CAMP OZARK – Nestled in the trees of the Ouachita National Forest, Camp Ozark, which serves around 6,500 campers each Summer, sits as one of the hidden treasures of Montgomery County.
Camp Ozark has been a fixture in Montgomery County since 1949 when it was known as Ozark Boys’ Camp. Ouachita Baptist University alumnus Carey Selph and partner John Froelich acquired a parcel of land which is still a part of the current camp with the intention of teaching young boys the game of baseball. Both men, who were residents of Houston, Texas at the time, constructed the original camp buildings, which included cabins, a dining hall, a bathhouse, a gymnasium, an infirmary and a small office.
The camp welcomed 27 boys when it opened June 10, 1949 with most of the campers hailing from the Houston area.
Froelich sold his interest to Pat Ankenman in 1953. Ankenman purchased Selph’s share of the camp in 156. Ankenman and his family are the one’s responsible for the changes to the camp that shaped it into what is now Camp Ozark.
Family is at the heart of Camp Ozark. The Ankenman’s spent the next thirty years of their lives laying the spiritual and philosophical foundation of Camp Ozark.
The current owners, Sam and Susan Torn, purchased the camp January 2, 1985. Sam, who was a lawyer at the time he purchased the camp, had a long history with the camp.His first exposure to the camp came in 1953 when a three year old Sam visited the camp for “Family Week.” Year after year he visited family until in 1959, when a then 10 year old Sam was able to attend camp himself. He spent the next 11 years as a camper, junior counselor, and counselor.
Family continues to be an important aspect of the camp for many. Current camp director Gene Monk is a great example of how the camp has influenced he and his family.
Monk, who grew up in Pencil Bluff, worked at the camp as a teenager before getting a degree that would help him get a more permanent job at the camp. while working there he met his wife Amy. They two spent a few years in college and the Peace Corps before returning to the camp for good. He has worked his way up to a camp director while wife Amy now serves as the county’s home extension agent.
Gene stated that Camp Ozark is a special place to him and most who find their way onto the facilities.
The camp has undergone several changes in name and format over the years, but none was more essential to the work of the camp that when they opened the camp to girls in 1977. It was at this time that the camp name was changed to Camp Ozark.
The camp has continued to grow since then. When Pat Ankenman retired, Camp Ozark had 18 cabins and a wide variety of programs and support facilities. Since the Torns took over in 1985, the camp has grown to include 94 cabins. They have grown from an average of 375 campers per year to well over 6000 per year.
The camp began with three baseball fields, one of which is still in use at the camp. On a tour of the facility Monk pointed out an abundance of things to occupy campers time throughout the day. He stated that there are around 150 activities available for campers.
Activities range from crafts to water sports, to horseback riding and skeet shooting. There are a host of traditional sports available for campers including baseball, basketball and mini-golf.
Each child spends the morning involved in an activity, while the afternoon is open for them to explore the many activities at the camp.
The camp has a doctor and registered nurses on site throughout the camp season.
The Ankenman’s dream of providing a state of the art Christian experience for young people continues under the tutelage of the Torns with campers involved in worship services once per day, as well as daily cabin devotionals. Campers are grouped according to age into three groups with worship services and cabin devotionals geared to reach each age group.
Monk stated that there are six two week sessions available for campers with a one week option available.The camp usually hosts around 1,000 campers per two week session.
Campers come from all across the country with the majority of campers coming from Texas, Arkansas, and the surrounding states.
Campers are drafted into two factions known as the Caddo and the Osage. They will spend the remainder of their time at camp competing for their team.
The camp offers opportunities for children of all ages, races and backgrounds to attend. One of the most popular programs is the “First is Third” program. It is a scholarship program that allows many locals and low income children an opportunity to attend camp.
Monk explained that First is Third, or F.I.T., is the overriding theme of Camp Ozark’s spiritual emphasis. He added that their belief is that in order to “win” in life, campers must place God first, others second and themselves third. By placing themselves third, by being “F.I.T.” they actually come in first in the game of life.
For more information about Camp Ozark check out their website at campozark.com. You can find a detailed list of activities and schedule, as well as registration information. You can also call the Mount Ida office at (870) 867-4131, or the Houston office at (713) 827-1114.