Koinonia Conference Grounds was officially launched on February 22,1960. On that day Martin and Martha Brown, Allan Jones and Eldridge Schlottman incorporated a nonprofit organization that would, in the next 40 years, grow to be one of the finest camps of its size in the Western United States. There was no inkling of this on that cold Saturday morning, just the prospect of a lot of hard work to turn the relatively undeveloped property into a place where kids could come for an exciting camping experience, and to hear the good news about Jesus Christ.
The Bay Area "Plymouth Brethren" Assemblies had begun holding summer camp for their kids in the late 1930's, first at Summer Home Farms and later at Mt. Hermon’s Redwood Camp and at Mission Springs Christian Conference Grounds. The dissatisfaction with renting someone else's facility, plus the announced intention of Mt. Hermon to only rent time for a couple more years, prompted the Assemblies camp committee to begin looking for a place to buy. This occurred around 1956.
Martin was the treasurer of the camp committee and was appointed to search for a suitable place. He found one in Lake County, for $37,000, but the camp committee could not agree to begin the process of buying it. Martin and Martha then spent the next 2 years, on weekends, looking for suitable land for a camp. They located a property belonging to Ludwig Schmidt in the Redwood Forest just above the city of Watsonville. In June of 1958, they sold their house in El Cerrito and bought the present property.
The next couple of years were preparation time. Martin and Martha began transporting their belongings from El Cerrito to camp in the "old green truck" and Martin began the process of clearing the land and planning out initial buildings, with help from Eldridge, Allan, and many others. Scarbourgh Lumber of Scotts Valley sent a logger (Drubble) to cut the trees that were on the building sites and to begin clearing. John Larkin and Martin did most of the leveling of the building’s pads and the grounds in general. Martin and Martha had been active with Christian Youth Fellowship (CYF) and those young people began coming down on weekends to help. An "open house" was held, and all the Bay Area Assemblies were invited to come and look over the property. Mr. Sam Douglas, a retired building contractor drove in and offered to spend 4 days a week helping with the building. (Douglas Lodge was latter named in his honor.) Martha's brother-in-law, Don Taylor, Executive Director of Stewards Foundation, came for a week's visit to look at the property and discuss a possible loan. He said that a loan would have to be guaranteed by the Bay Area Assemblies. After several informal meetings it was decided to form a nonprofit corporation and Martin and Martha agreed to donate a portion of their property (7-10 acres) to the corporation.
At that first corporation meeting in February 1960, officers were elected (Martin, President, Allan, Vice President, Martha, Secretary and Eldridge, Treasurer.) They accepted the property donation, presented plans for the initial buildings (8 Cabins, dining hall/kitchen and a swimming pool), agreed to borrow $40,000 from Stewards Foundation and appointed Allan to form an advisory committee to assist in planning and organization of a camp.
Initially 6 assemblies agreed to guarantee about $30,000 of the proposed $40,000 loan and later 4 other Assemblies guaranteed the final $10,000. Workdays were organized so that volunteers from the Assemblies could come down and help in the construction and many Saturdays were taken up in this process. Money was scarce so everything was done by hand. The first 8 cabins were to be constructed on hilltops which were of solid rock. The ditches for the foundations were dug through this rock with pick and shovel and a lot of sweat energy. Martin bought an old cement mixer mounted on a trailer bed and all the cement for the 8 cabins were mixed in it and carried to the site in wheelbarrows.
The initial construction phase began in the Spring of 1960 and continued into the Spring of 1961, with many people coming down each weekend and small groups during holidays. Hayward Chapel took on a particular project, the building of the seating and stage for the amphitheater. The Redwood cabins were built first, then the dining room/kitchen and then the bathhouse and swimming pool. Dr. Burke did most of the work of converting the old Schmidt caretakers’ cabin into the nurse’s cabin. (This cabin was moved when Douglas Lodge was constructed.)
While building the kitchen Martin and Mr. Douglas (no one ever called him Sam) decided they could not afford to buy doors for the walk-in freezer and walk in refrigerator, so they would make them. They framed up the two rooms and the beveled door frames, but as they worked to make the matching doors, they found the task to be almost impossible. The doors had to be beveled just so to match the door frame and they just couldn't get it right. Finally, in desperation, Martin and Mr. Douglas kneeled there on the kitchen floor and asked the Lord to help them, to find a way for them to build those doors. They went on about their business. Shortly, Martin got a call from his old employer in San Francisco, Mr. Percell of John Mansville Construction Company. Mr. Percell wanted Martin to come up, because he had something he thought Martin could use for camp. Martin did not want to take the time in the middle of constructing the dining hall, but his old employer had been very supportive of Martin while building camp, so he reluctantly got in his truck and drove to the city. After exchanging pleasantries, his old boss told him to go out to the warehouse and see if he could use the items, he saved for him. When Martin went to the warehouse there were two freezer doors that had been recovered from a construction site. Martin groaned to himself, the door frames had already been finished, and the chances that these two doors would fit them were slim. He did not want to offend his old boss, however, so he loaded them into his truck and took them back to camp. No one would have anticipated what happened next! Not only did the doors fit the already constructed frames perfectly, but they were even hinged to swing as they had originally planned. To use them all they had to do was hang them.
