Our History




Published April, 1995


To have an updated, accurate record of events in history is important to those who walk on the trails made by those who have preceded us. In 1990 a booklet titled Early Beginnings. History of Light and Life Camp was published. This historical record was written by the late Mrs. Frances Roggenbaum and was published by Mr. Larry Fink and Or. Warren McMullen. Since the time of that publication, considerable effort has been given to researching the minutes of the Florida Conference of the Free Methodist Church and the minutes of Florida Light and life Camp Board. Several important events and facts were inadvertently omitted in the 1990 publication. Furthermore a number of things have occurred since that time that seem to justify a revised, updated record of the camp history.

So it is with appreciation to those who prepared the 1990 historical record, but also to those who have assisted in filling in some of the record which makes the story more complete that we present this publication. THE EDITOR


The Florida Conference of the Free Methodist Church of North America came into being in 1951 when the Georgia-Florida Conference voted to become two separate conferences. (The Georgia-Florida Conference begun in 1915 as a district of the Pittsburgh Conference.) The Florida Conference campground was located at Kissimmee from 1938 until 1958 when the property was sold. After this property was sold, various sites were used for summer camps and annual conference. These included Bible Town, USA, at Boca Raton, 1959-1962; a Baptist camp at Tampa. 1963 ; and Fenway Academy in Dunedin, 1964. Several churches in the conference hosted the annual conference sessions including Lakeland, First; St. Petersburg, First; and Sunshine Gardens, Orlando.

At the annual conference of 1964 a decision was made to search for a site for a new campground. Pastor Gordon Smith of Lakeland, First and Florida Conference Superintendent Elmer Hood located a forty acre site at the west end of Deeson Road in Hillsborough County. In February, 1965, the conference “Camp Meeting Committee” met at Lakeland, First Church and considered a proposal for purchase of the property. The decision was made to recommend to the annual conference to purchase the property at a cost of $30,000. During the annual conference in June in Lakeland the delegates drove to the site and walked through the wooded land. In addition to much brush, there were fences for controlling the grazing cattle and a barn which still remains. with some improvements. Also, there was an old farm house just to the west of the present location of the Motel. A Camp Development Committee was formed and soon work was begun. Fences were taken down, brush was removed and grading done for the construction of the dining hall, the first building (now known as Elmer J. Hood Hall). Also, a rest room and shower building was completed just southwest of the dining hall and a water well was drilled. Youth camp, family camp and annual conference sittings were all held at the campground in summer, 1966. Cars which were parked in the area now occupied by the “Motel” were mired in mud. The services and annual conference were held in the new dining hall. Campers and delegates stayed in tents, travel trailers and the few cottages which had been constructed, and in homes of members of Lakeland, First Church. Bishop Edward C. John had the first house built. Followed by the Reverend Asa Hockaday and Mr. Ora Knappins, the latter one not quite finished by camp time. Soon to follow were cottages by Mr. Byford Bush, Conference Superintendent Elmer Hood and Mr. Floyd Pierce. Summer family camp services and annual conference in 1967 and 1968 were conducted in a large tent erected west of the old farm house. (The next year that building was moved south near Blackwater Creek to be used as a youth center. Later it was used for storage and finally was torn down.) The summer camps were well attended by families from across the Florida conference. The mid-winter camp meeting program was begun in January of 1967 with services in a large tent. A roaring gas fired heater was used to take away the January chill. The next year the mid-winter camp meeting was held in the new WMS chapel. This chapel was planned by the conference WMS (Woman’ s Missionary Society) as a place for housing missionary families and for missionary meetings. During the first few years following purchase of the grounds, in response to appeals from the Camp Meeting Committee, persons from Florida and from several states and provinces in the north leased property which had been subdivided. There were two general areas: the trailer section and the cottage section. Later, when larger trailers (called mobile homes) began to make their appearance, another area was developed for travel trailers. This was built under the supervision of Mr. Clarence Chambers, a resident, and other residents who, with Mr. Chambers, volunteered their services. A shower restroom facility was constructed by a contractor. The trailer park was then expanded in 1978 under the direction of Mr. Chambers to a total of seventy-two spaces. Some of the early lease owners , in addition to those previously named, was the Reverend Willard Schiele. Mr. Gerald Burgess and Mrs. Emma Jones. The number of residents was beginning to grow. During the year following the first Camp meeting, in 1966-67, just to the north of the dining hall a twelve-unit efficiency apartment building (called the Motel) was constructed. It has served well in providing housing during camps, for winter residents and for summer vacationers.




