Fueled by a desire to promote evangelism in local churches and to encourage and train pastors and students, Dr. Harold Strathearn, an evangelist from England, founded the Interstate Evangelistic Association (IEA) in 1929. One of Strathearn’s dreams was to establish a Christian camp as a center to provide inspiration and biblical instruction along with fellowship and physical refreshment for the Christian community – a worthy but perhaps ambitious objective in a time when the economy was still in depression.
On a Sunday afternoon drive in 1933, “Doc” Strathearn came upon a property while driving down a country road along Canandaigua Lake with his friends Don and Howard Joss. In contrast to another property along Lake Ontario also under consideration, the Canandaigua location held greater appeal for a Camp-as-training-site. Doc Strathearn went so far as to pawn his wife’s wedding ring in order to make the down payment, but with the help of the Joss brothers and a $1,000 loan from a NYC supporter, the property was purchased for $3,000.
Initially called “The Tabernacle on the Lake,” the new conference grounds opened in 1934 with campers pitching tents on the hillside. In the original, stucco farmhouse, guest rooms were made available for dignitaries, while a fireplace was used for cooking meals. An aged barn was used for holding meetings and worship services. By the grace of God, the camp flourished through the support and leadership of area churches and laymen who chose to get involved.
Through the years, many churches and Christian organizations have utilized the facilities of LeTourneau for Bible conferences, church retreats, youth camps, training sessions, banquets, and more. More significant however, were the spiritual commitments made by thousands of people. Pastors, missionaries and Christian leaders around the nation can look back to climatic moments at LeTourneau Christian Camp when they took the first steps on a spiritual journey that would lead to a lifetime of Christian service.
R.G. LeTourneau, Doc Strathearn, and a new name …
In 1938, Mr. Robert Gilmour “R.G” LeTourneau, a noted Christian industrialist and inventor of earth-moving machines, took particular interest in the camp and Doc Strathearn’s vision. Spurred by a desire to better manage heavy speaking schedules for both men, the LeTourneau Foundation and the IEA began sharing offices in NYC. Although concerned that the camp – but not the vision – might be “too small,” R.G. LeTourneau chose to give generously of his financial resources. In later years, LeTourneau revealed that he lived by a personal philosophy of giving away 90 percent of his wealth and living on just 10 percent himself, a near-complete reversal of the Biblical practice of tithing, which is giving the first 10 percent of one’s income back to God. Mr. LeTourneau’s radical generosity allowed for the first major expansion and growth of the ministry in 1939, with many of the original buildings constructed. Mr. LeTourneau continued to support the ministry over several years and always looked forward to visiting the camp as often as he could. In appreciation for his dedicated help, interest and support, the Camp name was changed to LeTourneau Christian Camp. The LeTourneau name has remained to this day in honor of Mr. R. G. LeTourneau and his worldwide ministry.
In the ’40s, the property east of the road was cleared and a farm house that had been built a few years earlier became the dining hall, with guest rooms upstairs. Tents gave way to a row of white cabins and, perhaps most important – a new “tabernacle” took shape on the hillside and the original old barn was retired to some nearby landfill. As the ministry of the camp took root, others began to catch hold of Doc Strathearn’s vision and in 1941, the Donald LeTourneau Memorial Recreation Hall was added as a tribute to the son of R.G. LeTourneau, who had died in a tragic plane crash the year before. Reports of the success of fundraising for numerous special projects, and the flourishing revival-style speaking ministry of both Strathearn and LeTourneau were often published in the IEA’s monthly newspaper, “Joyful News.”
As the ministry grew, the need for more winterized facilities grew with it. In 1952, the 22-room Strathearn Memorial Lodge was built in honor of Doc Strathearn, who went home to be with the Lord in 1950. In 1955, the IEA moved operations to LeTourneau Christian Camp. This same vision of growth in service to God’s people is still alive and flourishing today.
Harold & Fran Seeley, and a 50-year era of service …
Back in 1939, Harold J. Seeley was named Administrative Assistant to Doc Strathearn, serving along with Stratheran in the early years of the IEA and witnessing the initial investments of R.G. LeTourneau into the camp ministry. After Strathearn’s passing in 1950, Harold Seeley succeeded Stratheran as Executive Director. Under Mr. Seeley and his wife Fran, additional buildings were renovated or expanded (such as the industrial kitchen adjacent to the Dining Hall), and a bookstore, putt-putt golf area and ice cream shop were added as amenities. Thanks to Mr. Seeley’s heart for service, and his obedience to follow God, the facilities were greatly enhanced in preparation for a larger ministry.
