Wonderland One Hundred!

by Colonel Richard Munn

[Disclaimer: It is essentially impossible for the author to write an objective article on Camp Wonderland, the place where he was saved, met his wife, and later served as camp director. It is holy ground for him.]

This year marks the 100th anniversary for Camp Wonderland, “the happy summer place.” Staff, alumni, and friends will gather at the camp complex in Sharon, Mass., for a “Legacy of Love” celebration this Memorial Day weekend, ready for a wide array of activities and reunions.

A Century of Wonderland

Founded on pristine property on the shores of Lake Massapoag in 1924, at the height of the national “fresh air” camp movement, this classic New England summer camp has served Massachusetts children, Salvationists, and senior citizens and hosted conference groups ever since.

In addition to innumerable guests who have stayed in the attractive and adjacent Wonderland Conference Center, known for many years as the Hillcrest Lodge, we can conservatively estimate that over 100,000 children have spent a week or more at Camp Wonderland during this time. Wear a Camp Wonderland T-shirt in Massachusetts, and it is quite likely someone will share with you a story of their stay.

Over the years, a prosperous, leafy lakeside suburb has grown around the camp. While this necessitates a crossing guard, a quirky feature, the surrounding protected woodlands and the lake itself ensure seclusion. Quite beautifully, the citizens of Sharon and town officials consistently express genuine affection for Camp Wonderland.

Growth and Change

As necessary, even essential, for flourishing in the past 100 years, the 103-acre property and structures have experienced frequent refurbishment, development, and reconstruction. This includes the Hillcrest Lodge in the 1950s, the Lakeview apartments and woodland pioneering site in the 1970s, a revitalized conference center and outdoor shell amphitheater in the 1980s, a new dining hall in the 1990s, a complete camper cabin overhaul in the 2000s, and staff housing renovations, just recently completed.

Triumph Over Adversity

While the camp is greatly loved by alumni staff, leaders, and campers, the Wonderland story is not without drama and grief. Awaiting an appointment to India, 23-year-old Captain Paul O. Rader was struck by lightning and perished on the lake while trying to bring campers ashore during an approaching storm in 1928. New England coastal hurricanes in 1976 and 1991 inflicted significant property and waterfront damage, and pine trees periodically have fallen onto wooden frame structures. Then, shockingly, a middle-of-the-night electrical fire razed the large dining hall in August 1990. Add to this some depleted summer seasons due to community funding shortfalls and the recent COVID-19 pandemic, and we have a story of triumph over adversity.

People and Personalities

And yet, the Camp Wonderland story is more importantly about people and personalities. And here the list is rich, even extraordinary.

Think: Commissioner William McIntyre, who founded the camp and purchased the property; saintly Colonel Joseph Atkinson, for whom the chapel is named; Commissioners Robert and Kathleen Rightmire and Commissioners Marilyn and William Francis, senior international leaders who once served as camp directors; Lt. Colonels Douglas and Claralyn Lowman, who spearheaded the dining hall reconstruction; former territorial leader Commissioner Lorraine Bamford and biblical academics Drs. Roger Green, David Rightmire, and Gordon Hugenberger, who all served as young staff members; and remarkably, five Training College principals, Commissioners William Francis and Mark Tillsley, Colonel Janet Munn, Lt. Colonels Steve Banfield and Jim LaBossiere, who all once served as camp staff.

Then, include legendary people who have served the camp for multiple successive years, even decades, like head cook Minnie Jackson; groundskeepers Clarence Bowles, Reg Cave, and Kevin Hylen; Conference Center director Rob Malenich; and now Jen Forster, the current camp director.

Add to this Wonderland Hall of Fame the musical groups, musicians, and international guests associated with the annual music camp and Labor Day camp meetings, and we embark on a veritable Who’s Who of Salvation Army history. This includes National Commander Evangeline Booth; General Bramwell and Commissioner Maud Tillsley; General Shaw and Commissioner Helen Clifton; the New York Staff Band, Mass Brass, and The Cambridge Silver and Boston Central Bands; ISB Bandmaster Ray Bowes; Drs. Ron and Bea Holz; composers Jim Curnow, Steve Bulla, and Bruce Broughton; Bandmasters Charlie Baker, Ron Waiksnoris, and Bill Rollins; Broadway actor Carol Jaudes; and more.


Of course, from the first day until now, it has always been all about mission. The very grounds are dedicated to God and the mission of the Army. The entire camp ethos is about serving children, and the staff can be counted on to share the good news of the gospel, session in and session out. Kids raise hands to accept Christ, or bow their heads in prayer during campfire devotions, or understand for the first time the gospel story as enacted in Jesus Theater, or return home with a paperback New Testament. Seeds are planted by the hundreds, seeds that will bear fruit in due season.

As a strategy for evangelism, summer camping is reliably reported as the singularly most effective and fruitful endeavor.

Yes indeed, this Memorial Day weekend, we celebrate a true Legacy of Love and eagerly anticipate commencing the 101st season at the “happy summer place.”

Wonderland 100: CW 100th Anniversary (wonderland100.org)