What started as a two-week summer-only program that ministered to 150 youth grew into a year-round ministry that serves over 200 congregations in Eastern Iowa and nearly 10,000 youth and adults each year. Though there have been many changes over the years, the overall mission of the camp has remained the same.
In the 1950’s…
…the only Lutheran Bible camps in Iowa were located in the northwest corner of the state. A group of clergy and lay people, who knew of the value of camping ministry, dreamed of developing a Lutheran cam in eastern Iowa. They knew the strong influence camping had on the faith formation of our youth and how this growth in faith would benefit not only those who participated at Ewalu but also all the people and organizations that these campers shared with when they returned home.
After considering several sites around Strawberry Point and Maquoketa, a committee of pastors was formed in 1958 and they made the recommendation that the camp be located near the Fayette/Clayton county line. The committee members visited several sites around Strawberry Point and Edgewood and secured the services of an architect for the proposed camp. Upon the advice of the pastors, a site was selected near Joy Springs in Clayton County. These visionaries rallied support, and the beautiful 280 acres site was purchased on January 26, 1961.
The Early Years
By the summer of 1961, a large meeting tent was set up for a two-week camping session: the first summer of Lutheran camping ministry in eastern Iowa. In November, the first board of directors was formed for the camp and two priorities were evident from the outset: the need to construct program space AND the need for a dynamic camp director. In 1962, the “Great Hall” named Cedar Lodge was constructed, in no small part due to volunteers.
In early 1963, the camp was still without a name. A “name-the-camp” contest was held and fifty entries were received. The Board of Directors chose the name “Ewalu,” an acronym for Eastern IoWA Lutheran Bible Camp Association. By November, the first full-time director, Warren Salveson, was hired.
In the early years of the camp, each conference of churches brought their youth for a specific week. Conference pastors determined the program for their week, and summer staff provided assistance. By the mid-1960’s, however, conference camping yielded to “open” camping; Ewalu created the programs and individual campers chose when they wanted to attend camp which made the role of the summer counselor more important. By 1967, summer camp had grown to over 1,000 campers with over 40 summer staff.
Building & Supporting the Ministry
At the end of 1983, the Three Crosses Ministries’ Boys Ranch, located a few miles north of Strawberry Point, approached Ewalu to propose a merger; their ministry had witnessed social services and financial difficulties and was closing. In March of 1984, the merger was approved and Ewalu became the successor corporation, assuming its 250-acre site/facility.
The building was redesigned to meet the needs of the camp and became the Stone Center, an adult/family retreat facility used by a variety of groups. Today it is used nearly every weekend of the year and the net income generated by the Stone Center provides significant support for the summer and youth ministries at the main site.
Also supporting the summer ministries has been the revenue generated from offering outdoor education programming for public and parochial schools. Since 1986, thousands of school children have come to camp during the spring, fall, and winter months to explore and learn about the environment with the great outdoors as their classroom. The program has grown to as many as 31 schools using the facilities throughout the year.
But the Story Isn’t Over…
So what is the best part of the Ewalu story?
Could it be the young people that come to Ewalu each year to grow in their faith and enjoy a great week of hiking, cookouts, campfires, worship, bible study swimming and games?
Could it be the counselors that come each summer eager to share their faith in Christ with the campers?
Or could the best part be the community of faith that develops at Ewalu. Kids, staff, pastors, and youth leaders grow stronger together in their faith in God, grow closer in their relationship with Jesus Christ, and are encouraged to share their faith with others. New friendships are formed with other Christian youth and they can see and experience the bigger picture of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ. Finally, all go home willing to share their faith with family, friends, their congregations, in their schools, and in their community.
That’s what happens at Ewalu – that’s the best part! That’s the ministry that you, your church, and your community support! YOU are an essential part of the story of Camp Ewalu.