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Camp Menogyn



  • From the Collection: Creation: 1904-2010
  • From the Collection: Creation: Majority of material found within ( 1960-1990)


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Analog (non-digital) material is open for use in the Elmer L. Andersen Library reading room. This collection includes a small number of digital files that are available upon request. Please contact the Kautz Family YMCA Archives to arrange access to these materials.

Use of Materials:

This collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright, ownership, and to obtain all the necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials.

Biographical / Historical

In 1922, Camp Menogyn, Ojibwe for "to grow fully," was added to the YMCA Minneapolis camping program. Wilder than the Minneapolis YMCA's first camp, Camp Icaghowan, Menogyn was located 35 miles north of Grand Marais, Minnesota on West Bearskin Lake, and was designed for long-term camping experiences, and as a departure point for wilderness trips ranging from two to sixty days, with enrollment from all across the Minneapolis metro footprint. Camp Menogyn's purpose as envisioned by the organization was "to help people of all backgrounds to grow as mature as responsible individuals by exposing them to Christian principles, trained leadership, and wilderness experiences." The initial camp group built the first cabin on the property as part of their experience. The next two cabins were built in 1923, and 1924.

Camp Menogyn was closed for summer seasons in 1925 and 1926 due to lack of enrollment. O. R. Tripp, camp founder and director from 1921-1930, organized a special trip for YMCA branch secretaries, generating renewed enthusiasm for the camp and the potential positive impact on the camping program. The camp opened for six weeks for the 1927 summer season, and eleven weeks in the 1928 season.

In 1929, Camp Menogyn opened for the entire summer, with enrollment established by districts, each spending short periods there. By 1934, Camp Menogyn became a "post graduate camp," the only camp in the state of Minnesota to offer a wilderness experience to challenge older boys and young men. Because the camp was readily accessible to the area that would later become the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park, the camp served as a base camp for extended wilderness trips. The rustic setting provided a wilderness experience for urban youth, complete with wildlife. Bears were a regular sight around camp, and for decades Menogyn campers could tell many a "bear story". In the early years, the camp had no electricity or propane gas. Log ice houses were built on the site, with huge blocks of ice cut in winter and used during the summer months. During warm weather, staff brought blocks of ice around camp to provide refrigeration, and on special occasions, ice chips to make homemade ice cream.

The camp moved to a new site in Cook County on the north shore of West Bearskin Lake on 35 acres in 1934. Containing a bluff overlooking three pine-covered islands, the site was more level and included two calm bays. The site was thought to have the necessary facilities for training campers before taking them out on more rugged wilderness canoe trips. This new site was purchased through a 1933 camping operations budget surplus and a generous donation from prominent Minneapolis lawyer and philanthropist Russell H. Bennett.

The summer of 1942 the camp did not operate, due to World War II gas rationing. From 1943 through 1945, the camp operated on a limited basis. But during the 1948 season, Camp Menogyn was enlarged and made more complete. The new camp was officially dedicated in August 1949. Menogyn was not accessible by any road; so in order to reach base camp, there was a 1.5 mile journey on an army engineer pontoon, known as "The Monster."

Camp Menogyn carried on experiments between 1950-1959 in work with the Junior Hi-Y boys, girls social groups, and extended stays as part of a continuing effort to meet the needs of young people searching for new challenges. Under Phil Brain, who served as Camp Director in 1940 and from 1949-1957, upgrades to the camp included: aluminum canoes; a new pontoon and a 18-foot boat for hauling; building the first sauna; a root cellar; and overseeing the establishment of a prefabricated guide's cabin along the lake. Equipment was always a need, with canoes, tents, air mattresses, and packsacks purchased between 1951-1954 as replacements. In 1954, a gas heating stove was added to the new staff cabin. The first girls group to take a wilderness trip out of Menogyn was during this time.

The fortieth anniversary of Camp Menogyn was recognized in 1962. The Anniversary celebration occurred on March 20, 1962 at the Downtown branch. Program highlights included an invocation from David Hamernick, member of the 1961-1962 guide staff; a camp history provided by Jim Gilbert, camp director; and reminiscences from several original campers and staffers. By the 40th anniversary, camp served over 500 boys and girls from all over the upper Midwest, representing organizations such as the YMCA, YWCA, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts.

The old ice house was converted in 1964 to a "history house" and trip-planning room. In 1965 two A-frame buildings were built to provide in-camp housing for the ever-growing number of campers, under the supervision of Armond Paulson, Camp director from 1963-1967. New staff cabins on the north shore were constructed in 1966, and also winterized for potential winter programs. The cabins also provided additional space for staff quarters which allowed for the expansion of program camper groups going forward. In an effort to provide a wilderness experience to young men, the "Progressive program" was designed to attract older campers. A series of trips varying in length of time and distance were planned, including Hommes du Nord, Voyageur, and Norwesterner.

Always a concern for camps, safety became an even greater priority when in 1969, two campers drowned on Rainey Lake during a trip. Stricter safety guidelines were adopted and enforced by the organization in response to the first serious safety issue experienced at a Minneapolis YMCA-led camp.

The first co-ed camping group was taken to Camp Menogyn in 1968 by Gary Lewis, executive of several local branches during the 1960-1979 time period. Girls were integrated into the Minneapolis YMCA Camp programs during the decade of 1970-1979. "In order to meet the growing need for service to the total family", all camps except Kici Yapi, Ihduhapi, and Warren were now open to girls. Over the course of the decade, the remaining camps were also integrated. Under the leadership of Camp director Robert "Skip" Wilke from 1968-1982, the Progressive Camping Program became more formalized. Initially, a junior-high school camper was introduced to Menogyn through a 7 or 10-day session, returning for a 14 or 21-day session the second or third year, and eventually was invited on the longer trips involving extensive planning and exploring. Three levels of invitational canoe trips for men and women were designed, including Nor'Wester, Nishimaha, and Hommes du Nord for men; and Nor'Wester, Nishimaha, and Femmes du Nord for women. Climbing and rappelling were now also offered as an activity near the Menogyn campsite. A Work Camping program was developed during this time for older campers, allowing them the opportunity to work in camp and then join a camper group. Winter camping sessions of snowshoeing, skiing, and outdoor camping were established during Christmas and Easter holiday breaks. International campers were also welcomed at Menogyn, in cooperation with Rotary International and the American Association of Teachers of German.

The 1989 Femmes du Nord group, seven Minnesota women in all, had to adjust their trip and make an unexpected stop in Cross Lake, Manitoba due to encroaching forest fires which made headline news. Once the forest fires were under control, the group managed to take an alternative route and salvage their experience.

Progressive Camping continued to be a core program, and as of 1996, Camp Menogyn also offered 7- or 14-day rock climbing adventures, combining either canoeing, backpacking, or both with rock climbing.

Camp Menogyn remains a vital part of the YMCA Minneapolis tradition, and continues to provide a year-round wilderness experience for teens, families, and groups.

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area