The recreational aspect of light and life Camp was considered to be important for the youth of the conference in summer camps as well as for the residents. The first ball diamond was located south of the creek on the site of “Project 14”. Later it was moved nearer the center of activity in the area where the travel trailer park is situated. then the travel trailer park was expanded, the ball diamond was again moved, this time to the present site on five acres of a ten-acre acquisition to the property on the east boundary of the original forty acres. In the mid-1970’s this was purchased along with twenty acres along the south boundary.


In 1967 an above-ground swimming pool (owned by the Reverend Byron Shaw, a Florida Conference pastor), was installed in the woods where the travel trailer park is now located (approximately in the middle of what is now Ebenezer Avenue). In 1968 the youth of the conference decided that a permanent pool was needed. They set about to raise funds for this and in 1972 the swimming pool was completed at a cost of less than $11,000. In 1988 the pool was damaged by a flood and the repairs cost $25 ,000 .


What would a residential community in Florida be without a shuffleboard court? In early 1970 ‘s the residents set out to raise money to build eight courts. Later two more courts were added and the original protective shelters on either side of the courts were rebuilt to provide an adequate facility for those who love to spend recreational time in this way.


In 1980 the men of the camp took on the project of constructing a combined tennis, volleyball and basketball court . The entire project was completed with volunteer donations and labor. A sand volleyball court was made in 1993 just to the east of the tennis court.


Could Light and Life Camp have its own golf course? Why not? Resident Claude Church and others considered the possibilities and also the difficulties and then determined to layout a seven hole course, using for greens an Astroturf type carpet. realizing that maintaining grass would be too difficult and costly. This golf course was built in the area where “Project 14” i s now located. The men relocated the golf course to its present site when “Project 14” was planned and expanded it to nine holes. The new golf course was built with the help of many residents, but headed up by Mr. Joseph Roggenbaum, for whom the course was named following his death.


Development of recreational facilities took a step further in 1986 when Mr. Richard Roggenbaum initiated the construction of a miniature golf course with eighteen holes. The entire cost of the course was covered by residents, with all of the work: being done by volunteers. including the pouring of more than fifty yards of concrete. Just to the east of the miniature golf are two sets of horseshoe pits.


Many people have enjoyed making crafts at the ceramics and crafts building. (This building was constructed in 1968 by Mr. Gerald Burgess of North Palm Beach for a dwelling and was later sold to the camp . ) Under the leadership of Vern and Martha Swain, residents, the ceramics have been fired. In the 1993-94 season Al and Mary Sanders headed up the ceramics. The ceramics building was not used in 1994-95 due to the illness of Al.


The history of Light and Life Camp would not be complete without a record of the caretakers, managers and director. The first years there were caretakers on a part-time basis, then gradually more and more responsibility was placed on a person in that position. Superintendent Elmer Hood filled the place of leadership for the early years, with the assistance of the camp meeting committee-Pastors John Hoyt, John Hendricks, Gordon Smith, Don Cleveland, and Willard Schiele, and laymen Gerald Burgess, Wesley Grantham, Ethan Smout and Robert Everling were some of the early members of the committee. Mr. Ora Knappins, a camp resident, was employed as caretaker for two years. Elmer Hood was also full-time care taker for a time after retiring as Conference Superintendent. Following this there were several persons who filled the position: Floyd Pierce, Byford Bush, Robert De Long, Carl Patton and Leonard Ainscough. In 1975 Mr. Vernon (Chip) Tjepkema was hired as full-time manager and he was in this capacity faithfully until he took retirement and moved to Arizona in 1978, At that time the camp board hired Donald J. Cleveland as full time manager and Berdaline (Berdie) Cleveland as office manager and treasurer . Don and Berdie came back to Florida where they had served previously as pastor and had been involved in the early development of the camp. The duties and responsibilities for leadership and the development of the camp were continually growing, and some of the residents, such as Leonard Ainscough and others, were becoming limited in their activity. Therefore , Mr. Edward (Eddie) Boshears from Indiana was employed as assistant to the manager in 1984. Then Mr. Kenneth Walter, Jr. of West Virginia was employed for this position when Eddie returned to Indiana in 1987. When the Cleveland’s decided to retire from the management in 1988 , Ken Walter, Jr. was employed as full-time manager and Mrs. Walter, Carole, was hired as office manager. Mr. Mike lower was then employed as assistant to the manager. In the fall of 1994 Ken and Carole Walter elected to retire and, following a search for replacement, Mr. Craig DeJonge was hired to a new position as Director in December 1994. Craig’s wife. Karen, was hired as Office Manager and Mike lower was given the title of Manager (of grounds and equipment). As of this writing these three are providing excellent leadership.

