The Story of Waycross
Camping in the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis dates back to the 1940’s, well before Waycross was developed and even before the land that would become Waycross was purchased. Diocesan youth had used a YMCA Camp in Bedford in the ‘40s and Camp Flat Rock in St. Paul, Indiana in the ‘50s before Jim and Marion Mara, two devoted Episcopalians, realized the Diocese needed their own camp and conference center. Thus, the dream of Waycross was hatched in 1952 when the Maras began planning and searching for a suitable site for the camp. Their search was uniquely confined to an area in Brown County that approximated the point where an imaginary cross would meet if it were drawn across the boundaries of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis. There, near Trevlac in Brown County, they found 140 acres that would be purchased for $25,000 in 1953.
As Waycross was being developed by the Maras during the middle of the 1950s, another camp, Camp Clements near Richmond, hosted summer camp sessions from 1953-56. In 1955, the Maras had conveyed their ownership of the camp over to the Diocese as they continued to work on developing the camp. During this time Waycross had its first conference in 1955, hosted by Father Fred Williams. Sixteen youth attended the event. In 1956 another High School Conference was hosted by Waycross. By 1957, enough improvements had been made to the Main House and the rest of the grounds, including two new cabins, a septic system, and a pond, that Waycross was ready to begin hosting summer camp sessions for the first time. That first year they had six one-week sessions. In 1958, they added a swimming pool. Additionally, two major land purchases increased Waycross’ size from the original 140 acres to its current size of 410 acres. Jim Mara had raised enough money to buy 80 acres of land south of the original camp (an area called “the golf course” because Jim used it as a small golf course for a while). Then, Bud Reahard added the final piece of land when he purchased the final 190 acres which included “The Hill,” or the part of Waycross which became a camp all its own called Hickory Hill, named for the old canning factory that had operated up there in the 1930s. The land also included one of the houses from the canning operation which is now called the Retreat House, located up the drive past the Baughman House.
During the 1960s, Waycross added the Dixon Recreation Hall and had the dam and lake made at Hickory Hill through a donation from Mrs. G.H.A. Clowes and her son, Allen. The lake was named Lake Kirchoffer after Bishop Richard Kirchoffer. More cabins were built as well, bringing the total to six. 1963 saw the arrival of Lennie Baughman and Judy Baughman who would manage the camp for the next 25 years. The house on Lake Kirchoffer was also built that year and would serve as Lennie and Judy’s home during their tenure at Waycross. That year also was the first year that Hickory Hill was operational, although it wasn’t finished until the end of 1963. Therefore summer camping wouldn’t begin until the summer of 1964. Appealing to the heartier campers, Hickory Hill’s campsites did not have electricity and the only running water was a cold line to the wash basins and a makeshift shower which was only occasionally used, but for a few brave souls. Campsites consisted of covered wagons, tents, and teepees, although the teepees were later replaced by two cabins. The tent and wagon sites are still there, albeit without the tents and wagons, but the cabins, located close to the Retreat House, still remain, although they are unusable. Meals were usually cooked outdoors, although some meals were prepared and eaten in the Youth Lodge, which overlooks the Lake. 1964 also saw the departure of the Maras, the couple who were largely responsible for starting Waycross, after devoting ten years of their lives to its creation. They decided to move to Oklahoma to work on starting a similar camp.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Waycross and Hickory Hill continued to grow and remain popular. New camp weeks were added to broaden the camp’s outreach to others and provide opportunities for others to attend who may have not been able to otherwise. These special weeks included Girls and Boys School, Inner City Week, Special Needs Camp, Riley Camp, Family Camp, Canoe Camp and two work camps at Hickory Hill that were used to help set up and tear down the camp. In 1976 the staffs of Hickory Hill and Waycross were combined and counselors would rotate from week to week between the camps. By the late 1970s plans were put forth to increase the size and, hopefully, the usage of Waycross by building a new building or adding on to the Hickory Hill Retreat House.
Although expansion plans were mulled over as early as the late 70s, it wasn’t until the late 1980s that the plans came to fruition. In 1988 a standing committee approved the building of the new Waycross Conference Center at an estimated cost of 1.5 million dollars. Construction began in 1990. 1988 also saw the retirement of longtime resident managers Lennie and Judy Baughman. Gene and Donna Niednagel were hired in their place.
In 1990 Hickory Hill was closed as a separate camp, although Waycross campers would use its beautiful lake and plentiful acreage for summers thereafter. In 1991, the new Conference Center was dedicated and began being used. Other changes in the 90s included adding two more cabins, bring the total to 10, building a new swimming pool and bathhouse, building an assembly building and dinning hall, and expanding the septic system.
As Waycross moved into the next century, it's leadership changed once again as Gene and Donna Niednagel retired and Van Beers was hired as the new director. Although the Camp and Conference Center has changed much over the years, its still doing what it has always done best: provide that memorable “Waycross Experience” for all who have been blessed to have had the opportunity to visit and stay at this special place.