By Jamie Christensen | Submitted Photos
What is the dearest camp you know? For hundreds of former counselors, staff, volunteers, and campers, the answer is Elks Camp Grassick—and those very lyrics are sung each morning during the wake-up song around the camp flag pole.
Dan Mimnaugh has been singing that song for 45 years.
What began as a fun-sounding summer job for the Valley City State student, became a life-long passion. In fact, after his first summer at camp, Dan went back to school and changed his major to elementary education. For the next seven summers while he finished college and taught school, he spent his summers as a counselor at the camp.
In 1978 he met another counselor, Kim Pladson, who became his wife the very next year. Then in 1980 the camp governing board combined the camp director and the superintendent positions, and they brought Dan on board full time. Living and working at the camp year-round “was a dream come true” for Dan. He and Kim raised their two daughters at camp.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better place to raise a family and instill in my girls the values of kindness, compassion, empathy, and treating all people with the utmost of respect and dignity,” Dan says.
The camp first began in 1928 as an anti-tuberculosis camp for undernourished children. In 1947, the North Dakota Elks Association purchased and ran the camp with several other organizations until the Elks took over sole operation in 1968. Elks Camp Grassick is a nonprofit organization that survives through charitable contributions and donations. Its mission is to provide therapeutic and recreational camp experiences for children and adults with special needs.
“Elks Camp Grassick is a magical place where children and adults with various disabilities and special needs can just be themselves,” explains Dan. “I have seen tears of rejection turn into tears of happiness because they are finally accepted, without being bullied, teased, or ridiculed because of their special needs. Out here they make true friends with the other campers and staff, and they learn and practice skills that will help them be less dependent on others for their daily needs.”
The campers grow in self-confidence, pride, and skill in almost a magical way.
“Camp Grassick has never professed to be a miracle camp, but we know through the years that small miracles have happened out here,” says Dan. “They happen because the staff loves and works relentlessly with the campers. The consistency with how we work with them and the great results we see year after year is one of the camp’s greatest accomplishments.”
This is the only camp of its kind in North Dakota, and campers and families are grateful for it. For many who have experienced camp in any way, shape or form, it has been a life changing experience.
As for Dan, he says it has been a humbling experience.
“I have met hundreds of individuals and gained lasting friendships through the years with campers, staff, and families. I don’t know of too many other jobs that give you such great personal rewards as this one has for me,” he says. “I thank the good Lord every day for the blessings He has given me and my family, and I have learned never to take anything for granted.”
And while it’s true for so many others who have spent time there, Elks Camp Grassick truly will always be the dearest camp he knows.
For more information about opportunities for campers, employment, or contributing, visit www.elkscampgrassick.com.
Jamie Christensen is full-time licensed real estate agent, a communications and marketing professional, wife to Kai, and mom to Kaitlynn, Grady, and Cooper.