Those who have served as caretakers and managers through the years would agree that the task could not have been done without the thousands of hours of donated labor by the residents of light and life Camp. The list cannot be complete here, but several of those who have given tremendous help have been named earlier and others will be named. Florida Conference superintendents have al so played an important role in the success of Light and life Camp. Elmer Hood was followed by the Reverends Alfred Hill, David Jefford, James Diddle, Raymond Ellis and Floyd Stryker. (Pastors John Hendricks, John Hoyt and Carl Beatty served as stationed superintendents for one year). Each of these gave leadership in seeing the camp become an important part of the Free Methodist Church in the State of Florida.


By the year 1973, when those on the board recognized that Light and life Camp was going to need a full-time manager, plans were made for a home. In 1974 a 24’X 56′ double wide mobile home was placed near the front gate. Chip and Vera Tjepkema moved into the new home. One bedroom. which had a double sliding door , was converted for use as camp office. In 1982 the motel room nearest the manager’s home became the camp office. Still Later, the other east end motel room was converted as a second office room for the computer and for committee meetings. In 1986 a double wide mobile home on Bethel drive was purchased from Lewis and Louverne Stephens and Grace Claussen as a home for the assistant to the manager. The manager’s home was replaced in December of 1994 with an updated manufactured home 28 ‘ x 60’ with three bedrooms and baths. The new director and family. Craig and Karen DeJonge with son, Cory and daughter, Megan moved into this home in January. 1995.


The Reverend Howard C. Duncan was the first pastor appointed to the Light and Life Free Methodist Church at the camp. The church structure was built beginning in 1971 and first used in 1972. For seven years Howard Duncan was pastor of the church , in which time air conditioning. new pews , carpeting and other improvements were made. The church was used for a regular schedule of services September through June these seven years. The summer camp pro9ram made use of the church in the months of July. August, and September. This plan continued for another two years while the Reverend James C. Hecocks was pastor. A fine parsonage was constructed in 1981 under the supervision of Mr. Bill Gilroy, a resident and retired contractor. Plans were made for a year around pastor and the Reverend Glenn E. Hughes was appointed by the Florida Conference. During the six years of Glenn Hughes’ ministry, James Hecocks served as assistant pastor during the winter months and spent the summers in Michigan. In 1985 there was an addition built on the east side of Light and Life Church. This “annex” includes a secretary’s office, two rest rooms and additional seating for approximately one hundred fifty persons. At this time also a steeple was added-to the south peak of the church, given by Mrs. Marian O’Brien in memory of her late husband, Mr. John O’Brien. Following the retirement of Glenn Hughes in 1987. Bishop Emeritus Paul N. Ell is was appointed as interim pastor and James Hecocks continued as part-time assistant. Then, having failed to secure a full-time replacement as senior pastor in the summer of 1988, Pastor Ellis agreed to continue for one more year and Don Cleveland was appointed as full-time assistant. A new organ was purchased by the church in 1988 from gifts given by members and friends also, a new grand piano was given to the congregation by Paul and Naomi Ellis . At the 1989 Florida Annual Conference, the Reverend C. Wesley King was appointed senior pastor and Don Cleveland was appointed Minister of Visitation and Music. Both of these pastors continued in their respective positions until May of 1994 . At that time Pastor King took retirement and the Reverend John E. Hendricks was appointed by the Florida Conference. Don Cleveland, since taking retirement, serves as assistant November through April when the number of residents is at its greatest.

