Conference Point Memories
Post card sold at Conference Point in the 40's shows Shirley Nelson (dark hair, back to camera on right) drinking from the Horsley fountain next to her sister Jean.
click on photo to enlarge
The First Year at Lake Geneva
My first memories of Conference Point Camp actually take place before the conference was held there. My father had heard that a group of men were contemplating moving the conference from Cedar Lake Conference Grounds in Indiana to Conference Point in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. One day we drove up there to look over the grounds and see if my parents liked it. I remember running up and down the hills with my sister Jean, drinking from the fountains and peeking into the buildings. We decided we liked the building “McGill” and when the brochures came out our family signed up to go. It was the first year the conference was held at Conference Point. The year was 1940.
My memories of Conference Point were all good. The children’s meetings were held in Tipiwakan and all of us kids would troop down the hill for the morning and evening meetings. I don’t remember who the children’s speakers were, but I remember many years being concerned about my soul’s salvation.
Each year they had 2 boat rides during the week. I don’t know if it was because so many people wanted to go, or if it was that many people wanted to go twice. One year I had already been on a boat ride with some of my friends and I decided I wanted to go on the second one too. It seemed like all my friends were going twice. They had a huge book table with books and also little toys kids could purchase. There was a book on the table that I was really wanting to purchase. The boat rides were 50 cents each, and the book I wanted was a Sugar Creek Gang book which also cost 50 cents. I begged my parents to let me both buy the book and go on the second boat ride, but they said “no”. During the meeting in Tipiwakan I had my eyes closed tight praying to the Lord to let me do both. When I opened my eyes, my friend, Joyce Scott said: “I know what you were praying for....that you could go on the boat ride AND get that book”. I thought “oh, no...she actually read my mind.” In the end, my parents did let me do both.
At the end of each week, a baptism was held on Sunday morning. People wanting to be baptized would be interviewed during the week. On Sunday morning before the meeting, we would all walk down the hill to the lake to see the baptism. As I got older I remember walking down that hill with high heels and a hat on. Then when the baptism was over we would march back up and all go right to the meeting. It was a very touching time to observe people obeying the Lord in baptism.
The best friends my sister Jean and I had at the conference were Janice and Joyce Scott. We were inseparable during the whole week of the conference and we had constant fun. Believe it or not, I was very shy as a child and I remember one year being on the porch of “Lookout” looking over the lake. One by one people left and I thought “how am I going to get out of this building?...I don’t stay here and am I allowed to go through the hallway without someone who stays here?” I finally made a dash for it and ran through the hallway to the front door.
As I grew older, got married and had children Conference Point was so important to our family. I remember the year our son Kevin went back to his room in McGill after hearing Leonard Lindsted speak on his “Target” message and Kevin knelt down by his bed and received the Lord as his Savior.
In 1967 our son Don was born on the first Sunday of the conference. Of course that year our family didn’t go to the conference. My husband Dave called up to the Administration Building to share the news and our brother-in-law Bob Marshall ran down the hill to the lake to tell my parents that they had a new grandson. Don has spent almost every birthday since at Conference Point Camp.
It’s hard to put into words what Conference Point Camp has meant to our family. My Grandmother Kennedy used to come in the early years....so now the fifth generation of our family is coming. The conference is a wonderful time away from the things of this world, to fellowship with other Christians, learn from His Word, enjoy God’s beautiful creation and grow closer to Him.
Streetcar to Paradise!
My parents brought me to Conference Point as a babe in arms. Neither parent drove a car so we came from Chicago first by streetcar, then train, which left us off at a station in the center of Lake Geneva City near the marina. We then boarded a large boat which acted as a water taxi (a couple of them- like the Walworth - are still in service today). We paid our fare and the boat would leave us off at the Conference Point pier - where our swimming takes place now. The hard part was carrying all of our luggage up the hill.
Our cottages were quite sparse - no running water or indoor plumbing. Spigots were outside each cabin by the road where we filled water pitchers. Each room had a beautifully hand-painted pitcher and wash basin and if I remember correctly, we had chamber pots under the bed. Toilets and showers were in Hamil Hall, Magill and two other small buildings by the green cabins. Only water from the two fountains could be used for drinking because the other water was from the lake and not pure. To enter the Kraft Dining Hall for meals you had to have a meal ticket and show it at the door. If you were late, the person checking at the door would hold you back and then let you into thunderous applause and embarrassment. This was a good incentive to be on time for meals.
Food was served family style - one serving per person - and if you were hungry and took two pieces, someone at the table would have to wait until the waitress went to the kitchen and brought back another helping. Fresh bread, rolls and coffee cakes were baked daily. That was often the best part of the meal - especially the coffee cakes.
