Skipper Lodge at Templed Hills Camp
The summer church camping week at the Hamilton, Ohio YMCA camp — Camp Campbell Gard — was drawing to a close in the summer of 1951. The Reverend Michael J. Eckert, known as Rev. Mike, was the camp director. As was his custom on Thursday of the camp week, he would gather the camp staff and cabin counselors.
I was one of the counselors attending this meeting. As part of the discussion that day, Rev. Mike reported that in all probability this was the last summer for the church camp to be in this location. The YMCA was planning to use the camp site next year at this time for some other program. “Why don’t we have our own campsite?” people asked. After a brief response and discussion, we concluded the lack of funding and seeming lack of interest from area churches.
Early Saturday morning as we were gathering for breakfast, the manager of the YMCA camp approached me holding a dog. Skipper was the dog’s name, and the manager said that he didn’t want to take the dog back into the city. He wanted to know if a church camper would take the dog.
I took Skipper to my dad and said, “Dad, the manager wants to give this dog to a camper. I would like to auction off this dog to the highest bidder. The money from this auction could be used as seed money for our churches to buy property for our own church camp site.” He agreed and so, after breakfast, I brought the dog before the assembled campers and explained the reason for the auction.
“What am I bid?” I started. “Five dollars,” someone said. “Five, five, do I hear six? And so the bidding went until a camper called out, “I’ll bid $40.00!” All was silent. “Going once, going twice, SOLD!” Skipper was sold to a young boy from Miamisburg, Ohio.
Some weeks later, the Camp Committees of the four Ohio Synods met. Rev. Mike gave his report of the summer camp at Camp Campbell Gard and told the story of the impromptu auction. He told of the enthusiasm and the desire for a church camp. After serious discussion, a motion was made to create a Church Camp Fund; each of four Synods pledged $5,000 to start it. Word spread quickly throughout the Evangelical and Reformed Churches of Ohio, and additional money started to accumulate. Rev. Mike made arrangements to purchase a number of ceramic banks in the shape of a sitting dog. He put a tag with the name of Skipper on a chain around the necks. These were made available to churches, youth fellowships, women’s guilds, men’s brotherhoods, and other groups or people that requested them. The Skipper Fund was born.
That fall I started my first year at Heidelberg College. One fine day, my dad, Rev. Mike, called me and invited me to join an Ohio Church Camp group as they were going to walk a farm that was for sale. Located outside of Bellville, Ohio, an old deserted turkey farm was available and seemed to have possibilities that would be suitable for a church camp. The price was right and the site was purchased. Camp Templed Hills came into being. Several buildings on the farm were still usable. Constructed of chestnut lumber harvested from the farm itself, those buildings would stand for a long time. Cleaned and rearranged, they served as the offices and meeting rooms of the camp.
What was needed from the very beginning was a lodge. Using the Skipper Fund, churches began construction. Soon the building — Skipper Lodge — was completed. A board with a picture of Skipper was given to be placed in the lodge.
As remembered by Tom Eckert