100 Years of Camp Gifford (1922-2022): Celebrating with the community
The Salvation Army looks back on what it means to be the oldest camp operating at the same location in the Western Territory.
One hundred years ago, The Salvation Army of Spokane welcomed its first session of campers on its property overlooking Deer Lake in Washington. Today, Camp Gifford remains a symbol for summer fun and faith formation in the Northwest Division.
“We are very fortunate to be celebrating the 100th anniversary,” Spokane Corps Officer Major Ken Perine said. “It makes you realize the hundreds of thousands of children and adults who have been impacted by the ministry here—it’s really a humbling moment.”
While Camp Gifford has seen its fair share of changes over the last century, Perine said the message and purpose of camp remains the same: “To allow children to have an outdoor experience, in God’s creation, while also getting to know Jesus in a real way.”
For the past four years, Perine and his wife, Major Jennifer Perine, have spent their summers ministering to campers and inviting them to build personal relationships with Jesus Christ.
“All the work that we’re doing has been based upon the foundations built by the hundreds and hundreds of officers and staff that have come before us,” Perine said. “It’s important to remember this ministry marches on because of the work that people have done before us.”
Linda Robertson is one of those people. For 12 years, Robertson and her then-husband Major Bill Nottle served as corps officers in Spokane where they oversaw camp activities from 1977 to 1989. Even before then, Robertson said she remembered coming to Camp Gifford from Los Angeles to help run Salvation Army youth camps in the early 1970s.
“Camp is very important to me,” Robertson said. “When you step on the grounds, you know that it has been truly anointed by God…It is God’s holy ground.”
To Robertson, camp is one of the most important youth-centered ministries in The Salvation Army. “It’s 24/7…You are able to share with them, laugh with them, sometimes cry with them…It’s a ministry and it’s very meaningful.”
“For those who need a retreat, for those who feel lost, who feel lonely…When you have the love and the dedication, miracles happen. Camp is truly a place of miracles where lives are changed,” Robertson added.
At camp, children get to experience nature and try new activities while making new friends and growing in their faith. “At the end of the week, campers gain great confidence as they’ve overcome fears, made lasting friendships and at the same time they’re learning about Jesus,” Perine said.
“I was first introduced to Camp Gifford when I was 11-years-old,” said Elisha Rae, a former camper, counselor and Retreat Specialist. “Our family was struggling financially and my parents were working very hard to offer summer opportunities for us.”
With the help of Camp Gifford’s scholarship program, Rae said her parents were able to send her, along with her two siblings, to camp that summer. For Rae, Camp Gifford soon became a “safe haven” and like a second home.
When summer ended, Rae said her camp counselor invited her family to join Salvation Army church activities at the corps. “From there, we became Salvationists and attended camp every single summer until we became employees ourselves.”
Now, Rae said she sends her eldest son to attend Camp Gifford. “When my younger son and my younger daughter are of the age to go to camp, they will too,” Rae added.
When Rae sent her son, Logan, to camp for the first time, she said he was “terrified of swimming,” but eager to learn. “His counselor told him, ‘God’s got you. Trust God and trust your abilities he has given you,’ and by the end of that week Logan was able to swim and he committed his life to Christ,” Rae said.
“So, It’s not just swimming…The counselors really are there to help incorporate Christianity and God’s redemption to the children throughout the week.”
To commemorate Camp Gifford’s centennial, The Salvation Army opened the campground to the public for a fun-filled day of entertainment, games and special guests on June 11. Activities included free inflatable rides, games, musical and dance performances.
When deciding what monument accurately depicts “what camp is all about” to mark this milestone, Perine said he and others determined a new cross would be a perfect fit. The new fixture now overlooks the lake.
“Camp is about Christ and his impact in people’s lives,” Perine said. “At the end of the day, we want to acknowledge how the Lord has led us into the ministry of camp and the impact The Salvation Army has had in people’s lives for over 100 years.”
- You’ve probably seen the red kettles and thrift stores, and while we’re rightfully well known for both…The Salvation Army is so much more than red kettles and thrift stores. So who are we? What do we do? Where? Right this way for Salvation Army 101.
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- Ready for more stories about camp? Check out the Do Gooders Podcast, Episode 112: Salvation Army plans for adaptive camp this summer in Colorado.