Interim Director
1995 – Sara Tellen, Interim Director
1996 – Dale & Kathy Painter, Interim Directors
1997-1998- Patrick McFarland, Camp Director
1999 – Interim Co-Directors – Allison Frye & Sandy Federico
2002-present – Jane Vitek, Camp Director