Wesley Woods Camp was founded in 1956 by the Iowa-Des Moines Conference of the United Methodist Church. The camp is located on 344 acres of land in Warren County, Iowa, near Lake Ahquabi.
The camp’s history can be traced back to 1953, when the Annual Conference authorized a search for a suitable site for the camp. In 1955, 56 acres of land were purchased from Gordon and William Shaver. Development of the site began in April 1956, with the intention of using the space for a year-round facility.
The first campers stayed in hogans and tents in 1956. In 1957, the camp’s name was officially chosen and the first Camp Director was appointed, Rev. J.M. Morrie Steffenson. The first building on the property was Beacon Hill Lodge, which was finished in January 1957. Seven churches agreed to build one cabin each the following year after the completion of Beacon Lodge.
The camp has continued to grow and expand over the years. In 1974, Dennis Nicholson was named the Program Director and laid much of the programmatic groundwork for camp. In 1976, the Martha J. Campney Nature Trail was dedicated.
In 1979, Wesley Woods purchased the neighboring property of John Woods through a generous gift from Ruth Scott. The purchase added 248 acres of farmland, the John Wood’s Homestead, including a 1917 Sears and Roebuck home and Granary Barn. A white cross is placed in the pasture to signify the miracle that God provided through Ruth’s gift, which resulted in the expansion of the Ministry. Also in 1979, Border Lodge building burnt to the ground and was a complete loss. The cause of the fire was a malfunction of the gas furnace.
In 1981, Dave Schar became the new site director. The new position combined the previous positions of Program Director and Manager. Dave was instrumental in the development of the Wesley Woods Outpost program and Horse Program. The first horse program also began in 1981, using leased horses from Ed Baker, and later in 1984 Wesley Woods purchased 15 head of horses and tack.
In 1982, the camp parsonage/office was built by Bob Weidmann. It was the first new building for 25 years and was built to be energy efficient with limited north facing windows, plenty of south facing windows and significant insulation.
In 1986, Long time volunteers Bob and Gretchen Russell, purchased an additional 40 acres of adjacent property to stop a proposed development and donated the property to camp. This purchase increased the total acres to 344!
On the land that was purchased from the John Woods estate, volunteer Gary Morrison knew of the location of an original Sod House located on the property. In 1987, it was decided to rebuild a sod house on its original foundation to serve as an educational piece, showcasing Iowa History. The sod house was later rebuilt in 1996 and in 2008.
The first Homestead Camp was held in 1996 and stayed in covered wagons built by Carlisle UMC. The camp used the grounds at the Sod House site and visited the nearby Hewitt Cemetery.
In 1987, continued construction included Horseshoe Pond and an outdoor chapel (outpost) dedicated in memory of Jim Bollinger.
In 1989, Wesley Woods had outgrown its kitchen and dining facilities and built a new dining hall (West Dining Hall), Larger Kitchen, and Staff Housing (Wesley Inn). The addition allowed for 150 additional persons to be seated and served in the dining hall.
In 1991, a replacement lodge for Border Lodge was constructed and completed in 1992 – Timber Lodge.
In 1992, the Ponderosa campsite was constructed and was remodeled in 2006 to resemble Noah’s Ark.
In 1993, a White Windmill was given as a gift to Wesley Woods from Ben and Grace Glecker and has served as a symbol of Wesley Woods since. The windmill had been blown down during a blizzard in March of 1996 and rebuilt in July 1996 in its current location off the road.
Also in 1993, was the year of the great flood and major changes for Wesley Woods. Lake Ahquabi was drained so that the dam could be prepared. Camp made the change from using Lake water as its primary source of water to now using rural water. There was also a push to build a swimming pool on the property.
The Buxton Shower house was constructed in 1995. It was later moved to the south of the maintenance building where it is used for storage.
The Maintenance building was purchased in 1995 from the Iowa DOT and was disassembled from the site near Carlisle and reassembled at Wesley Woods. The building includes electric, sewer, water and an upper storage area. The addition of the building moved the maintenance department from the basement of Methaqua Lodge.
Blue Heron Bay Campsite was constructed in 1996. The first camps to use the site was the raft and paddle camps, who portaged to the site from across Lake Ahquabi and Hooper.
In 2001, a new site director’s residence was constructed. This is the same year that Art and Nancy Allen became the directors after the retirement of Dave Schar.
In 2002, a low ropes course was added with the help of Simpson College.
Buxton Lodge was built in 2003. The south shower house was torn down to make way for the construction. The building was brought in by truck and placed on the site and almost got stuck as the truck hauling it sank in the mud.
In 2004, the Barnum Equestrian Center was built. It was named the Wick building of the year in 2005.
A high ropes course and zipline was added in 2005.
Deke Rider was named site director in 2007. He previously held the position of program director.
A cabin which was originally at the Golden Valley Camp was brought and reassembled at Wesley Woods in 2008.
In 2010, the Buxton Shower house was moved to its current location next to the maintenance building to make way for a new shower house and gymnasium.
The playground was installed in 2011 after a donation from the Waukee School District.
In 2013, a shelter was built at Horseshoe Pond as an Eagle Project.
In 2014, New Life Lodge was built.
In 2017, Chip Hutler was hired as the Site Director.
Through the Nomads UM Ministry and overseen by John Miller and Chip Hutler, many updates to the rustic cabins including updates to the flooring and revarnishing the wood on the walls in 2018. Additionally Beacon Lodge was remodeled and Asbury lodge received updates to its restrooms in 2019.
In 2020, the year of the Covid-19 pandemic, Wesley Woods had virtual camp.
Reconstruction of the pool was started in 2022 with plans to be completed later that year. Due to supply chain issues continuing from the pandemic, the pool was not ready for the summer of 2023. The work was completed later that fall and the first summer for use was the summer 2023.
In 2023, Sean Gundersen was hired as the Site Director.
Today, Wesley Woods Camp is a thriving ministry that offers a variety of programs and activities for all ages. The camp is a place where people can come to grow in their faith, learn new skills, and make new friends.
Directors of Wesley Woods:
1956: Rev. Morrie Steffenson
1974 -1981: Dennis Nicholson
1981 – 2001: Dave Schar
2001 – 2006: Art and Nancy Allen
2007 – 2017: Deke Rider
2017 – 2023: Chip Hutler
2023 – Present Day: Sean Gundersen