Throughout the Seeley tenure, the Camp ministered to tens of thousands of children, teenagers and adults. Many of these same people are working in full-time Christian service today because of the influence of the Seeley family’s ministry. During the late ’60s into the early ’70s, two of the Seeley’s daughters and their husbands joined the full-time staff family. For years, Otto Krein and Jack Seabrook provided talented skills in construction, electrical engineering and other, much-needed operational maintenance, craftsmanship and resourcefulness in managing the buildings and grounds.
Dick Snavely & Family Life Ministries come alongside …
After serving nearly 50 years at LeTourneau with the Interstate Evangelistic Association (IEA), Mr. Seeley sought to retire, but was concerned that no immediate successor was in the wings to take over as director of the ministry. As such, Mr. Seeley approached Dick Snavely, founder of area Youth for Christ in Bath, N.Y., an organization also focused on evangelistic work, with a desire to see the camp continue to fulfill its mission. After discussions and a firm commitment to continue the work that the Lord had started at LeTourneau, an agreement to merge LeTourneau with a fellow Christian ministry serving youth was reached. Mr. Seeley and Mr. Snavely recognized the hand of the Lord on their separate ministries and pledged to trust the Lord to continue His blessings on the merger. With the Seeley resignation, the Interstate Evangelistic Association was dissolved and the ownership of LeTourneau Christian Camp was transferred to Family Life Ministries, Inc., (the new name for the former Area YFC) for the sum of one dollar. The name of the property was changed to LeTourneau Christian Conference Center and the next phase of ministry began. After serving nearly 50 years as a dedicated and humble servant to the Lord, Mr. Seeley retired in 1986.
Ralph Dewey, Director: 1986 – 1996
In the final summer of Mr. Seeley’s 37-year-tenure as director, Mr. Ralph Dewey of Middlesex spent many weeks under Seeley’s supervision, rotating to various positions on the property. This on-the-job training and mentoring was in preparation to succeed Mr. Seeley at retirement. That fall, Mr. Dewey and his family joined the full-time staff living on the grounds, and he spent the next 10 years serving as the camp director, while LeTourneau’s ministry continued to grow.
During Mr. Dewey’s tenure, renovations were continued and completed on the Lodge, Bethany House, Lakeside Cottage, and the small Cook’s Cabin located next to the Frye House (Avis and Gerri’s home) on the south side of the property. LeTourneau twice purchased new property and embraced a new format of scheduling so that more than one group at a time could use the facilities and grounds. During this time, Mr. Dewey relied heavily on the staff family previously assembled by Mr. Seeley — Jack and Shirley Seabrook, Otto and Edie Krein, Avis Sowl, Gerri Moose, and Mrytle Van Riper— as LeTourneau entered the ’90s and reported to the boards of both LeTourneau and FLM.
FLM began making regular use of the property, especially for summer camps for youth, adding new programs for children and introducing some specialty one-day programs, such as Ladies’ Luncheons. On March 9, 1996, a serious fire destroyed the Dewey family apartment above the Dining Hall, and ensuing smoke and water damage rendered much of the Dining Hall below untenable. Even that very weekend, service to guests continued without interruption, and LeTourneau continued serving retreat groups weekly. That summer, a long-term tent was pitched alongside the Camp kitchen to serve meals underneath to summer groups, while construction of a new, expanded Dining Hall began, led by Colwell Brothers Construction of the Southern Tier. The Dining Hall project was financed with $450,000 solicited by FLM on LeTourneau’s behalf. The family housing was never replaced and in September of 1996, Ralph Dewey returned to his former field of education, stepping down as Camp director.
The newly expanded Dining Hall, with space enough to seat and feed 300 guests at a time, as well as multi-purpose meeting space functionality, was dedicated in December of 1996.
Brian Gower, Director: 1996 – 1999
Brian Gower was hired by FLM to serve as Director from September 1996 to July of 1999. During his tenure, several renovations took place, including the basement of the Director’s house, along with the small, lake-side building that today serves as the administration offices. During the Gower’s tenure, some father-and-son weekends for campers were introduced as well.
Rick Cornfield, FLM Director Liaison: 1999-2000
Ron Davis, Interim Director: 2000 – 2002
Having retired from 40 years of teaching and administration in private and public schools, Ron Davis of Middlesex agreed to serve as interim director of LCC in August of 2000. Mr. Davis had a long-time personal connection to the camp, having met his wife there the year she worked on summer staff and later occasionally touring as part of the singers accompanying R.G. LeTourneau to speaking engagements across the country. The emphasis during his tenure was to re-establish relationships with area churches, former camp attendees and to reduce the deficit that had been accumulating in recent years. Some physical changes were accomplished such as opening of the west (lake) end of the Rec Hall for additional meeting space (now known as the Cove) and the establishment of a book/gift store in the former classroom building, near the Seeley Tabernacle. New roofing on Hilltop and Lakeside along with a “new” boat and jeep type vehicle was graciously supplied by the Lord.