Meetings were held every morning and evening at Nichols Chapel and I think an afternoon meeting - which I never attended. We were so blessed to have wonderful conference speakers from Emmaus or special evangelists. Some of my favorites were William MacDonald, John Smart, Tom Taylor, Henry Peterson and Harold Wildish (who had a British accent).
Our song leader was a man from North Carolina - Welcome Detweiler. He always wore a red tie and had a special ability to always remember your name - even if you hadn’t seen him in years. That always made me feel special. There were no special meetings or activities for teens. Once you turned 13 you were part of the regular congregation. Children’s meetings (4-12) were held in Tipi-Waken or Clover Leaf during regular adult sessions. Every afternoon crafts were provided for all children at Tipi. (I still have a bracelet I wove one year). Every afternoon there was a question and answer session for adults on the hill below Nichols Chapel by the cross. Men could ask the speakers any theological questions. I never attended these because women were to remain silent.
A dress code for all ladies and girls was in place until the late sixties or early seventies. No slacks or shorts were worn, only shirts, blouses or dresses. In the seventies, pant suits were allowed. I always brought up two changes of clothes for each day including matching hats, gloves, purses, shoes and jewelry.
Every Saturday night we had a musicale. We brought our instruments and played or sang hymns, plus the choir performed two or three numbers we had worked on during the week. After that everyone went to the sweet shop for ice cream and fellowship. (I don’t think they had a sweet shop in the fifties).
One night (I think it was Thursday) was a fun night. Cottages or tables would get together and put on a skit. Even the conveners got into the act. One year they put on a fashion show wearing their wives night clothes parading across Tipi. It was fun for us to see them let their hair down. Usually, they were on night patrol making sure everyone was in bed by curfew. One night my mom and a few other ladies (me too) wanted ice cream. We piled into one of the ladies cars like teenagers and took off for the city of Lake Geneva. By the time we got back it was past curfew and the gates were locked and we had to sneak around it. It was pitch dark and we didn’t have flashlights. Unfortunately one of the ladies fell into the rain gutter. As she limped up the hill, bruised and bleeding we had to hide behind trees so we wouldn’t get caught by the patrolling conveners. The next day at breakfast we ran into a couple of the conveners and I think when they saw the bandages they figured it out. As it says in the Scriptures - “be sure your sins will find you out”, but that ice cream was especially sweet that night.
Another touching time of the week was the singspiration and testimony time at the glory bowl. This was a time we could tell what the Lord had done for us that year while singing our favorite choruses and eating hot dogs and marshmallows. Since most chapels didn’t have baptisimals there would be a baptism at the lakefront on the last Sunday. Sometimes twenty or more people would be baptized. As each person came up out of the water we would sing a hymn. I believe that was my favorite service of the week.
I think it was in the seventies that our facilities became less primitive. We got running water in our rooms (not toilets but at least water) and I appreciated that although we still had to make the trip down the hall to the bathroom. We had huge conferences without an extra room or cot available.
There was always a huge rivalry between Chicago and St. Louis - especially in 16 inch baseball. Joe Bogie led the team from St. Louis. Cubbie blue and Cardinal red were seen everywhere. Volleyball didn’t seem to be as popular in the fifties and sixties, although once it caught on it was very popular with strong competition. The Point became the traditional meeting place for many families. I remember Grandpa Keller leading his blind wife up the hill to the meetings (as Mark Keller probably remembers). As I look through the list of guests attending this year I see other names that have come since they were young and now come with their adult children and grandchildren -keeping the history alive.
As we come to the close of the week and had our last meal the entire staff, cooks, waitresses and house cleaning would gather at the kitchen door and sing a chorus that always brought tears to my eyes - “So Long for a While” (click arrow to listen ). Another year of happy memories and these beautiful grounds would come to a close. We still had to carry our luggage down the hill to the pier, put up the taxi flag and wait for the boat to take us to the town of Lake Geneva.
I’ve attended every conference from 1942 to 2013 except one. That year the National Council of Churches, which at that time owned the grounds, decided that unless the Plymouth Bretheren joined their organization we would not be welcome. Of course, that was an impossibility. Amazingly enough they allowed us back the next year when they realized all the revenue they had missed from our huge conference by our not coming. I myself have not missed a conference in seventy years and have already reserved my room and marked my calendar for 2014, Lord Willing! I await making new memories and renewing old friendships at the 2014 conference!
Similar to the conveyance in which Darlene Kopke began her Lake Geneva Summer Conference journey as a baby.