In the Beginning
Rev. James A. Fisher, the Conference Youth Director, and Rev. James L. Bagby provided vision and leadership to the early planning. Their efforts resulted in a sturdy foundation for future Conference camping programs. The first camp was at Natchez Trace Park in 1937 under the direction of Rev. Bagby. Eighteen campers attended that first camp. In 1938, the camp was held at Lambuth College in Jackson, TN. In 1939 the camping program moved to Lake LaJoie at Chickasaw State Park near Henderson, TN where it remained until 1948.
The First Lakeshore Camp
The first steps to establish a permanent campsite were taken by the Annual Conference in 1944. By unanimous vote, a feasibility study committee was formed and the committee spent a busy and enthusiastic year and made a recommendation to the 1945 Annual Conference that our own camp facility be built on Kentucky Lake near Camden, TN—a site equidistant from Memphis and Paducah. Again the vote of approval was unanimous. The Methodists of Camden offered to purchase the fifty original acres and present to the Conference as a gift. This committee was reappointed to carry out plans for financing and building the camp.
The Memphis Annual Conference was asked to contribute $25,000 to build the camp. Individuals, youth groups, and other organizations, such as the Women’s Society of Christian Service, helped raise the funds for the camp. A certain area of the grounds was designated as residential, and the trustees were instructed to sell lots to interested individuals for building cottages or homes. This area is now known as Mockingbird Hill.
Actual construction started in 1946. During one week in April, ten preachers donned their work clothes and helped with the construction. The initial camp consisted of four cabins and a building with a kitchen, dining hall, and lounge. Serving as directors for the first summer (1948) in the new camp were Rev. Bob O. Clark, Rev. E. J. Diggs, Rev. Harry Williams, Rev. O. H. Burnett, Rev. James P. Irion, Rev. Bruce R. Crill, and Rev. Dan Overall. The directors continued to serve over the next two years.
In the late 1950s and early 1960’s the camp reached its maximum attendance—more than fifteen hundred youth and adults. During those years there was also a strong Young Adult Camp at Lakeshore. In 1960, Rev. Harrell Townsend directed the first Family Camp. John Morris served from 1963 through 1966, Nolan Pendergrass served in 1967 and 1968 and Bill Wheatley was the administer in 1969.
The New Lakeshore
In the first twenty years of Lakeshore, the rustic facilities underwent extensive wear and tear. In 1969 the Conference made the decision to build a completely new and first-class facility. No camps were held in 1970 due to construction work on the new facilities. Only three of the old structures remained–Lakeside cabin, Directors Cabin, and the Tabernacle. The new Lakeshore Camp and Conference Center became a year-round facility of beautiful, well-constructed cabins. In 1971, sixteen different types of camping events and thirty-five retreats, a summer camping program, three family retreats, a district ministers’ retreat, a mid-winter institute for growth, a joint Tennessee-Memphis Conference W.S.C.S. Retreat, the Bishop’s Workshop on the Parish, and several districts lay retreats were held at Lakeshore.
In 1970, Rev. John D. Kibbons was appointed the first Assembly Administrator of Lakeshore. His wife, Mrs. Sue Kibbons, was the camp dietitian and hostess. It was during this time that Camp Joy was established, and it remains an important fixture to camp today.
In 1973, Lakeshore purchased 1,100 acres adjacent to the original campsite for $200,000.
In the early days of Lakeshore, the Administrator was a part-time position housed at the Conference Office in Jackson. It was not until 1981 that the Administrator became a full time, resident position on the property. The first director to fulfill this position was Rev. Henry Weber in 1982.
The next director was Rev. Bill Fisher in 1988, and under his guidance, additional improvements were made including air conditioning of all the cabins, computerization of the camp office and initial drawings of the new Administration Building. It was during this time that the conference center was renamed the John D. Kibbons Memorial Conference Center.
Rev. Gary Lawson was appointed administrator in May 1992 and still serves in that capacity. His administration has been one of aggressively updating old facilities and building new ones. New additions to the camp include completion of the new Administration Building, the Tree House Wilderness Camp, the remodeling of the Conference Center, a large gazebo, and the Kaigler Lodge.
In the 1990s, several new improvements and additions were added to camp, including the low and high ropes course, Urban Issues Camp, Tree House Wilderness Camp, Bike Camp, and Camp Hope. In 1995, “Uncle” Ben Neal developed a counselor certification program. Ever since it has been a requirement that all counselors under the age of 18 go through the program.
After the expansion of so many programs, Troy Taylor became the Program Director in 2001 and served in that capacity until 2012 when Tiffany Dowdy took over the role.
In 2016, Lakeshore started a new program called Dayshore, a day camp hosted at churches around the conference. More than two hundred kids came to Dayshore in its first year.
In more than 60 years of Lakeshore’s existence, we have consistently grown and improved. The future of Lakeshore is bright, and its ministry will continue to thrive as a place for all to experience life, love and the God of grace.