In the fifties and sixties, Mennonite churches in Florida were sending urban youth to the north for some time on farms as “Fresh Air Children”. The idea was that they would not just get some fresh air, but also receive more extensive exposure to Christian principles than by attending Vacation Bible School or Sunday School. The program was not entirely successful because of the shock of cultural differences often outweighed the intended benefits. So, the idea arose to rent local Christian camps for summer programs. Several were rented and enjoyed until racial tension in the south caused these camps to be unwilling to host the racially integrated Mennonite programs.
It became obvious that a Mennonite camp was needed, so in 1965 five men were commissioned to find a property. Eighty-three acres at our current location were found available and were purchased in the summer of 1966. Many volunteer hours and much work with machetes turned the 83 acres of swampy wilderness into a viable living space for summer campers. The first summer camp program was held in 1969 with two cabins and 25 campers per week for five weeks of camp.
During the latter seventies, Jess and Vi Kaufman became co-directors. They were searching for a way to make Lakewood financially feasible. At a business meeting in 1978, Jess reported, “Lakewood’s image is changing from one of a summer camp for children to a year-round ministry…from a place for Mennonite activities, to an outreach to many others.” It was a significant conversion and later that year, Lakewood had also grown from 83 acres to about 120 acres.
Today, Lakewood serves hundreds of groups and
thousands of individuals each year. From motels and lodges to bunk cabins
and camping, Lakewood has over 220 beds and 55 campsites to suit most
needs. In addition, there is a 180+ seat dining facility, seven meeting
rooms of various sizes, an activities center, a pool, ball courts and fields, a
human foosball court, sand volleyball, mini-golf, disc golf, playgrounds,
hiking trails, a petting farm, a lakefront with boats and fishing and
more. Other favorite activities include tractor pulled hayrides, popcorn
made in a big kettle over an open fire, a low ropes course, an ice cream
social, and homemade cinnamon rolls on a Sunday morning.
All that Lakewood is today goes to the credit of those who had the vision, those who poured out their time, money and talents, and those who continue to pray and work to see God’s blessing touch the lives of so many people. Ultimately, all the glory goes to God who inspires and enables. Perhaps God will use you to affect the history of Lakewood for His glory.
Written by: Jean S Pfeiffer