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Pretty Lake Camp Plots Out the Next 100 Years

Pretty Lake - Eric Wimbley, Executive Director

Remember those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer? For many, those fond memories revolve around summer camp.

In Kalamazoo, there have been more than 50,000 kids who have those memories thanks to Pretty Lake Camp. The Camp has provided free camp to those who could not have otherwise afforded it, complete with supplies and life-changing experiences, for the past 100 years.

In July, some 250 former campers, counselors, donors, and parents were invited back to camp for reconnecting, food, and fun in the sun. It is reason enough to celebrate, but Pretty Lake Camp doesn’t happen without donations, sponsorships, and volunteers. Luckily there are many campers who have returned to serve.

One such individual is at the helm of Pretty Lake Camp looking forward to the next 100 years, Eric Wimbley the new Executive Director. Wimbley is a former camper, counselor, board member, and retired Michigan State Police Commander, who literally stepped into his new role in June, and hit the ground running with the reunion event, parade, city slide and other festivities.

"It is very important to us to celebrate with the community," said Wimbley. "Without donors, neighbors, and volunteers we wouldn't still be here. We haven't missed a year of being able to offer free camp in 100 years."

And free camp means exactly that-free! Campers can arrive with nothing, thanks to generous donations of camping supplies like towels, bathing suits, toiletries, and other necessary items.

Sonya Bernard-Hollins, President of the Board of Directors at Pretty Lake Camp, remembers leaving for camp in 1978. Her mother had attended as a child and as a shy girl just finishing 4th grade, she did so with great trepidation. "I remember getting up what seemed extra early in the morning. It was a cool morning and my mother allowed me to wear my new, pale blue Easter coat over my shorts," said Hollins. "Because I didn't have to pack, I just had to be sure to come back with what I had on. Easy enough."

At camp, Hollins immediately started having fun swimming. She learned so much, tried new things, met new people - and left a different child in her own clothes - minus the blue coat!

"What Pretty Lake taught me was to accept new challenges, new people, and just to embrace a new environment," said Hollins.

Hollins has continued to apply her camp experience in other areas of life, including college, career, starting a family, and returning to serve on the board for Pretty Lake. "It was something I thought about as I started the Merze Tate Explorers a program for girls, to give them a chance to visit new places and learn new things," she shared. "In addition, I had my two middle school children, Shamiel and Syann attend as well; three-generation family of campers!"

It was Wimbley who nominated Hollins to be vice president-elect. "He felt my experience as a former camper and board member would be a great way to show how campers come back and make a difference," said Hollins. "After all, he, Bobby Hopewell, and others had also been campers and board president."

Wimbley, and Hollins like so many others, are passionate about continuing the tradition."
"I never lost the passion for camping," said Wimbley. "Even as an adult, there have been times when I just came out here to think, relax, and look at the lake."

Building on the original mission to provide adventure, education, and outdoor experiences that change lives and improve the community, and taking his own experiences into account, Wimbley is ready to dive in and build on the existing experience of summer camp at Pretty Lake. Some of his thoughts include:

  • Do more outreach work with local high school to connect with the community's youth so they can learn from each other.
  • Expand the farm-to-table concept at Pretty Lake Farm, by taking advantage of the new chef's talents and expand the services to include catering for meeting room’s onsite during the off season.
  • Enhance the Adventure Centre to make it more accessible for children with disabilities. The course currently combines low and high-ropes levels. It is designed to encourage collaboration while exploring leadership, communication, problem-solving, and risk. A ropes course and zip lines for campers with physical challenges is on the wish list.

Children are selected to attend Pretty Lake Camp based on need- be it financial, social, or emotional. During their time at camp, campers just need to concentrate on the chance to be outdoors, play, try new activities, have fun, and meet new people.

"No electronic devices allowed," said Wimbley. "It is amazing how quickly they adjust, and they don't even miss them!"

The next celebration is a once-in-a-century party coming up on October 20. Join the celebration and support Pretty Lake Camp's 100th Anniversary Gala. The vintage-themed party will feature farm-to-table cuisine, live entertainment, an auction, awards, camp games, laughter, stories, and looking forward to the next 100 years!

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