Jim Umpleby has served as the camp coordinator for Heartland District Junior Camp the past 20+ years, with the help of several key staff members, area pastors, and his own family. Jim’s wife assisted in prep work before camp and in the kitchen during camp. He stepped in as director in the late 90s when the Charis Fellowship churches divided and the district camp director left. Jim’s own kids were of camp-going age, and he wanted to provide that opportunity not only to them but to all the Fellowship kids in Indiana. “I knew the impact it had on my life, and I didn’t want to see that taken away from kids. We knew we couldn’t give it up,” Jim said.
For the past 20 years, Heartland District Junior Camp was held at Pokagon State Park in Angola, which offered cabins, bunkhouses, a mess hall, and outdoor activity areas. The week-long camp was open to kids in grades 3–6, and a typical summer had anywhere from 60-80 attendees, with a few summers maxing out the camp facility at 120. This past year, the decision was made to cease operations. It’s an end to an era for those who grew up in Indiana attending this summer camp. Assistant Director Kyrsten wrote, after much prayer and deliberation, they came to the difficult conclusion that, “It’s just time to close camps doors and refocus on other ministries that God may call us to.”
When asked his favorite memory, Jim couldn’t pin down just one. “Every year was so different. Every year had great stories,” he said. Jim shared one story of a special bond between a camper and counselor. After camp, the two stayed in touch and the counselor mentored the camper for years. Recently, the counselor was a bridesmaid in the camper’s wedding.
Jim’s kids, who grew up attending the camp, all helped as adults. One of his sons served as a lifeguard, another ran the kitchen. His two daughters, who were toddlers when Jim took over the camp, now serve in leadership roles.
“What really stands out to me,” Jim said, “is seeing campers that we had back in the beginning return as staff and pour their heart and soul into it.” Jim saw generations come through the camp, and he treasures the stories from adults who were impacted as kids at camp.
Although they are heartbroken to give up this ministry, the whole Umpleby family is grateful for the many years teaching young kids about Jesus. Kyrsten went on to write, “We took none of this for granted and did all of it for His glory. He set the fire in our hearts and gave us this dream every year, we all know that’s what kept us going was all Him. It was all for His Kingdom.”
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