Volume 17, No. 1       Buffalo County Historical Society    January-February, 1994

 
WEST NEBRASKA HOLINESS CAMP MEETINGS
by Alice Shaneyfelt Howell
         It was an energetic, sizeable group, the West Nebraska Holiness Association, which held its camp meetings in Kearney from 1908 to 1952.  The camp was located first at the south end of Collins Park, later in the block immediately south of the park, between Avenues D and E and 14th and 15th Streets.  At its peak, membership numbered several hundred persons.

         The Association grew out of the Platte Valley Holiness Camp, which was organized around 1903 as an auxiliary to the National Holiness Association.  Camp meetings were held at Kenesaw, in Adams County, in the summers from 1905 until 1908 when the camp was moved to Kearney.
 
           In 1912 the West Nebraska Holiness Association was incorporated.  Its spiritual jurisdiction covered that "portion of the State of Nebraska lying west of a line running north from the east boundary line of Webster County and comprising more than six counties."  Although named as an auxiliary to the National Association, it operated at all times as an independent body in south central Nebraska.

            The object of the Association was the conversion of sinners to God, the entire sanctification of believers, and the building up of saints in the most holy faith.  It was inter-denominational.  Denominations represented were United Brethren, Evangelical, Methodist, Friends, Free Methodist, People's Mission, Nazarene, International Holiness and Salvation Army.  Members were mostly from Adams, Kearney, Buffalo, Dawson and Custer Counties but included people from all over the state of Nebraska.

 
Camp-meeting Tent, prior to 1913.  
(Click for enlargement)

 
         In the early years tents were used exclusively, not only for the campers' needs, but large tents housed the main camp meetings, the dining hall and kitchen, and the children's services.  Some campers brought their own tents, others rented at the camp.  Tent rental prices varied according to the economic conditions of the time.  In early years rental was $3.00 if the request was made by a certain date; otherwise, rental would be 60 cents per day.  Campers might come for a full two weeks, for only one week, or for only the weekend.  In addition to the income from tents and meals, pledges were obtained throughout the state to maintain the camp.  Such pledges or requests for money were not encouraged during the camp meetings.  As stated in the minutes, "the use of free will offerings, private pledges, and a love offering is much more desired for the spirit and purpose of the camp."  Offerings collected during camp meetings were sent to interdenominational mission stations around the world.

         Camp meetings in Kearney were held during two weeks in mid or late August.  In the era before air conditioning, outdoor meetings had great appeal, whether it was Chautauqua or other specialized sectarian, religious or ethnic gatherings.  Camp meetings were a significant part of the American culture during the first quarter of the century.

         For most attending the West Nebraska Holiness camp it was a family outing, possibly the only summer vacation the campers might have.  Families would load up furniture and supplies from home to outfit their camping tent.  A cook was hired and with his helpers three meals a day were furnished at a price of 20 to 25 cents for breakfast and for lunch, and 35 cents for dinner.  However, all campers did not eat at the dining tent.  For some families with several children, the cost of three meals out for a week or more was prohibitive, so the mother brought her stove and kitchen utensils and prepared meals in the family tent.  Evangelists, song leaders and their families were not charged for food and paid only half price for their tents in some years, although as time went on these leaders were furnished room and board in addition to their fee for services and train or car fare.

 
Tabernacle on Camp Grounds.

 
        In 1912 the executive council of the Association appointed B. J. Patterson to solicit funds for an additional block on which to erect a tabernacle at the campground.  Seven lots had been secured by February 25, 1913, and at a meeting on that date B. J. Patterson, Chris Samp and B. C. Parr were appointed to act as a building committee.  The tabernacle construction was started immediately and was ready for occupancy for the August, 1913 camp meeting.  Painting and a roof covering were completed in the next two or three years.  The dirt floor was covered with fresh straw each year prior to the meetings.  It would be many years before a concrete floor was poured in the building.

         The rest of the lots of the block comprising the tabernacle grounds were secured and deeded to the Association on September 11, 1914.  A frame cook house and dining hall were soon constructed, and all of the large tents sold.

         Alfalfa was sown on the grounds around the tabernacle and the crop sold each year for camp meeting funds.  In April of 1926 city water was connected to the grounds and trees were planted, and in later years grass was sown.  Most of the labor for upkeep of the buildings and the grounds was volunteered by members of the camp association.

