St. Crispin's History

St. Crispin's History


Diocesan Archives, Pam Bell

The St. Crispin's Conference Center was born from the Province VII youth camp experience initiated by two priests within the Diocese of Oklahoma. The Reverend Vern Jones, rector at St. Mark's, Hugo, and St. Luke's, Idabel, had participated in youth camps since 1941. In the 1950s, St. Luke's Senior Warden owned a lumberyard and land near Beavers Bend, Oklahoma, which seemed to be the perfect location for a Province VII summer youth camp. Father Dillinger of St. Alban's, Cushing, the priest from The Church of the Redeemer, Okmulgee, and the Reverend Bill Powell were recruited as camp counselors who brought buses of youth down to the camp. The youth used the Beaver's Bend land for three to four years before the Diocese decided they needed their own campground and program. Initially, the youth were hesitant to give up the Beaver's Bend experience, unsure what a new camp location would provide, but they soon came on board with the idea of a dedicated Diocesan campsite.

1958, the Diocesan Department of Camps and Conferences Committee started investigating potential camp properties. Father Dillinger of Cushing recommended viewing 300-plus acres of the Danielson Lake property near Seminole. At the first meeting of the Bishop and Council in 1959, a committee composed of Diocesan priests and laypeople Mr. Don Feagin, Mr. Boyd Gunning, Mr. George Lynde, Mr. Sam Noble, Mr. A Porta, and Mr. Malcolm Diesenroth viewed the site and recommended purchasing the property.

The property owner, Mr. Wade, sold the property for $27,500, but due to an outstanding mortgage, the Diocese had to acquire $20,000 to consummate the purchase. The church youth who had been fundraising for a diocesan campground gave $12,157, to which the diocese acquired a bank loan of $8,500 for the purchase.

In 1960, Danielson Lake continued to operate as a fee-paid swimming beach for Seminole youth with a bait shop for lake fishing. By January 1961, the trustees of St. Crispin's Conference Center were elected, and the Articles of Incorporation were completed in May.

The original plan included a dining room, conference hall, and dormitory wings. A house for clergy and their families also existed, but it fell into disrepair and was eventually torn down.

In 1963, when fundraising was in full swing, the plans were expanded to include men's and women's cabins, a theater, tennis courts, a softball diamond, a caretaker's cabin, a picnic pavilion, a chapel, and an outdoor meeting pavilion. The original Powell Conference Center included twenty-four rooms, and the lounge was intended as the social hub of the camp, with a large indoor fireplace. The swimming and boating dock was to be enhanced, but there were no plans to build a swimming pool.

The first camp directors, Mr. and Mrs. Mara, were hired in 1963 through the recommendation of the Reverend Dick Daniels of St. Dunstan's, Tulsa. The grounds were still being cleaned, but the dam and roads were repaired. The Mara's were supplied with a tent for the first years of their work before a house was erected on the property.

The first summer youth camp was in 1966 with forty-four fifth and sixth-grade youth and a staff of eleven adults under the Dean of the camp, the Reverend Vern Jones. By the end of 1966, the Episcopal Church Women, Brotherhood of St. Andrew, Evangelism Division, Camp and Conference Division, College of Chaplains, St. Dunstan's, St. Peter's, and St. Christopher's churches were utilizing the grounds for meetings.

By 1970, two hundred fifty children, thirty-five volunteers, and six paid staff were overseeing seven summer youth conferences. Many diocesan training opportunities, diocesan conferences, retreats, and commission and committee meetings were also facilitated by the Conference Center. At the end of the year, 1,800 persons had attended events at St. Crispin's. While the conference center tried to rid itself of debt, financial and spiritual support grew.

During the 1970s, the Conference Center expanded its prominence to outside organizations and hosted other denominational groups, schools, and even international guests. As camp improvements and cabins were built, maintenance of the conference center absorbed most of the budget. In the 1970s, the youth created a swimming pool fund, which became a reality when the Noble Foundation donated $50,000 in 1980.

In 1971, the Maras decided to return to Indiana, and the camp was tasked with finding a new director. The Maras had taken the camp from land clearing to a fully operating conference center. Their success lies in their leadership, years of management experience, and diocesan commitment.

The 1980s and 1990s continued with very successful summer youth camps, and they became known not only for their youth activities but also as a place to hold diocesan events, retreats, and meetings. The rolling hills and serenity offered by St. Crispin's were a place of renewal for many adults and youth.

The original Oakerhater Lodge was dedicated in 1987. In 1999, the summer youth camp accommodated over 550 campers from 4th through 9th grade, with a 3 to 1 staff-to-campers ratio.

In the 2000s, the diocesan leadership offered significant financial assistance for improvements and remodeling of the grounds. The dream of Bishop Ed Konieczny was to expand its facilities and to be recognized as a designation for Oklahoma ecumenical conferences and retreats. Golf tournaments and Bishop fundraisers focused on raising money for St. Crispin's expansion and remodel. Using the grounds by Province VII, council, diocesan organizations, women, clergy, vestry, and Cursilloproved a vital impetus for fundraising. 

In 2011, a new St. Crispin's Master Plan was created, and the Capital Campaign kicked off in 2014. The first fundraising phase concluded in 2018 with camp improvements and a large new dining hall and kitchen. The second phase of the St. Crispin's Capital Campaign included a new Oakerhater Lodge. This new building has provided conference facilities and on-site housing to many churches and outside organizations. The new buildings and camp enhancements have made St. Crispin's a modern-day retreat and transformational place of spiritual enrichment.

The first mission of St. Crispin's was to provide youth with meaningful life-changing experiences. Yet today, the mission has grown to include people of all ages and communities. It is a peaceful place offering hospitality, spiritual nourishment, and renewal.



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