Sensing the need for an office at the church to accommodate the pastor a larger office for the church secretary. and enlarged space for the choir, both for assembly and for seating on the platform, plans were begun 1n 1994 for an addition to the church structure. Construction began, following several months of negotiations with contractors and with Hillsborough County, on January 4, 1995.


An apartment complex became the dream of Mr. Eugene Maxwell and others and in 1981 planning was begun. Mr. Bert Gensch drew up the original plans. After a long process, Hillsborough County granted rezoning so that the project could go ahead. By March 1983 the first six of the twenty-four units were sold and completed. The remaining apartments and the central building with fully equipped kitchen, dining hall and an office for the Villa Association were soon finished. Les and Lora Thomas have cooked for the Villa since its beginning. They are retiring in April 1995. The Villa residents and other camp residents and visiting friend s have found this to be a pleasant place for fellowship and excellent meals.


In the early 1980’s a Resident Fellowship was organized and a Constitution was drawn up. An executive committee is composed of president, two vice presidents, secretary, treasurer and four members of the Camp Board elected by the Fellowship. The objectives of the Fellowship include, according to the Constitution: “Promoting fellowship and unity”. “Cooperating with the . . Camp Board. . .”, ” and to encourage participation in actives.” The Fellowship “studies and recommends improvements.” These stated goals of the Resident Fellowship have been successfully carried out through the years of the organization. The officers and the several committees have aided in making it possible for many residents to participate in camp activities .


Fourteen acres of the land which had been included in the rezoning to “Community Unit” for clearing the way for the Villa project was, in 1984, considered for an addition to the mobile home park. Procedure was begun by the camp board and Mr. Jon Carlton, a resident, approached the Hillsborough County Zoning Board. Again, a long story could be written concerning the many trips made to Tampa by Jon Carlton. Charles Smout and Don Cleveland, the manager , working through the many boards and departments. After much hassle, the Board of County Commissioners voted to give the go-ahead for constructing the sites for fourteen double wide mobile homes (manufactured homes). The first manufactured home was placed on Canaan Avenue in 1987 by Dr. Walter Johnson. Soon all fourteen lots were filled and it has become a fine addition to the community.


Elmer J. Hood Hall, was no longer large enough to accommodate the activities of the residents and the church. In 1989 the Resident Fellowship As sociation and the light and life Free Methodist. under the leadership of Eugene Maxwell, began to develop plans for enlarging the building. Included in the expansion were two restrooms , storage room, WMI storage closets and tables and chairs to seat an additional two hundred people. Money for the project was raised with cash and subscriptions from residents amounting to $91.000. This included a $24.000 pledge from the church. The size of the building was doubled and has served well for the church, the Association, the conference and other groups who use it.

The kitchen in Hood hall was considerably improved following a time of planning and research by a committee from the Resident Fellowship Association. This committee was headed up by Glenn and Helen Carey and Walter and Virginia Brannon. Several men from the camp gave of their time and the residents supplied the money for the project.


Hillsborough County ordered, in 1972, that a waste water treatment plant must be constructed . The account of how this came into being is a story in itself. However, under the direction of the camp board and in particular, Clarence Chambers, plans were prepared, contractors were hired, assessments were made to the lessees, and the huge task was completed at a cost in excess of $100.000. Then, in the late 1970’s. the camp was again ordered by Hillsborough County to construct a percolation pond for the waste water treatment system. It was at this time that the twenty acres across the south boundary of the property was purchased . Still later, in the early 1980’s, it was learned that a spray field could be constructed that would assist in taking care of the effluent coming from the waste water treatment plant. This project was completed on the acreage where “Project 14” is now located. Where “Project 14” became a reality, both the original golf course and the spray field on the site were relocated to the south of the property on newly acquired acreage. This new property, consisting of forty-three acres across the south boundary and running east fifty feet beyond the Polk County line, was approved for purchase at an adjourned sitting of annual conference in 1982. The cost was $125,000. The property was purchased for the purpose of developing a conference lodge and retreat center for people of all ages. At this writing the project has not been started by the conference. The waste water treatment plant was expanded in 1990, increasing the capacity from 25,000 gallons to 45,000 gallons, sufficient to handle possible future growth.


