William Frederick (“Chief”) Weiherman had been a teacher and youth director in St. Louis before taking over the role of Manager at Camp Arcadia. He, along with his wife Hildegarde (“Mom”) and their daughter Esther (“Rinkie”), played an incredibly important role in establishing Camp’s programs, policies and personality from the very beginning.
Despite serving in a full-time capacity at Camp Arcadia beginning in the summer of 1922, Chief was finally called the Director starting in 1927, a role that he would hold until his death in 1963. Throughout these four decades, Chief would serve Camp in many capacities: as a manager, fundraiser, promoter, lecturer, Dean, song writer and song leader. Mom oversaw the housekeeping staff, was quick to help in the kitchen, and even had her hand in writing several Camp songs. Rinkie also served Camp – officially on the housekeeping staff when she became “of age,” but perhaps more profoundly with the gift of her art, featured on the exterior of the Wigwam, inside the Trading Post and in the Shanty (staff dining room).
Throughout Chief’s tenure as director, he faced many significant challenges including paying off large debts (several times), navigating the Great Depression and its effects, managing relationships as the town of Arcadia grew larger, and even running Camp on rations (and Camp’s own farm) during World War II.
During Chief’s tenure, Camp Arcadia’s staff fluxed between 6 and 32 members. Camp employed local, Leo Tondu as full-time caretaker starting in 1943. By 1947, construction on the Wigwam is complete, offering much needed space by moving the office, snack shop, and staff quarters out of other buildings. The promotional video below was created in 1947 to promote Camp Arcadia during it’s 25th Anniversary season.
“By the 1960s, a trend away from involvement in organized groups left the Walther League and Camp Arcadia in financial trouble. The Walther League board met to consider the next steps for Camp. It was during their time of discernment that Chief Weiherman died here at RKD. International officers met at a board meeting at Camp Arcadia. Chief Weiherman was called to his heavenly home during the meeting,” – Wally Bronner.
Toward the end of Chief’s life, his role as Camp Director only continued to become more difficult. The 1963 season marked eight consecutive years of operating losses and a distinct lack of support from the Walther League, which was independently in decline. With no assistant director or succession plan in place, many thought that Chief’s death might signal the end of Camp Arcadia, itself. If not for the support of loyal campers and cottagers, it surely would have been.
In Frank W. Miller’s Camp Arcadia: The First Sixty Years, he includes a tribute to Chief written by esteemed lecturer, Richard R. Caemmerer:
Chief Weiherman had a timeless quality about him. He seemed much more than his thirty-five years when I first knew him, for he was already a veteran classroom teacher and youth worker. He had founded Arcadia five years before. He was known from coast to coast as a speaker, toast-master and story-teller without equal. But Chief knew a great deal about time. It was more than seconds on a watch or deadlines of duties. For him it went in both directions. Al that was good and God’s way from the past had to go along, yet how wonderful he found it to relish each new experience and each tomorrow.
“A bonus day!” he would exclaim about blue sky and lake in response to a good-morning at Camp. To him the march of time was God’s gift – not to blot out the old but to merge it with the fresh and new.
So it was that we never noticed his shock of hair whiter, or his quick step a little slower. Each new homecoming at Arcadia made discoveries of dozens of improvements, yet we were always glad to find the good things and people of the past. “Chiefnmom” – always one word – were the symbol of this continuity.
“Chief’s daisy” was the hallmark of his way of life. He drew it on countless blackboards and had a thousand variants of one and the same lecture about it: that all the facets of life should spring from one and the same golden center of our life in God through Christ. Arcadia was the proving-ground for it, and many of us there learned it and tried to take it back to the church: that God is not a dimension of existence for a perfunctory hour of worship in church, but that we live in and from and for Him all the time, also in toil and fun, alone and in the crowd. This was new a generation ago; now it has become a program for the church across the whole front, worship and vocation, word and witness. And Chief was in the middle of the movement!
Chief helped to pioneer many things in the church and in the Walther League – the Lutheran Youth building, membership growth, the assimilation of the Boy Scout program, the expansion of the Wheat Ridge Foundation, the shift to the new dimensions of leadership training and special care for the junior-age group. He was not given to whining about new needs and stresses. For when your life springs out of God, it is time to make new discoveries.
“What wonderful people we’ll meet in heaven,” he said when I told him of the death of my young colleague, Henry Reimann. His view on God’s kind of life was one that made heaven no retirement, but a bundle of marvellous new tasks for people. Quite possibly the last earthly sound to strike his ears was the singing of his young co-workers – singing about heaven. He looked forward to it, too, as a bonus day, with skies bluer than Arcadia, and good people crowding in to sound the praise of God.
Enjoy this digitized 1928 16mm homemade promotional film by Camp Director Chief Weiherman.
To read more about Camp’s history and in greater detail, see Camp Arcadia: The First Sixty Years, by Dr. Frank W. Miller, J.B. Publications, Manistee, 1982 and The Hopes and Dreams of All: The International Walther League and Lutheran Youth in American Culture, 1983-1993, Dr. Jon F. Pahl, Wheat Ridge Ministries, Chicago, 1993.
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