In their October 1960 meeting the trustees elected 5 new trustees, Simpson Burke, Herbert Frybarger, Howard Jones, Robert Paterson, and Arthur Schnabel. Martin was hired as Camp Manager based on 6 hours work per day for 5 days a week!
All this hard work came to fruition on July 4, 1961, with a dedication and the first camp began. The campers were charged $23 for a week, which included $2.00 registration, $12.00 meals, $8.50 lodging, and $0.50 insurance. As yet we do not know who the speaker for that first camp was, but it was probably Bill Bush or Henry Peterson. Bill Bush was the speaker for the second year of camps.
The next 15 years were ones of steady growth as buildings were added, weekend conferences through the winter months were started and land was acquired. Martin and Martha bought the Hermit's Hut property in June 1961. Koinonia bought the rest of Martin and Martha's property, about 32 acres, in October 1964, and bought the Lister property in 1971.
In Spring 1962 the cook/speaker’s cabin were authorized, plus a restroom for the tent cabins, where the young people who worked on summer staff lived. This became a staff cabin by the time building started in 1964. By 1964 Hillside Chapel was in progress, and in 1965 Birch 9- 16 were started and when finished were partially used for summer staff housing in the summer and guest housing throughout the rest of the year.
In the late 60’s Martin and Martha purchased 150 acres directly above Koinonia, which became known as the “upper property.” M&M moved from the original house on the camp property to a new mobile home on the upper property to make room for Phil and Linda Gattey and their kids.
Koinonia was becoming a very busy place in the early 70’s, it was more than the Brown’s could do on their own. Phil and Linda were brought on primarily to help with the guest services side of the camp, but also to do whatever needed to be done.
In 1970, due to growing needs, it was decided to build “Douglas Lodge” as a facility to accommodate families. This building was finished and dedicated 1971 in memory of Sam Douglas.
Over the next several years we saw much growth in camper days (1 camper for one day = a camper day) that required many more facilities and staff to operate them. Dave Breuninger was brought on in 1971 to help Martin with the horse program and construction projects.
Bob Miller started a western riding horse program for campers on the upper property in the late 60’s. About a dozen horses were kept year-round and in the summer about 10 more horses were rented. Western riding, care of horses and trail rides were all offered to campers, after a short devotional on what the Bible had to say about horses.
To better serve our guests, in 1974 a dining room addition was built and dedicated in memory of one of our Board members who had recently passed away, Dave Foskett. At the end of 1974 the Gattey family left Koinonia to pursue other ventures. Phil became a board member in the 80’s and served several terms in that capacity.
In 1978 the founders, Martin & Martha Brown, retired from the camping ministry and Koinonia Conference Grounds. Fred Greenlaw who was the Board President at the time was asked by the Board of Directors to invite Dave Breuninger to become the new Executive Director. Dave accepted that position and is still currently employed as the ED as of 2016.
Because of county planning restrictions, Koinonia has not been able to expand the number of guests it serves for overnight conferences. What it has been able to do is continue what Martin started. Maintaining excellence in everything we do. All our facilities are kept updated, repaired, and refreshed for our guests to enjoy.
One of the larger facility changes at Koinonia was the addition of Brown Auditorium in 2000, dedicated to M&M Brown. Multiple ropes courses have been built for youth and adults. Another large addition to the kitchen dining facilities took place in 2010. In 2012, the “Gathering Place” patio area with gas fire pits was added and in 2014, a major remodel of Douglas Lodge was undertaken.
Koinonia has been a member of the Christian Camp and Conference Association since 1960, with over 1,000 member facilities in the US alone, and many more worldwide. In 2016, we served approximately 50,000 camper days, defining Koinonia Conference Grounds as what is considered a large camp/conference center.
Koinonia Conference Grounds exists to bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ by providing quality facilities, services, and programs to promote a vital relationship with God in all people both locally and globally.
Our primary purpose is to provide a facility of excellence for churches and individuals to use year-round as a place to retreat from the busyness of life, get alone with God and fellowship with others. We do our best to provide a comfortable, clean, and quiet place in a beautiful setting that allows our guests to focus on the teaching of the Bible, and the beauty all around them God has created for their enjoyment.
We also provide a facility for Outdoor Science School where our local youth are taught about the environment they live in. This program is run by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education. We have been hosting their program since 1991 and have seen a few come to know Jesus and attend our summer camps.
Koinonia has its own program camps that take place during the summer months, for youth and families of all ages. We take very seriously the opportunities that are found in bringing people away from their everyday lives and provide teaching form God’s Word. This is what we have been about from day one.
Longevity of staff has been a huge benefit to the success of our operation.
We used to be able to operate with volunteers, but for many years now, we have had a fully paid maintenance staff, food service staff, guest service staff and management team. We have camps almost every day of the week with the exceptions of some Mondays (during the school year), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.
High school students and young adults have enjoyed serving on summer staff since camp’s beginnings. Summer staff responsibilities include maintenance, ropes, concessions, dining room duties, life guarding, and general camp clean up. Pat Staples from summer staff 1969, spoke of her time on staff saying, “This summer I have experienced more fully than ever before the preciousness of Christian fellowship, the joy of working in order that God might be honored, the thrill of seeing prayers answered, and the peace that comes from knowing God is in control of your life.” Pat’s sentiment can be echoed by 50 years of summer staffers.
To be continued…