by Joe Bollig
WILLIAMSBURG — This year promises to be a very good one at Prairie Star Ranch here, as campers prepare to mark the 20th anniversary of Camp Tekakwitha and Camp Kateri.
Special events will celebrate the anniversary each session, and a Mass and picnic with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann is scheduled for July 29.
And here’s some more good news: There are still open spots for every age group, so it’s not too late for your child to get in on the fun and faith formation.
Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher and Msgr. Thomas Tank had long dreamed of conducting summer camps for Catholic youth. Catholic camps were practically nonexistent at the time, but many Protestant denominations had operated such camps for years, and their youths reaped the many benefits.
The first archdiocesan camp was held at the former Kansas Grange Conference Center and Camp at Lake Perry in 1998. There were only 36 campers that year, but the next year there were 72. And the numbers kept growing.
The archdiocese purchased a defunct 291-acre dude ranch near Williamsburg in 2000, renamed it Prairie Star Ranch and began to hold camps there.
As camp programming grew and the facilities were improved, the number of campers rose. Deacon Dana Nearmyer, who is co-director with his wife Debbie Nearmyer, estimates that more than 20,000 youths have attended archdiocesan summer camps in the past 20 years.
The Nearmyers are also co-founders of the camps with Archbishop Emeritus Keleher and Msgr. Tank, and they’ve seen a lot of change — even in the campers.
“Technology has been a giant change,” said Deacon Nearmyer. “Many of the kids are hardwired into phones and screens like they never were before. It’s a beautiful thing to watch them to go into the woods for a week and become disconnected, and see the light come back into their eyes and them get excited about talking to people.
“It takes a day or two for that to kick in.”
Prairie Star is also beginning to see the children of former camp counselors and campers coming to camp.
“They are so excited and help their kids get ready for that experience,” said Deacon Nearmyer. “They know firsthand how to build on the growth their kids have had from their camp experience.”
The first former camper to send a kid to camp is Tiffany Best, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park. Then-16-year-old Tiffany Nab, a member of the Church of the Nativity in Leawood, attended camp the second year it was open.
Although her husband Lenny Best was among the first camp counselors, they did not meet until years later. Today, they have five children. They sent their oldest son Joe to camp last year.
“Joe was finally eligible to go this past summer when they opened the camp to kids going into fifth grade,” said Tiffany Best. “He signed up along with his cousin C.J. Best, who is one year older than him.”
The Bests were living in Denver last year and were planning to move back to the Greater Kansas City metropolitan area.
“We presented it to Joe as a way to meet new friends from the area, get involved with the archdiocese and do something with his cousin,” she said. “We knew he’d be going to Holy Spirit School and a bunch of children from Holy Spirit would attend as well.”
There was, of course, another reason the couple wanted Joe to choose to go.
“We knew he’d love it,” she added.
Joe did make new friends at camp. But it also accomplished much more.
“The counselors had a very big impact on him,” she said, “They talked about Jesus a lot, and we were very impressed with his prayer time and what he came home with in terms of the faith element.
Moreover, the connection was not broken just because camp was over.
“Joe received a Christmas card and a birthday card from one of his counselors,” said Tiffany Best. “They really tap into these kids in an intimate way. There’s such amazing leadership and care for these kids, and we felt it directly with our Joe. We were pretty blown away by the counselors.”
When they made arrangements for Joe to go back to camp this summer, his shy younger sister piped up and asked, “Hey, what about me?”
“We were shocked to hear that she was interested in going at all,” she added. “She may go as well. It would be exciting to have both of them going to camp this summer.”
Open camp sessions
Check the Camp Tekakwitha YouTube channel to see all the fun, and explore the website and registration page at: www.archkck.org/camp.
Camp sessions for senior high campers entering grades 9 to 12 in fall 2017
- Camp Tekakwitha Max Camp — open for boys and girls
Camp sessions for junior high campers entering grades 7 and 8 in fall 2017
- Camp Tekakwitha junior high sessions — open for boys and girls
Camp sessions for campers entering grades 5 and 6 in fall 2017
- Camp Kateri Session 1 — open for girls
- Camp Kateri Sessions 3 and 4 — open for boys and girls
Camp Tekakwitha Family Camp for all family members
- Open spots
Camp Tekakwitha women’s retreat for all women ages 21 and older
- Open spots