Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Camp Miniwanca, revisited

DAY TEN: While we are here with Paul and Jenny and Max there isn't quite so much to report, but I promised on June 2nd, in a blog about Camp Miniwanca in Michigan, that I would tell more of the story behind the camp and Shirley's experience there as a "Danny Grad."

First of all, a bit about William H. Danforth. Danforth was a businessman and devoted Christian layman. He was the founder, in 1894, of the Ralston-Purina Company.  Quoting from the Purina website, "William H. Danforth was known to the American business world as a rugged pioneer who took his health seriously and lived by the same values throughout his entire life. He shared his belief in his book “I Dare You” and with the “Monday Morning Messages” he sent to his employees for nearly 40 years"

The young William H. Danforth
From Wikipedia: "Ralston's checkerboard logo evolved from a personal development concept Danforth put forth in his book I Dare You in which he used a checkerboard to explain it. Danforth proposed that four key components in life need to be in balance. In the illustration, "Physical" was on the left, "Mental" on top, "Social" on right and "Religious" on the bottom. To be healthy, you needed the four squares to stay in balance and one area was not to develop at expense of the other. The concept became intertwined with the company in 1921 when it began selling feed that was pressed in cubes called 'checkers.'"  So if you eat any of the scores of "Chex" products, you are indirectly affirming Danforth's "four-square" philosophy of life. (You might see five squares below but you need to concentrate on the white squares). (The "Chex" trademark is now owned by General Mills who acquired it from Ralston-Purina in 1997).

 To give you the flavor of Danforth's approach to life, here are some quotations from I Dare You:

+ Our most valuable possessions are those which can be shared without lessening: those which, when shared, multiply. Our least valuable possessions are those which, when divided, are diminished.

+ Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the conquest of it.

+ I have found opportunities do not come to those who wait. They are captured by those who attack.

+ Treat everybody alike, no matter from what station in life he comes. Be your own self with all people whether they be prince or pauper.

+ I have observed that setting a goal makes no appeal to the mediocre. But to those fired with an ambition really to achieve greatly, setting a goal becomes a program that stirs the inner soul to action.

Danforth established the Danforth Foundation in 1927, and it grew to become a multi-million dollar philanthropic organization, based in St. Louis. It lasted for 85 years and over its lifetime gave out $1.2 billions in over 4,700 grants. It gave out its final grant - $70 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis - in 2011. In academic circles it was best known for its Danforth Fellowships which provided scholarships for graduate students in fields other than religion to study religion. Many campuses also had what were called "Danforth Associates." Established in 1941, the goal of the Danforth Associate Program was to improve the quality of human relations in colleges and universities. Through recognition of gifted teachers, and their wives or husbands, and through various programs of assistance, efforts were made on the local campus to strengthen the personal dimension of education, especially in student-faculty relationships.  E.g., faculty members would have a budget that would allow them to host student gatherings in their home for discussion. That program ended in 1986.

William H. Danforth also financed the building of small meditation chapels on at least 24 college campuses, some of them, like Arizona State University,  state-funded institutions. Most of these "Danforth Chapels" still exist and are often heavily used, as is the case at ASU.  They can be found at, viz. -

• Camp Miniwanca, Mich.
• Berea College, Berea, Ky.
• University of Iowa, Iowa City
• Colorado State University, Ft. Collins
• University of South Dakota, Vermillion
• University of Kansas, Lawrence
• Kansas State University, Manhattan
• Montana State University, Bozeman
• Morehouse College, Atlanta
• Arizona State University, Tempe
• Florida Southern, Lakeland
• University of Tennessee, Chattanooga
• Central Missouri State University, Warrensburg
• Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa
• University of Buena Vista, Storm Lake, Iowa
• University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg

 Inside each of these chapels is always found a plaque which reads:


One of the smaller programs of the Danforth Foundation, but nevertheless a significant one, that touched many lives, was the "Danforth Graduate" Program, which sponsored a year of campus religious work for college graduate women from all over the United States. These women came to be called "Danny Grads" and in 1954, after her graduation from Wellesley College, Shirley Harris became a Danny Grad. These women went to Camp Miniwanca, near Shelby, MI, for almost a month of orientation and training. Shirley was there most of August, 1954. And that is what took Ellen and I to Camp Miniwanca at the beginning of June this year, on our way west.

As an aside: Danny Grads were  typically assigned to a campus 1,000 miles away from the college they graduated from, and also an attempt was made to make their assignment a contrast to what they were accustomed to. Thus Shirley, who had had a rich educational and cultural experience at Wellesley, was sent to Pittsburg State Teachers College, in Pittsburg, KS - a contrast in every way! Shirley felt she had been exiled to Outer Mongolia, but she made the best of it. If she had not been sent there, I would probably never have met her, because she came to a conference at Chicago Theological Seminary in November of 1954, where we met, precisely because she was starved for the sort of intellectual stimulation that was lacking at KSTC.

Back to Camp Miniwanca:  William H. Danforth was also one of the founders of The American Youth Foundation, which owns and still runs Camp Miniwanca.The Camp still promotes his basic philosophy. The Church in the Dunes, which serves as the Camp chapel, features a large quilt over the altar which contains the four-square logo of "Mental, Social, Religious and Physical."

The Church in he Dunes as it appeared on a 1954 postcard Shirley sent home
Church of the Dunes today with MSRP quilt

I will continue this story later . . .


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  3. I am researching the Danforth Foundation and the Danforth Chapels, which were build in 24 locations—22 in the US, 1 in India, and 1 in Japan. I appreciate your post about Miniwanca, the location of the first Danforth Chapel (a small stone chapel next to the Church of the Dunes).