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Reunion for Camp White Earth alumni

It's been 40-plus years since the camp closed, but campers and counselors are planning the first reunion of Camp White Earth.

The one heading up the reunion is Guy Hatlie, who lives in California and has a cabin on Lake Sallie near Detroit Lakes.

"A lot of prominent people from the area attended this camp," he said.

The camp was open from the 1930s to 1960s. Hatlie said the owners passed away in the 1960s and left no records of the camp or the people who attended.

So beginning with no contacts, Hatlie started searching on his own, and has contacted 60 people he has tracked down. About 40 of them are planning on attending the Sept. 15-17 reunion.

"It's great fun contacting these people, especially by phone," he said, getting to reminisce about the camp with former friends.

He said he has talked to men from California to Tennessee to New York.

One person in particular he remembers is Rich Borstad, who was a counselor while Hatlie attended.

"He was my inspiration to do this (organize a reunion) because he was probably my favorite counselor," Hatlie said.

Since December of last year, Hatlie started with a few names and addresses he had from attending camp in the 1950s.

"I've been wanting to do it since about 1988, but my career kept me from doing it," he said. "I retired last year, and it gave me extra time and I needed a project. I'm a project kind of guy."

According to the Web site's history page ( in an old, undated publication written by Don Sampson, there were two sessions for four weeks each summer at White Earth Camp.

The boys' camp was owned by Neils Thorpe and Rudy Peterson. The two men were coaches at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities in swimming and football, respectively. Students from the university worked as counselors at the camp.

The two men's wives served as camp nurse and kitchen manager.

The camp grew from a one-story main lodge and two cabins to a second story lodge and enlarged cabins in the 1930s. Each wing had about 20-30 boys.

The main activity at the camp was swimming. The boys participated in water races at the Detroit Lakes Water Carnival.

A rifle range, archery, camping, canoeing and sailboating were some of the activities offered at the camp.

"Dave Baker got some of the highest honors of anybody (on the rifle range), and became an excellent marksman in all levels of shooting," Sampson wrote.

Once a year, neighbor Mrs. Schermerhorn would invite the boys over for a cookout and homemade ice cream.

In the 1950s, Thorpe and Peterson sold the boys' camp to the Lutherans. Before it was the boys' camp, Duane Bellefeuille's grandfather ran it as a resort from the 1920s-1930s.

"In describing the facilities of this camp, it was very rustic," then counselor John Kalin wrote. "In this day and age, you'd wonder how they could command the price they did to lodge these young boys, with the almost crude facilities they had established -- no indoor plumbing -- we had outhouses for each bunkhouse; for showering and cleaning, you took your shower in the lake at the 'dip docks' before breakfast."

Camping trips to McCraney River and Many Point Lake were included the camp.

It was mandatory at the camp to take a nap from 12:45 to 2:15 p.m. -- for the counselors anyway.

"When I arrived at the Waubun Railroad Station at 3 a.m., I called the camp for a ride and got Thorpe out of bed. He said, 'find a bench, and I'll be in around 8 a.m. to pick you up!' That was my introduction to the camp," Kalin wrote.

Like the Web site, filled with memories and history, so are the boys, now men that attended the camp. Several were contacted to share some of their memories and what they're looking forward to with the reunion.

Steve Koepcke, St. Louis Park, said he can remember riding the Great Northern train to camp.

"We had lunch on the train and arrived in Detroit Lakes to be bussed to the camp. Of course, some years later we were bussed all the way from Minneapolis, where most of the campers would gather to go to camp."

Koepcke attended the camp from 1950-61. He served as a camper for six years, a kitchen boy for one and a counselor for five.

"I remember sailing in one of the four X boats and tipping over. Of course, I was dressed in long pants and tennis shoes and it was extremely difficult to get me into one of the rescue boats.

"It took a lot of work to get the boat righted, as someone had to take down the sails before any attempt was made to get the boat upright."

Koepcke said he enjoyed working with Neils Thorpe on the rifle range.

"As a camper, he taught me how to shoot a target 22, and then, as a counselor, I was able to teach others."

Like most of the boys at the camp, Koepcke said he enjoyed the outdoors of the camp.

"I especially remember carrying on the legacy of Tom Nelson, by making up and hiding clues around the campgrounds for the annual 'Treasure Hunt.'"

Koepcke said he plans to attend the reunion in September and can't wait to hear the stories and tales of other past campers.

"I remember my years at Camp White Earth as some of the best years of my life."

George Fulford, La Crosse, Wis., attended the camp for five years, 1950-54.

He said the Sunday evening campfires were memorable. Neils Thorpe was a master storyteller, he said.

"He would spin out 'The Count of Monte Cristo' hour after hour over the weeks in the twilight, without notes. Imagine several dozen grade school age boys giving quiet attention, then singing those good old campfire songs."

Fulford also plans to attend the reunion this fall, "to see the lay of the land and the lake and swap stories. I hope we will have time to play capture the flag again."

Jim Richards, Callaway, owns Maplelag Resort, which is the location of the reunion. He attended the camp from 1948-55. Richards' grandfather, Fred Sanders, owned the Becker County Land Company, and sold the land Camp White Earth was on to the Thorpes and Petersons.

Richards has many memories of his time at the camp.

"Often the counselors were returning WWII vets so the discipline was very demanding. The beds had to be made each day with 45-degree corners and you had to be able to bounce a quarter so high when dropped."

And then there were the not so strict and orderly memories.

"The outhouse we all used was called Mrs. Jones. No showers, of course, and each day, regardless of the weather, we hiked over a mile to the swim beach for washing and bathing. And there were no swimsuits allowed. Would this be allowed today? I doubt it.

"I also remember as a new camper the thrill of being asked to hold the bag and flashlight on a snipe hunt. I totally bought into this and held the bag and flashlight on a trail in the woods even while the mosquitoes ate me alive believing the rest of the crew was driving the snipe toward me to run into the bag. I wonder if youth today would be so trusting."

Richards said he is looking forward to talking to the other campers from that era at the reunion.

"It is much like having been in the service. You make close friends, share inner thoughts, and then bang, they go and never see them again.

"To be a youth today is not quite so simple, and that is why the Camp White Earth experience is so meaningful. It is amazing how often I think about it."

Alumni of Camp White Earth are encouraged to contact Guy Hatlie at 310-469-4288 or go to the Web site

The reunion is scheduled for Sept. 15-17 at Maplelag Resort in Callaway.

"It gives me a great deal of pleasure -- people who haven't seen each other for 50 years ... I can tell it's going to be wonderful just from the phone calls," Hatlie said.