Ten youth cabins were built over a period of several years, beginning in 1967. They were built from funds raised by several of the Free Methodist churches of the Florida Conference. Volunteers from the conference churches and residents of the camp constructed the cabins. Youth camps, children’s camps and family camps from the conference and from other churches and para-church groups have benefited from the facilities. In 1988 four of the cabins were equipped with air conditioning and the ceilings were built in and insulated, under the direction of Mr. Duane Hall. The remaining cabins were air conditioned in the next three years.


A group of men saw the need for landscaping and other improvements in t he appearance of the grounds. Headed up by Willet Justice and Dale Wise, several persons have been active in planting trees and shrubbery, watering and pruning. In winter 1994-95 this committee constructed a very nice gazebo at the “alligator pond” which adds to the landscaping they had done there.


Beginning in the early 1970 ‘ s the minutes of the Camp Board show that there was action taken to revise the “Articles of Agreement” (the lease agreement) which each person who decides to build at the camp must negotiate. The basic substance of the lease agreement was not to be changed, but it was felt that it needed to be presented in a more clear, legible form. With the assistance of a Plant City attorney, the task, was undertaken and, in 1981 , the document was adopted. Soon after the beginning of Light and Life Camp development a provision was made for Florida residents to secure homestead exemption on their leased property. This was done by changing the original twenty-five year lease agreement to ninety-nine as the county required. In 1984 the county decided that those with new leases could no longer claim homestead exemption; only those with deeds could do so. The Florida Conference then gave permission to grant deeds to those desiring to claim homestead exemption. Mr. Charles Smout, a resident, undertook this task of preparing deeds, with the assistance of an attorney. Mr. Smout did this along with many other volunteer tasks which he performs for the conference and the camp. He continues to work with deed transactions; however, the new director, Craig DeJonge, is assuming this task.


The first graded streets at the camp were a big improvement over the original trails . But , in 1972, the first paved streets were completed and since that time every street has been paved and many repaved. A budgeted item each year is for resurfacing streets as needed . All streets, except for Hebron, Ebenezer and Canaan were named by Elmer Hood at the beginning of camp development.


One of the very first projects when development of the camp was begun was to drill a water well. In 1974 that first shallow well was supplemented by a forty-foot well. Then a 40B-foot well was drilled in 1975, providing a good, safe, adequate supply of water for the more than five hundred residents.


In the early 1980’s a need was felt for a covered pavilion. Mr. Clarence Dietz, a camp resident, and the manager drew up plans for a 24′ X 40 ‘ shelter to be built to the south of the tennis and basketball court. This project was funded by 9ifts from several persons, but a major portion was given by Mr. and Mrs. Harold Funk, camp residents, in memory of Mrs. Funk’s brother, Mr. Sheldon Spencer, who had been a resident until his death in 1970. Tables were made possible by a gift from Mrs. Vera Becker, a resident, in memory of her late mother, Mrs. Violet Priestley, a former resident .


Over several years a number of long time Florida residents felt the need for a conference historical center at Florida Light and Life Camp. Then, in 1990, the conference gave permission to convert the original rest room for this purpose. Under the direction of the Florida Conference Historical Committee, composed of Mrs. Mae Beatty (widow of the late Reverend Carl Beatty, a former pastor in the conference). Elmer Hood, Don Cleveland and Russell Cullum, the old building was completely remodeled. The original flat roof was replaced with a gable roof and air conditioning was installed, the work, being done by volunteers. Several residents also made voluntary monetary contributions. The building now stands as a place for displaying artifacts and memorabilia for future generations to observe what men and women of the past have done to build the Free Methodist Church in the State of Florida. “…. Lest we forget. . . . “


Through the years of Light and Life Camp many have dreamed of having a nursing care facility on the site. So, a series of studies was made and the question was explored in various ways. It was found that, due to zoning restrictions and other barriers, a nursing facility was seemingly out of the question . However, Eugene Maxwell envisioned at least an intermediate care facility and worked toward that end until his death in 1991. At the time of this writing it appears that Hillsborough County will not allow this.


Abundant thanks and appreciation go to every person who has given so unselfishly in financial contributions–amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars–and manual labor. Many thousands of dollars have also come from estates which have considered Light and life Camp in their planning. May Light and life Camp continue to be a blessing to the many who come here, both from the North and from across the Florida Conference, to enjoy what the Lord has helped us to develop.