What We Do
At Lutherans Outdoors we provide opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to connect with one another. These connections allow each person to explore and play in a nurturing environment, which leads to a stronger faith foundation, discovering personal gifts, developing new skills, as well as building life-long relationships. Lutherans Outdoors in South Dakota is dedicated to quality faith experiences and hospitality for youth and adults and has been for more than 65 years.
Lutherans Outdoors in South Dakota welcomes all to explore and experience Christ’s love in community and creation.
We are your first choice for dynamic and innovative Christ-centered ministries: many sites, many seasons, many experiences.
Each camp follows the standards set by the American Camp Association (ACA).
LO staff is well-trained and offers signature hospitality.
LO camps include diverse sites and programs.
LO camps promote spiritual and personal growth.
It’s About Community
At Lutherans Outdoors we provide opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to connect with one another. This allows each person to connect in a nurturing environment, leading to a stronger faith foundation, discovering personal gifts, developing new skills, as well as building life-long relationships.
We connect in community to be fed and renewed to enter the world to serve.
The following histories are edited from, “History of Lutherans Outdoors in South Dakota,” written and edited by past directors.
About Lutherans Outdoors
Lutherans Outdoors of South Dakota, Inc. - Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Lutherans Outdoors of South Dakota was formed by the 1968 Convention of the South Dakota District of the American Lutheran Church. This action came upon the recommendation of the District Camping Ministries Committee to form a corporation to own and manage the ALC campsites in the South Dakota District. Their purpose was to provide quality coordination of camping based upon sound Lutheran theology, on behalf of the congregations of South Dakota.
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In the early days of Lutherans Outdoors there was an Executive Director with no central office. Each camp maintained its own checking account and purchased its own supplies. There was no central financial record, no unified balance sheet and no unified income and expense statements. Site directors continued to be in charge of programs without an overall program plan. The largest part of the site director's job was maintenance, leaving little time for contacts with area congregations, program development, and promotion. The facilities at each site were suffering from years of inadequate maintenance due to limited budgets.
During these years, the Board of Directors of Lutherans Outdoors worked diligently to draw together administrative and development functions as it moved the camps into an organizational plan while attempting to make its modest resources stretch to cover a variety of crisis.
Following the departure of Gaias Aasland in 1977, Lutherans Outdoors operated without an Executive Director. The Board and Executive Committee were meeting frequently, providing day-to-day management. It was apparent that steps were needed to reorganize the management of the corporation, devote time to long range planning, and find additional financial support so that its camps might receive the care they needed.
The Board asked Norris L. Erickson, Assistant Vice President of Planning and Engineering at the University of South Dakota, to evaluate the mission, goals, financial condition, and day to day operation of the corporation. His report, A Look at Lutherans Outdoors, was presented to the Board in December 1977. By mid 1978, most of Erickson's recommendations were completed.
In May 1981, Lutherans Outdoors adopted its first Long Range Plan. Within a few years the challenges of that first plan were met. A comprehensive master plan for all the camps of Lutherans Outdoors was completed in 1983.
On July 1, 1987 another Long Range Plan was adopted by Lutherans Outdoors. This plan included a new mission statement along with statements of value, objectives, and procedures (This five year plan was studied regularly by the Board and the goals of this plan were largely met by 1992).
In January of 1991 the Board again established a Task Force for the continuation of planning. This Task Force took surveys of staff, campers, donors, pastors, and parents. Many interviews were also conducted. From this data a series of conversations took place within the committee structure of Lutherans Outdoors regarding the image, program quality, and viability of camping in South Dakota.
Lutherans Outdoors in South Dakota remains a partner within church camping at both the state wide and national level. Its historic past has served as a model and a reminder that God is constantly shaping the ministries which take place through Lutherans who love the outdoors.
Executive Directors include: Rev. Roy Satre, Gaius Asland, Rev. Bruce Williams (Board President), David Brunkow, Rev. Paul Leslie, Neil Sorensen, and Rev. Layne Nelson. Current Executive Director is Paul Hanson (2018-Present).
+ NeSoDak Bible Camp
Waubay, South Dakota
Although the NeSoDak Bible Camp was not organized until 1942, camping in South Dakota was run under the NeSoDak Bible Camp Association as early as 1936. But the earliest camping itself in eastern South Dakota was conducted by pastors between 1933 and 1936. The pastors of this area organized camps at rented facilities at lakes Kampeska, Clear Lake, and Big Stone. One of these camps held at Clear Lake, near Sisseton, was called 'Ne-So-Dak Bible Camp." Thus in 1936, a constitution was drawn up with Pastor J. L. Kildahl of Webster serving as President. Leif E. Evans was selected as Secretary-Treasurer.
