|Camp ministry alumni at the 65th anniversary of Warren Willis Camp check out changes at the site, such as the recently renovated Barnett Lodge, above, and mainstay comforts like the Lake Griffin shoreline, below. Photos by Kris Thomas Smith.|
FRUITLAND PARK – If the impact of Warren W. Willis Camp were measured only by the more than 260 camp staff members and former summer camp leaders who turned out last week to mark the facility’s 65th anniversary, that would be remarkable enough.
But every Willis Camp veteran brought memories to share of many more lives affected by a peaceful piece of lakeshore dedicated to bringing people closer to God.
Some of the attendees had worked at the camp during the summer as far back as the 1940s and ‘50s.
Mike Standifer has been part of the camp’s history for more than 30 years. He spent summers there as a youth before becoming summer camp director 21 years ago. He went on to become the camp’s director in 2005 and later became executive director overseeing the four facilities in the Florida Conference Camps and Retreat Ministries program.
He can tick off the camp’s upgrades, shifts in musical tastes and programming and technological advances – most noticeably the air conditioning that was added to cabins and the dining and fellowship halls in 1992. Throughout the improvements, though, the camp’s mission has remained steadfast.
“We really have tried our best to stay relevant, as far as always appealing to young people,” Standifer said.
“But the message of the loving grace and peace of Jesus has never changed.”
More than ever, the campground offers people a chance step away from their whirlwind lives and reconnect with God and one another, Standifer said.
“This camp really is holy ground,” he said. “We slow down just enough to be able to truly listen to God.”
Since its 1948 founding as the Florida Conference Methodist Youth Camp, the site on the edge of Lake Griffin has helped thousands of young people develop physically and spiritually with Christ-centered activities, including worship, swimming, boating or canoeing and later high ropes courses.
The camp was later named for the late Rev. Warren Willis, a former Florida Conference youth director credited with bringing about the development of a centrally located campground near Leesburg. He also began the practice of recruiting and organizing college students into summer leadership teams, a tradition that continues today.
Standifer said several members of the Willis family, including Warren Willis’ widow, Evelyn, attended the 65th anniversary celebration. Bishop Ken Carter and retired Bishop Dick Wills also participated.
To view a video history of the camp, click here.
-- Susan Green is the managing editor of the Florida Conference Connection.