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Chip Hutler is the new site director for Wesley Woods Camp and Retreat Center, located in Indianola, Iowa. He’s been in the ‘camp business’ for nearly 30 years, working at camps and YMCAs from Wisconsin to Arizona. Strangely enough, though, he didn’t grow up as a camper – in fact, he found himself rather unexpectedly falling into his career.
Click to watch the interview with the new Wesley Woods site director, Chip Hutler.
“I blame my wife,” Chip laughs. “My wife and I met in college in an ornithology class and I had not been exposed to camp as an experience or a job, or even given it any thought prior to that. We were going out at the time and she had worked at a summer camp the year before, a YMCA camp, and said ‘You know what, they’ve got a director’s job open—you should apply.'”
With no experience, he didn’t think he had a chance. “But my first camp boss saw potential in me in this line of work, and as I grew in experience, I found that I was really called to working in a faith-based camp and sharing God’s love and the beauty of his creation through experiences at camp, and being able to reach people in places through those experiences that everyday life or church was not reaching and touching them,” Chip explains.
“By getting people into a camp environment, getting them outdoors, giving them the opportunity to really relax and retreat and lay some burdens down at camp, it opened their heart and their mind and their faith to new experiences with Christ and a different walk in their journey could begin at camp.”
Chip acknowledges, though, that he and his counselors may not even realize the impact that they are having on their young charges. He often tells his summer staff, “You’re planting seeds, cultivating those seeds, but you may not see the fruit come to ripen.” As someone who has been in his career for so long, Chip has been fortunate to get to see some of the fruit, though. In his role as director, he often becomes particularly close to his staff, and has found it fulfilling to see the difference the camp experience makes in their lives. “Seeing them grow into young adults, be married, have children, and continue their faith walk, continue to pay it forward, volunteer at the camps, and remain engaged,” he says.
With the campers, it can be rewarding to see their transformation. “They walk in camp with their head down and their shoulders kind of forward, slumped,” Chip says, painting a picture of a certain sort of reluctant camper. “The child is like, ‘I will go, but I’m not gonna like it.’ And then we get them engaged in camp. We get them singing in worship service, we get them thinking about themselves, their relationship with others, their relationship with God, their relationship with the environment, and open some doors in their hearts and minds. And see them come back the following years and grow and stand up and come out of the car with a smile on their face and a spring in their step.”
Chip is thrilled with what Wesley Woods has to offer, with everything from equestrian to aquatics to ropes. “It has tremendous resources to provide great experiences. I see that as, in a sense, tools for us to work with to provide those experiences.” But in his new role, he intends to raise the bar in what they provide. “Keep making improvements, keep pushing forward, keep doing better,” he says. “I believe in the camp experience for kids, so I want to see more kids here. I want to see more campers here have that experience, have that opportunity.”
In considering the job, it was helpful for him to hear what this camp had meant to so many others. “I think the clincher was meeting people and talking to people with connection to Wesley Woods and just hearing their passion for the place. Their passion for the experience, and the belief they had in what Wesley Woods can be and is and has been,” Chip says. “This place has been a blessing to so many people and so many lives.”
He is beginning to find the places there that will be special to him. “There are already certain spots that I can see will become touchstones,” he shares. “Then when I need to have a conversation with God, there’s a spot that I go, sit down, and quiet myself and seek his presence.” The windmill is a favorite place so far. “I like the view, looking out over the landscape, and just kind of relishing that location.” In general, he simply loves the outdoor setting, hearing the wind in the trees and the birds singing as he takes time to reflect.
“You can see and feel the depth and breadth of experience that this place has provided for generations. It just has so much potential and such a bright future going forward to impact more people and provide those great experiences,” Chip says. Now he views it as his job “to make sure that we’re a destination that people come here and have a wonderful experience and enjoy their time, and can leave things behind and focus on God, focus on their relationship with each other. Just enjoy the presence of the place while they’re here.”