At a meeting on July 9, 1936, the Bible camp committee met at Clear Lake. Pastor Kildahl, Miss Esther Chilson and Miss Lillian Olson had investigated the possibility of holding camps at the Jack Rommel Resort (Camp Dakota) at Enemy Swim Lake. The facilities included a hotel with dining room, several cabins, and private cabins in the area were also for rent. In 1937, the first camp was held on what would eventually become the site of NeSoDak Bible Camp, with 130 campers present.
Pastor J. L. Kildahl was clearly recognized as "the Founder of NeSoDak Bible Camp." His leadership was instrumental in not only creating the structure of the organization and expanding its base, but also as the person who assumed primary responsibilities for running the operations of the camp.
In 1960, the NeSoDak Bible Camp Board issued a call to its first professional Camp Director, Pastor Richard Borrud of Hayti, South Dakota. Borrud supplemented his role as camp director by serving in interim ministries. The philosophy of the camp began to change under his leadership. Through involvement in the Bible Camp Association of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, new ideas were being promoted, many of which were advocated by Pastor Borrud, who was the first full time Camp Director in the newly formed American Lutheran Church, of which the ELC became a part.
Borrud spearheaded a new programmatic and managerial style which was soon to become a trend throughout the church. New and dynamic small group programs using paid summer camp staff who were carefully selected and trained soon became part of ALC camping. Borrud led creative programs for NeSoDak until 1962, when he was called to Outlaw Ranch in the Black Hills and to serve part time as a National Staff person for Outdoor Ministries in the ALC.
Subsequent directors include: Gaius Aasland, Rev. Fred Lutz, Dick Iverson, Neil Sorensen, Trisha Larson, Teri Gayer, and Jake Hanson.
+ Outlaw Ranch
Custer, South Dakota
Lutheran pastors and laity began to search for a site which would be suitable for a Bible camp in the fall of 1956. They were looking for a location in South Dakota's West River area (west of the Missouri). For many years these parishes had contracted for a week of Bible camping at the Nemo Organization Camp, and the numbers gradually grew stronger with each year.
At the Black Hills Circuit Fall Convention in 1956, Pastor John Hjelmaseth proposed that a Bible Camp committee be formed to search for a site. The committee heard of Outlaw Ranch and after visiting favored that location. An option to purchase the ranch was obtained on April 11, 1958, but no action was taken towards its full purchase by the Black Hills Circuit of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC).
Because of their indecision, a group of men formed a new organization called the Lutheran Men's Bible Camp Association of Rapid City. On May 30, 1958, this group signed a note for $10,000 to make the first payment to owner Jane Butts.
The ranch was located near Bismarck Lake in the Black Hills and was purchased from the widow of the late Ben Butts who operated the Outlaw Store at Winner, South Dakota. The Outlaw Store was rumored to have received its name thanks to a dissatisfied customer who painted the word "outlaw" over the front of the store. Later, the Butts took the outlaw name with them to their ranch in the Black Hills, where for many years, it served as their retirement home.
The name Outlaw Ranch was questioned by many. But it stuck, in part, because in a way, it represented a camp that nobody seemed to want, at least initially. There was also the theological connection with Jesus, who as an "outlaw" called upon his followers to take up their cross and become "outlaws for Christ." This witness to a kingdom not of this world reflected the heart of what the ranch program was about. A common theme in programs and campfires was "make us outlaws for Christ," and since it was already well known as "Outlaw Ranch," the connection with the local community was kept.
Following three years of camping, the Lutheran Bible Camp Association Board of Directors voted to accept the offer of Pastor Dick Borrud to serve as the first camp director of Outlaw Ranch. He began his duties in October of 1962. Among his first duties was to replace the camp's entrance sign, "Lutheran Bible Camp of the Black Hills," with the old historic ''Outlaw Ranch" sign. This was a symbolic gesture which hinted at the new directions that would soon begin under his leadership.