         The annual meeting of the Association was held during the second week of the camp.  At this time there were elected a president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer to hold office for one year.  Also three camp managers were elected for a one-year term to plan and take care of the next year's camp meeting.  Evangelists and song leaders had to be secured at least two, and sometimes three, years in advance.  These officers and managers met once a month during the year for a holiness prayer-meeting and to take care of the business of the upcoming camp meeting. Officers and managers named in the early years of the Kearney camp meetings were Sam Peck, Harry Peck, Oren Peck, Marshall Ash, B. J. Patterson, Nelson Jaco, Anna Rose, Andrew Segard, Frank and John Bohlke, and the Reverend J. C. Hurlbut.  In later years Everett and Claremont Peck and Murl Patterson became leaders and carried on the work started by their parents.

 
Interior of Tabernacle.  
(Click for larger image)

 
         The schedule of the day at the West Nebraska Holiness camp began at about six o'clock when campers met for a brief prayer and devotional service.  Breakfast was served at 7:00.  At 9:30 an informal meeting and song service was held, followed by morning preaching at 11:00.  After the noon meal the children gathered for their service at one o'clock.  The afternoon preaching continued at 2:30, and the evening service was held after the evening meal.
 
B.J. Patterson, a prime mover in the local camp meetings of West Nebraska Holiness Association until his death in 1945.  Served many years as president, secretary, or one of the managers from 1908 to 1945.
 
         Through the years many well-known evangelists and singers appeared on the platform of the tabernacle.  Among the evangelists were the Rev. George Bennard, author of The Old Rugged Cross.  "Uncle" Buddy Robinson, the cowboy preacher, the Rev. Jarrett and Mrs. Aycock, Dwight Ferguson, C.B. Fuget, C W. Ruth, S.E. Polovina, known as "Methodist Sam", Maridell Harding, Dr. Leslie Parrott, Dr. Curtis Smith and others.

         Outstanding musicians and singers were the Aeolian Quartet, Geraldine Southern, the Morgan family, Calvin Jantz family, W. Lawson Brown. Shayee*, a well-known violinist, James Bohl, and many outstanding quartets.

         During and after World War II camp officials had difficulty financing and maintaining the camp facility.  No camp meeting was held in 1943 because of the war, but were resumed in 1944 and 1945.  In 1946 the Association board granted God's Bible School of Cincinnati, 0hio, permission to conduct a 10-day, camp meeting in August.  This arrangement was carried on for four years.

         In 1951 negotiations were initiated with the Nebraska Church Of the Nazarene for a sale of the camp, and in 1953 the West Nebraska Holiness Association sold the camp property to them.  Camp meetings were held on the tabernacle grounds in Kearney from 1953 until sometime in the 1970's operated by the Nebraska Church of the Nazarene.  No records are available of the camp operation under the Church of the Nazarene.

         Laurinne Dustin, longtime member of the church, remembers the camp meetings under the Church of the Nazarene.  They were well supported and attended.  Many of the trees planted in the twenties were replaced by Everett Peck in memory of his parents, Harry and Ollie Peck, who had been promoters of the camp meetings since their beginnings in Kenesaw.  Everett Peck was caretaker of the Kearney camp grounds for many years.

         Since its closing in the 1970's, all of the buildings have been razed and the 65-year camp meeting ground is now a residential block.

SOURCES
     Minute Books of West Nebraska Holiness Association, August 24, 1912 to July 27, 1952; Kearney Daily Hub, undated: Tent Meetings Began in 1905; Interviews with Murl and Dorothy Patterson, Laurinne Dustin, Thelma Jensen, Ella Peck.
 
* Wilmos Csehy, pronounced ‘shay-hee’, was born of Hungarian parentage and traveled extensively in musical ministry along with his wife, Gladys, an accomplished pianist, as the Csehy Musical Messengers.  Sometimes, other professional musicians would joint them in their concerts.  A part of their work included conducting music camps in both the classical and sacred genre.

For most of his professional life, Wilmos Csehy played a rare Landolfi violin made in 1772 in Milan, Italy, and was once the property of Ferdinando David, a contemporary of Felix Mendelssohn.  On one occasion, I heard them give a concert wherein Mr. Csehy played a tiny violin made for him by his father when he was 3 years old, which was the age at which he began to take lessons from his father. 

            The Csehys were also expert at playing the open glass harmonica, which they did four-handed.  This was somewhat different than the classical cylindrical glass harmonica that is so well known.  The Csehys assembled wine goblets on a table filled with varying amounts of water.  With fingers moistened in rosin and water, they would simultaneously circle the rims of those goblets, producing a four-part harmony that was so refined that it sounded celestial.

(This information about the Csehys was provided by Rev. Dennis R. Dean.)

Proofread 2-24-2002
Edited 5/18/2004

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