New site director hired for the camp Okoboji

January 09, 2017

Derek Bergman will assume his role at the Camp Okoboji site director on Feb. 27. Pictured are Bergman, his wife, Amy, and children (from left) Kaden, 6, Kyler, 1, and Tava, 9.

We may still be several months away from the sun and warmth of summer, but one new Iowa Conference hire is already thinking about it. Derek Bergman was recently hired by the Conference as the site director for the Lake Okoboji. He is slated to begin at his new position on Feb. 27.

“I’m looking forward to meeting everyone and hearing their stories about Okoboji,” said Bergman. “I’ve got a lot of work to do to learn the history of the camp and what it means to everyone else.”

Bergman has been the program director at Camp Fontanelle in Nebraska for the past nine years. Prior to Camp Fontanelle, he was a manager at Mosaic in Omaha, Neb., a day service workshop for people with intellectual disabilities.

Bergman originally wasn’t looking for a change from his job at Camp Fontanelle, but he was acquainted with Bryan Johnson, Leadership Development Director for Camping and Christian Formation with the Iowa Conference. Johnson reached out to Bergman to let him know the position at Okoboji was opened if he was interested in it.

“I jumped on that and said, ‘Let’s see where God takes us,’” said Bergman. “If nothing else, I wanted to see Okoboji and learn a little bit through the interview process if they had me go that far.”

Johnson said the final three candidates for the position all brought unique experiences to the table, making them each extremely qualified. But, said Johnson, Bergman possessed a little extra.

“It was very obvious (Bergman) takes his faith and United Methodist allegiance very seriously,” he said. “It’s not just a part of who he is, but also who his family is.”

Bergman’s on the job experience at Camp Fontanelle and his certifications including Red Cross lifeguard certification and a ropes facilitator certification, fit perfectly with the activities Camp Okoboji has to offer.

Taste for camping

Bergman knew early on he wanted to work in a camp setting. While studying elementary education at Peru State College, Peru, Neb., Bergman worked at two different summer camps through his college years.

“I got a taste for camping early,” said Bergman. “I got it in my blood, and I can’t get it out.”

Bergman has another reason to like the camp setting so much. He met his wife Amy at Camp Fontanelle. They married at the camp and lived there for nine years. During those nine years, there, they had three children: a daughter Tava, 9, and two sons, Kaden, 6, and Kyler who turns 2 in February. Johnson said he is happy to have the whole family help with the camp experience at Okoboji.

“It’s pretty obvious it’s not just Derek’s ministry, but his family’s ministry, too,” said Johnson. “It’s part of who they are and who they want to me.”

Creating a welcoming environment

Bergman’s job, first and foremost, is to ensure the safety and well-being of the children and adults who visit Camp Okoboji, said Johnson. He also must be an exceptional leader for staff and participants at the camp.

“He has experience with the American Camp Association and is very deliberate in how he thinks and acts,” he said. “His experience will lend itself very well to those tasks.”

In addition to the safety of campers, Bergman wants to create a welcoming environment where campers can nurture their relationship with Jesus. Johnson’s observation of deliberateness is reflected in Bergman’s plans for the future.

“If I start something new, I want to learn as much as possible, so we don’t make the same mistakes or disrupt anything that’s happened before,” said Bergman. 

Past success

Bergman’s work at Camp Fontanelle helped bring more in more campers. He helped start an annual Gaga Ball tournament at Camp Fontanelle. Gaga Ball is like dodgeball, only played in a pit and is a popular game in camps across the country. 

The tournament brought youth groups from all over to play against each other. One youth group took the idea of the Gaga Ball tournaments to its home church and doubled the size of its youth group as a result. 

Bergman also hopes to get college age and older adults more involved at Lake Okoboji. In Nebraska, traditionally adults volunteer as camp counselors. 

“Adults bring a lot of knowledge and experience ministering with youth and kids,” said Bergman.

He hopes some of the successes and programs he oversaw at Camp Fontanelle can be transferred to Lake Okoboji. Johnson believes it will, and Bergman will be successful in his new role.

“The Iowa Conference is going to be very happy with his maturity and experience,” he said. “The Conference will be very proud.”