Camp Swatara celebrates 75 years of ministry

Church of the Brethren Newsline
September 14, 2018

By Linetta Ballew

Camp Swatara (Bethel, Pa.) is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2018 with a full year of special events and programs on the theme “Tell the Story: 75 Years at the Base of Blue Mountain.” The main celebration weekend was held Aug. 3-5, with hundreds of camp friends, including past campers and staff, attending.

On Aug. 3, camp staff and volunteers hosted “A Day in the Life of Camp,” where participants could enjoy a camp class open house, family-style meals, recreation activities, and a vespers service led by Del Keeney. Friday evening featured a coffee house with individuals and groups sharing their various talents and traditional and new camp snacks for all.

Aug. 4 was the main celebration day, to “Tell the Story.” Early morning birding and a pancake breakfast started the day. Morning activity options were provided all over camp, including wagon rides, the barrel train, a mini-golf tournament, a nature lodge open house, a fishing contest, boating and swimming, a ping-pong tournament, indoor and outdoor games, and the climbing tower. Past administrator Marlin Houff led a “behind the scenes” tour, and unofficial camp historian Jon Wenger signed copies of the commemorative edition book he compiled, “Tell the Story: Camp Swatara, Seventy-Five Years of Outdoor Ministry.”

A history display set up by Tim Byerly was available for visitors to look at throughout the day. Exhibits included old models of camp facilities, a handmade “Swataraopoly” game, lots of photos, a camp T-shirt collection, and many other interesting items from throughout the years—including old slide reels to click through.

Food trucks and stands provided lunch, and then guests gathered at informal “Decade Dinners” to catch up with friends from their years at camp. An afternoon program under the tent in the West Lodge playfield featured a “variety show” of acts including songs, speakers, skits, past manager/administrator and program staff panels, and historical tidbits spanning all of camp’s 75 years. Board of trustees chair Dale Ziegler served as master of ceremonies.

The evening began with dinner, followed by recreation options like an evening swim, mini-golf, the splash pad, and a sunset Rockpile hike. A vespers service led by Kyle and Kaity Remnant at the Outdoor Cathedral and campfires concluded the day.

The weekend wrapped up with Sunday morning worship in the Family Camp Fellowship Hall. Special music was provided by the Yeater Sisters, and Ralph Moyer shared a sermon that brought the whole celebration together. He concluded with these words: “So here’s to the last 75 years—we celebrate you, Camp Swatara! And here’s to the next 75 years—to those who will serve and to those who will be coming to camp. May God continue to bless Camp Swatara and use it to help bring in God’s kingdom. Amen.”

Earlier in the year, regional event celebrations were held at three retirement communities, a Sweetheart Dinner was held at camp for couples connected to camp, and a History Hike was led on camp’s “birthday,” July 22. Events remaining in the year-long celebration include a celebration of the anniversary at the Fall Fun Food Fest (Sept. 29), observances at Atlantic Northeast District Conference (Oct. 5-6), and the Annual Contributor’s Dinner (Nov. 2). More information about these events can be found online at

Linetta Ballew is co-administrator of Camp Swatara with her husband, Joel.

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