"The philosophy of teaching young people that following Jesus would set them apart from the peer culture and paganism of the times was to be taught by using the sign of the cross which was reserved for 'Outlaws' in ancient Roman law. Outlaw Ranch could be used to point campers to the Savior, Jesus, who died on a cross." Pastor Borrud received permission from the Board to move forward with a paid staff and to invite campers from other areas of the country to participate in this newly developing ministry.
Borrud brought horses from NeSoDak and began a horse program. He also brought from NeSoDak a number of key staff members who brought experience. Within three years, Outlaw Ranch increased its participation from 200 campers to 1000.
Borrud also developed a tradition of hospitality, through the hiring of a hostess, open houses for the area communities, and through developing the slogan "the staff makes the camp." This well known philosophy of Outlaw brings a positive note among camping people. It was not just the beauty of the Hills that brought people back to Outlaw Ranch, but the quality of a staff fully dedicated to Christ, trained and supervised to assure a high quality program.
Subsequent directors include: Dick Bahnson, Roy Satre, Bud Johnson, Gaius Asland, Loren Odland, Dick Iverson, Jerry Manlove, Rev. Steve Peterson, Mary Stutz, Rev. Jeff Rohr, Rev. Molly Sasser-Goehner, and Matt Rusch.
+ Klein Ranch
In the late 1960’s, Jake and Martha Klein of Mobridge, SD, gifted their ranch property to the American Lutheran Church Foundation through a charitable gift annuity. Within a few years, Jack contacted the foundation and expressed his displeasure that the ranch, located on the Grand River, 70 miles southwest of Mobridge, had not become a youth camp as he had hoped. The Foundation began to negotiate a return of the land to Mr. Klein until Pastor Dick Borrud of University Camps, based out of South Dakota State University Lutheran Campus Center, offered to run a program for youth and young adults in 1971. Pastor LeRoy Iseminger provided pastoral leadership for the camp.
In 1972 the property was turned over to Lutherans Outdoors in South Dakota for management and programming although it remained the property of the Foundation. Lutherans Outdoors also assumed responsibility for the annual payment to Mr. Klein until his death in 1985.
From 1972 until 1977, Mr. Gaias Aasland staffed and directed the Klein Ranch programs during the summer months hosting school groups from the upper Midwest. A few church groups used the facilities, one of which was Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls. Pastor Ray Engh and Dot Thomas, director of education, served as key staff for the programs both of whom would serve in national outdoor ministry leadership positions in future years.
When Aasland left Lutherans Outdoors, a local rancher, Larry Weitzel of McLaughlin, was asked to assume the role of camp manager. He did so, refusing any compensation. He arranged lease agreements with a local ranching family, the Arnold brothers and provided ongoing supervision to maintenance. Joe “Little Joe” Severson of Iowa was hired as summer program director.
A strong marketing and promotional effort was launched during the winter of 1979-80 and a significant increase in camper participation was realized. Because of Severson's program leadership and the partnership with the Arnold Brothers Arrow 5 Ranch, the Klein Ranch program flourished in the years which followed.
The Ranch is a horseback rider's paradise. The program is based upon horseback riding hiking, visiting an Indian Mission, small group Bible study, and campfires.
The Arnold families hosted campers and staff at their ranch on a weekly basis in order to observe a working cattle ranch with its many activities. Local Native American families, the Bunkes, Agars, and Yellows befriended the camp. The horseback riding opportunities on the ranches nearly 3,000 acres captured the imagination of campers across the United States.
These traditions continued after Joe Severson left his duties to assume a full time youth ministry position and as Klein Ranch came under the program supervision of the NeSoDak Director, Neil Sorensen, in 1988. Dining and housing facilities were expanded thanks to the generous support of the Lutherans Outdoors Capital Appeals in 1985 and 1994.
+ Joy Ranch
Watertown, South Dakota
In 1989 Joy Nelson purchased 92 acres of land northwest of Watertown, South Dakota on Lyle Lake. Later that year she acquired a historic gambrel roof barn and granary (CIRCA 1900) from the Ken Halstrom farmstead located northwest of Wallace, South Dakota. Joy moved the barn and granary to her “Outlaw Ranch”, the name she gave to her ranch.
In 1990, Joy started the construction of her rustic log cabin ranch house. Her initial intention was to raise champion paint horses. In 1993 Joy began construction on an indoor arena for roping competition, horse shows and entertaining.
