IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS A CLUSTER OF TABLES.
Theo Habel has been part of camp from the very beginning. He recounted for our interviewers the very first time founding a Bible Camp was seriously discussed…
“We were standing in the lunch line at the Chicago Bible Conference and Donnie Kersemeier said to me, ‘Well, why don’t we find out if people are really interested?’ So, he went down the line and he told people he thought would be interested, ‘Hey, let’s put some tables together and talk about a camp!’ The meeting around those tables is what I would consider the very beginning of Living Waters.”
Shortly after that first meeting, the group met again to tour Ervin Lotz’s farm in Westby, Wisconsin. “In the year we were planning (1969), they were just damming up the stream next to the property, so there would even be a park with a lake next to it.” This lake, later to become Jersey Valley, was one of the many perks of the beautiful valley.
After several meetings held in the Westby area, the group decided there was enough interest to form a board, which included the likes of former Riverside Bible Camp director Raymond Campbell and Otto Kaiser. They also decided to incorporate, which, according to Theo, showed that, “We either had faith, or we were just foolish. But I think we really did have faith and that the Lord was leading us in the right direction.”
Volunteers came from just about everywhere, volunteering weekends or vacation time to help build the first cabins (Chippewa and Kickapoo) in the spring of 1970.
One early misfortune the budding camp had to get through occurred while Theo was asleep in his camper. “Our first year, the plan was to do one boys camp and one girls camp. That seemed to work fine until, on the second Saturday of the boys camp, a fantastic storm blew everything down. I was asleep in my camper on the other side of the valley when Erv Jung walked over in boots and a raincoat to tell me what had happened. Fortunately, he had turned the electricity off, but the kitchen was all running water. The women put down pallets so they could still cook breakfast. I think this rainstorm was the event that really caused people to think that we needed a permanent facility here.”
Another story of God’s hand at work in camp from early on was the construction of the Nature Center. “Emil Richetto had made all these animal mounts and wanted to display them at camp. He and his wife Charlotte offered to provide a building, which we now know as the Nature Center. Shortly afterwards, Sym Terhune, who worked with the National Forest Service suggested, ‘Let’s set up something that has a meaningful theme with these beautiful mounts that we have. So, we decided to go with a theme that emphasized the six days of creation.”
The Nature Center would also go on to be the first example of Living Waters’ emphasis on a literal, six-day creation as described in the Bible.
Theo Habel has been a common fixture at camp from the start, working in roles from helping with the construction of buildings to being the camp nurse for countless weeks of summer camp. All the while, he has been a faithful supporter of Living Waters. Says Theo, “And now, here I am. An old man still helping at Living Waters. The kids are still enjoying it, but I am enjoying it even more.”