Pretty Amazing. That was the name of Pretty Lake Camp’s fundraising campaign two years ago to build a new gym and make other improvements.

This past summer was the 100th anniversary for this pretty amazing place, nestled in the southwest corner of Kalamazoo County. The Community Foundation is a long-time partner, not only by providing grants, but also through fundraising partnerships, staff volunteer projects and as the steward of an endowment fund that helps ensure the camp’s sustainability.

Over the years Pretty Lake has impacted more than 60,000 area kids.

One of those kids is Eric Wimbley, who this summer became Pretty Lake’s new executive director. In addition to being a former camper, counselor and Pretty Lake board member, he brings 25 years of experience as a Michigan State Police trooper and post commander to the leadership of Pretty Lake.

"We build relationships. Their hearts will do the rest," says Wimbley from his office with a view of the lake and a slice of some of the camp’s 250 protected acres. "We strive to strengthen campers’ resolve to overcome barriers and to instill a desire to give back to the community. Pretty Lake helps kids reshape how they understand their own potential."

Progress and evolution

The camp’s history is one of progress and evolution. When local businessman Edward B. Desenberg established the camp — inspired by the volunteer work of his mother, Bertha — his purpose was simply to expose youth to the benefits of fresh air and natural surroundings.

Today Pretty Lake’s mission is to provide adventure education and unique outdoor experiences that change lives and improve the community. They do this through the summer camp, year-round leadership training and team-building at the Adventure Centre, school group visits to a farm on the property, and retreat and meeting facilities for community use.

One thing that has not changed since 1916 is that summer camp is free. Plus, because of the financial support of generous donors, Pretty Lake provides everything campers need for their experience: clothes, toiletries, bedding, towels, food, transportation to and from camp and activities — at no cost to the children or their families or caregivers.

Campers, ranging from third grade through high school, foster friendships, build self-steem,
increase independence, and develop a spirit of curiosity and sharing that enriches their lives and the lives of those around them.

According to Wimbley, "Our goal is to serve as many kids as we can, and to turn down as few as possible. Without this opportunity, we know there are kids who would not benefit from a camp experience, which many people might take for granted."

The next 100 years

Looking toward the next 100 years, Wimbley reflects on the untapped potential of Pretty Lake, providing even more unique camp experiences for the community.

"We’re expanding our Adventure Centre resources down to the third- and fourth-grade levels, and we’re envisioning Adventure Centre activities designed for youth with disabilities," he says.

Community support, says the former camper, is the answer to expanding opportunities at Pretty Lake, "in the same manner in which Desenberg grew the camp."

Meanwhile, Pretty Lake’s description of its summer camp is very telling, for both the past and future:

The secret of a great summer camp is surprise! Our summer camp is designed to help children surprise themselves. Campers are free to shake labels from home…They can surprise themselves by uncovering a new identity as a hard worker, a peacemaker or a good listener. Camp is a place to unlock hidden self-confidence, independence and leadership. When children can surprise themselves, they can surprise the world.

For Wimbley, his days as a camper showed him he had opportunities. Pretty Lake’s long-standing, evolving presence continues and when lives change, the community improves.