The year 2000 provided the second opportunity to acquire another building for Joy’s Outlaw Ranch. She found Blooming Valley #5 County School (CIRCA 1885) located only 20 miles north of Watertown. This one room schoolhouse was moved to Joy’s Outlaw Ranch during the same year. Joy repaired, painted and maintained the interior as it was when the last students left and placed it at a site down by the lake.
Later in 2000, Joy Nelson learned of an 1885 country Lutheran Church northeast of Erwin, South Dakota. The congregation had diminished and the church was for sale. Joy purchased the Clara Lutheran Church and moved it to her ranch. It was sited overlooking the lake and the recently acquired and restored schoolhouse. Extensive work was performed to restore the church for special events and worship services. Many of the original interior furnishings have been restored, including the bell, steeple, piano, organ, pews and other furnishings. Even the two-door outhouse was moved to the site and is used for storage.
All along, Joy Nelson had a dream for her ranch. This dream extended way beyond a successful horse ranch. She wanted to provide a place where children could work with horses at a religious based camp. To provide a
“more advanced or in depth form of horsemanship and touch a whole new sector of people you have probably not touched before with the current horse program”. Joy was referring to a horse program that she was aware of run by Lutherans Outdoors in South Dakota. She had been planning to convey the ranch for about two years. Joy consulted her pastor, Rev. Gary Westgard at Grace Lutheran Church, Watertown, for some guidance. Because of the dream of using the ranch to help kids and others with a religious based horse camp, Rev. Westgard suggested contacting Lutherans Outdoors in South Dakota.
As a result, Joy Nelson made a life estate gift of her ranch property to Lutherans Outdoors. The gift was announced at Joy’s church, Grace Lutheran in Watertown January 20, 2002. Following this milestone in the life of Joy’s Outlaw Ranch, Lutherans Outdoors renamed the ranch “Joy Ranch” as to not confuse it with the existing Outlaw Ranch near Custer, South Dakota.
Pam Walton served as the first camp director (2008-2011). Subsequent directors include Kari Sorensen (Interim), Kyle & Betsy Debertin (2011-2015), Dustin Rodiek (2016-2017), Paul Hanson (Interim) and Jake Hanson (2018-Present). 2012 was Joy Ranch’s first full summer of programming.
+ AMR (Final Summer 2013)
Custer, South Dakota
Atlantic Mountain Ranch - This "wild west camp" was developed beginning in 1963 as a youth outpost of Outlaw Ranch It has since become a full summer Christian camping program with the flavor of early mining and pioneering days in the Black Hills.
The site was originally called the Elba Williams Place on Custer Limestone Road. Pastor Dick Borrud, director at Outlaw Ranch, bought the place for $500 down on a land contract. It was used as an outpost camp for youth, and unique living villages with early pioneer themes were developed for small groups. This enabled the participants to become totally immersed in a living laboratory of faith.
The camp property was later purchased by the camp board of Outlaw Ranch and used as an adjunct to Outlaw. The director of Outlaw Ranch also provided leadership for Atlantic Mountain Ranch since its inception, offering a well organized camping ministry for all ages in the Black Hills. Many church camping leaders have had experience serving in program director roles at Atlantic Mountain Ranch, including Rev. Sheldon Tostengaard at Luther Seminary, Gaias Aaslund, Wayne Jarvis, Bruce Williams, Steve Peterson, Augie Borchardt, Jeff Barrow, and Paul Leslie, all having served for many years in camping leadership roles.
The wild west theme fit well at Atlantic Mountain Ranch. A covered wagon village was designed to accommodate 25 campers while another 25 stayed in an A-Frame village. Each group spent half a week at the main village site, and the other half on a pack trip through National Forest land with a horse drawn covered wagon carried their gear. A favorite overnight stay was at Mile High Spring on the forest lands.
Another creative village called "Fort Courage” included a fort with two blockhouses in which 45 campers lived There was a separate village of tepees designed to accommodate 30 more campers. During the week, camper group engaged in food preparation, camp chores, Bible study and campfires, and primitive outdoor living.
The camp model of the decentralized small group ministry has been used by many other camps since it was established. A variety of living villages were created at different locations on the property, using historical motifs of the region. This form of camping promoted independence, self direction, and small group study, reflection, and worship among the participants. The site includes an authentic gold mine where at one time, over 2000 miners searched frantically for gold. There had been plans to develop this theme and call it Bugtown Gulch.
After 50 years of wonderful ministry, AMR closed its gate after the summer of 2013.