Western Division camps go on in wake of historic flooding

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by Michelle deRusha

Western divisional leaders Majors Greg and Lee Ann (Poppy) Thompson drove out to Camp Gene Eppley in Bellevue, Neb., in early April just days after water from the flooded Platte River had receded. As soon as they crossed the threshold of the camp, which would have celebrated its 75th anniversary this summer, they knew it was a total loss.

Water had risen to the rooflines of the cabins and camp buildings. Furniture had been turned upside down by the roiling river, black mold already was creeping up the walls and mud covered nearly everything.

“I didn’t want the kids to lose all the wonderful opportunities that come with camp, but it was also very apparent to me in that moment that we needed to come up with a solution,” said Major Poppy.

The Thompsons also were hearing from families whose children were distraught. “This was a place where they had enjoyed carefree, happy days. Now, in their minds, it wasn’t going to happen this year,” she said. “It was a big loss—not just a physical loss of buildings, but an emotional loss as well.”

The Thompsons began to explore options for interim camp facilities, and almost immediately, the pieces started to fall into place. “We were behind the eight ball. Most places book up a year or more in advance,” admitted the major. “But the Lord was very, very good to us. He led us to the right places, and our summer camps never even missed a beat.”

Teenaged campers and those registered for The Salvation Army Outdoors (TSAO) spent a week at the Western Division’s Black Hills Camp near Rapid City, S.D., but finding an appropriate spot for younger campers and the music students, who needed indoor facilities, was more challenging.

The Thompsons connected with The Leadership Center in Aurora, Neb., which turned out to be a perfect fit for the boys and girls junior camps. Music camp was held at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa.

“It was an awesome facility, and I was really pleased with how well the kids represented The Salvation Army,” said Western Divisional Music Director Tyler Schulze, who along with other instructors led 114 campers in choir, brass and guitar ensembles and electives including dance, drama, ukulele, timbrels, and film and TV editing.

A total of 350 kids, ages 8-18, enjoyed camp this summer. Although the enrollment was lower than previous years, Major Poppy calls it nothing short of a miracle.

As everything came together, the Thompsons had no doubt God was in the details. “We received constant confirmation that we were on the right course,” said Major Poppy. “The pieces all fit perfectly, the kids got summer camp, and I couldn’t be happier.”

Plans are in works to open a permanent camp in a new location next year, ensuring that plenty of camp memories will continue to be made for many summers to come.





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