Robert Vinson retires from Camp BaberPublished 8:10pm Wednesday, May 22, 2013
CASSOPOLIS — Robert Vinson is winding down after devoting half his life to Camp Baber.
Vinson, 66, is retiring after 33 years managing and maintaining the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church camp.
Although located just down the hill from the village business district on the back side of Stone Lake, its secluded location makes it a mystery to many locals.
“I do it all,” said Vinson, who sharpened his maintenance supervisor skills with three years in the Army in Germany during the Vietnam era.
The Cleveland native came to Camp Baber from Benton Harbor and will retire to Aurora, Colo., where his four children and 11 grandchildren live.
“I worked for Auto Specialties, and it went out on strike in 1980,” he said. “The pastor of Union Memorial said they needed a caretaker at Camp Baber,” established in 1949. “I wasn’t familiar with it at all until I got the job. It has really grown. It’s much bigger,” with nine buildings and a swimming pool.
For example, this week there has been a retreat for ministers from seven states and Canada, including the Rev. Jerri Porter, Conner-Mayo AME pastor in Dowagiac since October 2010.
“Basically, we go from now until sometimes November,” Vinson said, “depending on when people want to use it, basically on weekends. We’ve got band camp coming up for seven days June 15-22. People come out of Chicago, Detroit and Flint. Very few local people use the camp, but our plan is to have an open house to let local people and churches know it’s available for retreats, picnics, whatever. A lot of people right here don’t know it’s here or think it’s only for AME people, which it’s not. It’s for anybody who wants to inquire about a retreat.”
Vinson, who lives in a house on the grounds, said the camp is named for a church bishop.
“There’s a lot of work involved,” he said of keeping up the hilly grounds. “You get older, you get tired. Camp’s been good to me, God’s been good to me. I’m leaving while I’m in good health. I have a staff of five who take care of food service, a groundskeeper and two housekeepers. Most of my staff have been with me for 14 to 20 years. We’ve never had trouble with anybody as far as breaking in or damage. We can sleep 200 at one time. We’re licensed as a children’s camp, so we can host children’s retreats.”
“A typical day,” he said, “you monitor your buildings and cut grass. We probably cut it twice a week and it takes six hours. Mainly, stay on top of it so you can be just about maintenance-free. I created my own work habits as I went on” 33 years ago.
“I just took the ball and ran with it,” he said. “Self-taught, helped by my military background,” although he never needed his chemical warfare training.
His successor is coming from East St. Louis, Ill.
— Dowagiac Daily News