Sale of Camp Otto brings mixed feelings

Wednesday, June 6, 2007
The VanZandt family have been caretakers at Camp Otto for many years.

CLOVERDALE -- At the end of a winding gravel road, just a few miles outside of Cloverdale, is Joe and June VanZandt's little corner of paradise.

Their grandchildren, 16-year-old Justin Brandman, 10-year-old Tyler Ray, 12-year-old Lynsey Mullins and 15-year-old Bryan Mullins, like to visit on the weekends to fish or swim in the 5-acre lake -- called Paradise Lake -- tromp through the woods or just run wild on the 45-acre property.

June is intrigued by a family of beavers that is putting the finishing touches on a dam at the opposite end of the lake and Joe enjoys the peace and serenity of it all.

Camp Otto is its name and it is located about a mile off of Ind. 42 between Cloverdale and Cagles Mill Lake, just south of the Putnam-Owen County line.

The VanZandts are the caretakers of the property which has been a treasured retreat for members of Meridian Street United Methodist Church in Indianapolis for more than 40 years.

Church member Scott Peterson said the church bought the property in 1965 and used it for summer youth camps and family retreats. It was named after Bill and Dorothy Otto, church members who were some of the early caretakers of the camp.

In its heyday, the camp attracted up to 40 groups a year from the church, including disadvantaged youth from the Indianapolis area, families of church members and church gatherings.

But as the years have passed and the needs of the church have changed, Camp Otto has seen a decline in its use. Peterson, who is president of the church's board of trustees, said the decision was made to sell the property a little more than a year ago.

"It's sad to see it go, but we have to be practical about things," Peterson said.

On Thursday, Camp Otto will be sold to the highest bidder during a 7 p.m. auction at the property. Colliers Turley Martin Tucker commercial real estate company in Indianapolis is the listing agent.

The property comes complete with the lake, acres of woods and a series of buildings that include a dining hall, meeting room, caretaker's cabin and a girls' and boys' dormitory that sleeps 40. There are also several boats, a playground, swimming beach, basketball court, camping area and a trail through the woods.

"I didn't like it here at first," June said of the couple's move to the property next door almost six years ago. "But it grew on me and now I'd never want to move from here."

June spends about half the week mowing the grounds, cleaning the camp buildings and scheduling groups to visit. Joe makes repairs around the property when necessary.

They don't know what will happen to the property after it is sold or if their services will be needed anymore.

When the church announced that it was selling the property more than a year ago, many people have stopped by for one last visit.

"Once the word got out that they were selling it, people would just come and say, 'Can we sit at the picnic table for a couple hours' or 'can we go fishing one last time?'" June said.

Joe added, "We're hoping another church gets it or a private owner."

But regardless of what may happen to the property, no one can take away the memories that the VanZandts and countless families who have enjoyed the property through the years, hold in their hearts.

"There's been a whole gamut of things that have happened here," Joe said. "Some families have been coming here for 30 to 40 years and they are sad that it's being sold."

Recently a couple who came to the camp in their youth returned to renew their wedding vows. Another carved their initials in the side of a tree that overlooks the lake.

Of everything that helped make Camp Otto what it was, June says she'll miss the children the most. As a keepsake, she holds on to a couple of handwritten notes, which the children wrote to one another, that they left behind at the end of their stay at camp.

"They are so cute," she said.

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