Chetek Baptist Assembly, INC
The ministry of Camp Chetek today continues a legacy that stretches back nearly one hundred years in the northern woods of Chetek, Wisconsin.
Chetek Baptist Assembly was incorporated in 1944 and purchased the grounds, previously owned by a Methodist group, that several Baptist churches had been renting for church camps for many years already. They first started using the site, along with another camp site on the north end of Chetek, in the early 1900s.
In 1925, Pastor Ralph Barry held a Bible camp for the young people in his church at a Boy Scout camp on Long Lake just north of Chetek. He had just been through World War I helping the YMCA run camps for soldiers, but he was concerned that they were fast losing their Christian foundation. He once commented that there wasn't much "C" left in the “Y”—the Young Men's Christian Association. He felt a camp could still be greatly used for reaching and training young people for Christ—he just wanted to keep Christ firmly in the center.
The first camp was successful, and he continued running summer camps in Chetek, renting a Presbyterian campground on this property. Other churches joined, and he was even able to get a Baptist Convention to begin sponsoring it with money.
Chetek proved to be a great site for the special blend of fun and Biblical seriousness that the camp wanted to promote. Daisy Sanasac, who started coming in 1927, remembered some of the pranks they used to play on each other in the old dormitories above the old chapel hall.
The Bible classes weren't wimpy either. How would you like a class in Homiletics, Eschatology, Hermeneutics, or Exegesis? This was in the day before Bible colleges were generally accessible, and the list read like classes offered in a seminary. In the early years Senior Week ran from teens up to age 30, and after four years you could get a Camp Chetek diploma.
The late 1930s saw some struggles arise over the direction of the camp. These struggles were most obvious in 1936 when camp was not held because of difficulties between the sponsoring convention and the local churches. Camp resumed the following summer despite the continuing tension, and for several years continued on under the leadership of Pastor Barry, helped by Pastors John Hein and Jack Bowen.
In the fall of 1939, Pastor Barry was called home to glory. Pastor M.R. Siemens succeeded him as pastor of First Baptist Church in Eau Claire, and as the head of the camping program at Chetek.
The year 1944 saw two major changes in the history of Camp Chetek. The troubles between the local churches and the convention were brought to a head when the pastors decided to cut ties with the convention, and officially incorporated Chetek Baptist Assembly. At about the same time, the Presbyterians decided to sell their campgrounds, and with the purchase of this property, Camp Chetek had a permanent home.
At its incorporation, Camp Chetek was legally run by two boards—one to own and maintain the land, the other to run the camp program. This protected the camp legally as the camp itself did not own any property and thus was protected from lawsuits. These two boards remained until the 1990s when changes in the law allowed them to be combined into the current board that runs camp.
Also in 1944 came a big push to build a new chapel and honor Pastor Barry who had died just five years earlier. By the next year the building was completed, and if you look up at the ceiling today, the white boards you see are those they salvaged from the old original chapel building. This new chapel and other improvements paved the way for the amazing growth that was to follow. Pastor Siemens saw his role grow and expand as he oversaw the camp for over 20 years.
The original 16 acres were expanded greatly in the 1960s when a neighbor sold her property to the camp. Caretakers and maintenance men lived on the premises, from Neil Coaty to Larry Griffiths to Gary Schultz. Directors following Pastor Siemens include Armin Erb, Dick Robinson, Mike Duffy, his son Mick Duffy, and the present director, Randy Tanis.
With the advent of Christian colleges, camp classes were not so intense, but Gospel preaching and the Word of God have never lost their importance here on the grounds of Camp Chetek. This passion for Christ has reverberated through the multitude of pastors, missionaries, evangelists, and musicians that have passed through our doors. Camp is truly "Christ Centered Camp Chetek!"