The year was 1988 when a small group of individuals came together around a vision which had been formulating for several years and would become what today we know as Camp Appanoose. Each had been foster parents with a passion to serve the needs of youth, were active members of evangelical churches in the Des Moines area, and had served together in the oversight of a youth residential treatment center. They shared a firm commitment to the fact that all young persons are at risk without Jesus Christ, and that all human needs are rooted in one’s relationship to God.
Several ideas had been advanced when the group was offered a tract of largely undeveloped farm land on Lake Rathbun, at that time Iowa’s largest lake and often called, ‘Iowa’s Ocean’. A local pharmacist and his wife had given the land, some years before, to their church to be used, ‘for the glory of God with young people in view’. During the winter, the group committed to considering and praying over the possibilities presented. When the decision was made to acquire the property, they were also able to purchase two buildings on an adjacent development for administration and meeting/dining.
Initially, summer camp programs were offered under the name, Camp Appanoose. The Appanoose name was chosen because it spoke of a locality, a county in Iowa, and the name of a Native American chief, whose name meant, chief as a child, a reminder that God often does great things through the lives of young people. Bible programs were developed internally to consist of both personal exploration, as well as interaction in a small group. Programs were designed to be active, challenging to the whole person, scripturaly based, and full of experiences which broaden the horizons of young persons. The first summer camp was held in July of 1989.
Without existing facility, there was opportunity to develop according to the ministry’s philosophy. For the first twelve years, campers were lodged in seven large authentic tipis. Later Conestoga styled covered wagon sleepers and several all-season bunkhouses were added. Taken from the instruction to parents in Deuteronomy 6, leaders were encouraged to be mentors, teaching campers ‘as they rise up, as they lie down, and throughout the day’. All campers were placed in small groups, led by trained leaders who served as a big brother/big sister leader to the group. An ‘old west’ motif developed naturally due to the available facility options.
Construction began in 2008 on the first major facility, the Pavilion, which added an activity center, dining and meeting facility, staff lodging and so much more. With new facility, more programs were able to be conducted on grounds. A year around program was added, called SURF Club, for young people within driving distance. SURF (Students United in Real Faith) features a Saturday evening activity, snacks, and a Bible study time. In 2017 approximately 20 summer programs were offered.