A ladies’ committee was formed to help establish an outreach to area women and as an effort to help the camp’s utilization. The committee developed ladies’ luncheon programs and a weekend ladies retreat known as Blessed Hope. Christmas and Mother’s Day dinners were instituted as well as father and son weekends.
Bob Nantais, Director: 2003 – 2008
Bob Nantais came from an administrative post in Freedom Village (a youth center in the Cayuga Lake area), and served alongside his wife Donna for six years as director. Under his tenure, plans were developed to begin upgrading facilities, including modernization of some of the rustic cabins along the hillside into winterized bungalows. LeTourneau’s 70th anniversary celebration was held in the summer of 2004, under the Nantais’s direction.
Following their departure, J.J. Decker manned the helm at LeTourneau in a six-month interim post while the board searched for new leadership.
Josh Miller, Director: 2008 – 2014
Josh Miller and his wife, Michelle, met at Letourneau in 1999 as summer staff workers. In 2004, they came back to Camp as staff leaders and as a dating couple. They were married in the dining hall at Camp in 2005. During the first two years of their marriage, Josh worked at Family Life Ministries and Michelle taught kindergarten at Corning Christian Academy. Josh always kept his ears attuned to the happenings at Camp and when the directorship opened up in 2008, both he and Michelle prayed and submitted their names for consideration.
Following the appointment as Camp director, the Millers worked hard to institute new strategies to help eliminate the financial burdens LeTourneau had labored under in prior years. After prayerful consideration, the couple opted to pursue full-time missionary support in 2011, rather than take a full salary from the Camp budget. LeTourneau made a transition to utilizing greater numbers of volunteers for Kitchen and Dining Hall help each weekend to serve guests. In addition, during the busiest weeks of the summer, the Avis and Gerri Summer Staff Fund, founded in 2012, has helped underwrite weekly stipends for the teen seasonal summer staffers serving in many positions around the grounds.
As the summer of 2014 drew to a close, the Millers sensed God leading them in a new direction as a family and Josh announced his resignation from the director post.
Ralph Dewey: Interim Director, Sept. 2014 – Feb. 2015
Mr. Dewey once again stepped up to serve at a time of need for LeTourneau, and was appointed Sept. 5, 2014 as acting director during the transition following the Millers’ resignation announcement. Providentially, Ralph had just retired in June — for the second time — from a part-time teaching and coaching post at Lima Christian School, where he had previously retired as principal. The Board of Directors praised Ralph’s servant heart and willingness to lead the staff and operations during a critical time as the Lighting Our Future capital campaign continued to secure the deed to the property, parallel with regular operations. Ralph brought with him prior experience in the director’s role, which served the ministry well during that time of need.
Jamie Fischer: Director, Feb. 2015 – present
Appointed in January 2015, Jamie Fischer and his wife Michelle (Roman) Fischer, a Penn Yan native, joined the full-time staff family at LeTourneau in mid-February 2015. Previously, Jamie and Michelle spent three-and-a-half years in East Asia as missionaries, sharing the gospel through relationships, discipleship, and teaching English as a second language.
Jamie and Michelle have had a wonderful season in the ministry and are looking forward to many outreaches and programs to come. They were delighted to see God’s hand in the work of securing the property deed in August 2015 through the faithfulness of God’s people. “We desire to use all the resources God has blessed us with to impact lives and build up the kingdom of God for his glory and the joy of his people, ” Jamie says.
In 2016, Jamie led the launch of a new discipleship program for youth and college-age students, known as “THE WAY,” to combine spiritual study and growth with real-life application in work roles on the campground, primarily as summer staff. Some 25 youth, including three college-age students, participated in THE WAY program during summer of 2016. In the fall of 2016, the Way School of Discipleship was born as four students were enrolled. These students are given a one year opportunity to be educated in biblical studies, theology, apologetics, and spiritual formations. The students are also taught servant-leadership and given expert training in camp ministry.
The Lord also prospered the ministry with the addition of new adult staff, mini-makeover updates to select areas on the property, and the addition of six weeks of summer day camps for children, led by camp staff and volunteers. As an added blessing, new churches and para-church ministries learned of LeTCC and began new retreats and conferences on the grounds. Two acres of nearby property were also donated to the ministry for expansion of outdoor recreation areas for guests, and LeTCC celebrated its first full year under independent board leadership in 2016. As Jamie says, “To God be the glory!”