Where were you on Memorial Weekend in 1979?

By Stacy Kutz, Families and Youth Director

Where were you on Memorial Day Weekend, 1979? For many of our longtime members they were attending West Side’s first MDR at Ramblewood Retreat Center in Sequim.  

Take a look at this photo and see if you can pick out... Paul Aronson, Bill Batts, Dan Kutz, Sheree Porter, Scott Porter, Jeff Ernst, Larry Burke, Kim Chamberlain, Jenni Batts, Ken McLaughlin and Tom Speckhart to name a few.
This year will be the 43rd Memorial Day Retreat that West Side has hosted! As students and leaders are getting ready to embark on a weekend filled with worship, diving into God’s Word, playing crazy games and getting some sleep, I thought it would be fun to take a look back over the years.

Tom Lee was the Minister to Youth in 1979, and I guess you could say he was the “founder of MDR”! Jenni Batts refers to that first year as “Rambleweed” because they slept in 3-sided sleep shelters instead of cabins!
Perhaps because of Jenni’s grumbling, MDR moved to Cornet Bay Retreat Center in Deception Pass State Park in 1980. The speaker this year was our very own Freda Ricord! Her talk asked the question, “Would God Really Miss Me?” I’d love to have sat at Freda’s feet to hear her message!!

My first MDR was in 1981. Danny Kutz invited me, and we were “sweethearts.” I have no idea what the talks were on, but I do distinctly remember the two of us getting locked in the gym at Camp Casey and having to write letters home to our parents. Hmmmm?!!
Paul Smith headlined MDR 1982, baptizing many of the students in Puget Sound. Brrrrr!
In 1986 MDR was held at Miracle Ranch. Assistant Pastor Erik Ohman led a Western themed weekend.  

Karol Aronson became West Side’s Minister to Youth in 1988. MDR was hosted at Black Lake Bible Camp near Olympia.  

Over the next few years, MDR moved to Camp Arnold, Cascades Camp, Camp Brotherhood, and Cashmere Fairgrounds.  

16 of the next 17 years the Memorial Day Retreat was held at Camp Seymour, a YMCA camp located in Gig Harbor. Greg Hjort was the Speaker in 2008.
My first year leading MDR was in 2016. The funny (maybe) story here is that Memorial Day weekend was just about my family’s favorite weekend of the year… for VERY different reasons. Dan has attended most of the Memorial Day Retreats over the years. He can talk for hours about the speakers, bands, and games that were played. I, on the other hand, only attended two: the one in 1981 and I think one other that was at Miracle Ranch. This was intentional. I almost held this as a “Badge of Honor.” Every year I looked forward to my time alone while everyone else was at Miracle Ranch. Of course, there were those years Joshua had baseball tournaments – but hey, who DOESN’T love baseball?!!  

So I planned, I prepared and I prayed – having absolutely no idea what MDR even looked like. Not Miracle Ranch, I had been there many times, but OUR Memorial Day Retreat. I mean, Night Game, Adventure Game, and really … what was the purpose of silly games before worshipping?
I mentioned I prayed right? I prayed that our lives would be impacted by the teaching of His Word. I prayed that His presence would be tangible, felt. I prayed for safety and health. I prayed for discernment, protection, wisdom. I prayed for the leaders – that God would shine through them to the students. That there would be meaningful conversations and that leaders would take advantage of the opportunities God provided them with to come alongside and LOVE on the students and each other. I prayed for all these things and many more.  

AND I jumped on the bus …  

I know the MDR experience can be exhausting. It is almost comical that we call this weekend away a “retreat,” as we know the schedule is full. Yet each year I am struck by the teaching, the worship, and the crazy fun that only comes when you are exhausted.
But (and just so you know, my mom always said the most important thing to listen to is what comes after the “but”) in the busyness of the weekend, in the exhaustion, God draws all of us closer to Him. Everything we do at MDR is an excuse to build relationships with students and show them Christ’s love. The rules of the games and the small group questions are important but a spirit of excitement and desire to be present among students is the most powerful. He does amazing things in each of our lives: students and adults.  

So why MDR for now 43 years? Because West Side desires to be witnesses to our world of the redemptive, transformative truth of the gospel. To be a community where students encounter God, connect in community, and discover how God empowers them to share His love with others.  
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