Rev. Dr. John Hardman recalls a decade of change at Spring Heights

By Ken Krimmel

For many people in the West Virginia Conference, the name Spring Heights is synonymous with the name John Hardman. That’s because the Rev. Dr. John Hardman served as the director of Spring Heights for 13 years, from 1980 until 1993.

During his tenure as director, Dr. Hardman helped transform the camp into the facility as we know it today. On Friday June 7, I sat down with Dr. Hardman and asked him to describe the changes that took place at Spring Heights while he was director. The following is an account of his memory of those changes, in his own words. It was a delight to relive those years with Dr. Hardman as he still lights up with excitement and enthusiasm as he talks about Spring Heights.

“The West Virginia United Methodist Church is celebrating the 60th anniversary of Spring Heights Education Center, its camp and conference center located in Roane County. The facility was used for a number of activities, programs and events. For about half of its history the church used Spring Heights as a meeting place for local churches, districts and even private events such as weddings, homecomings, and birthday celebrations.

The camping program was primarily planned and scheduled by volunteers. The three retreat cottages provided sleeping facilities, meeting space and dining facilities. Camping facilities included very rustic cabins and temporary dining facilities. The volunteers planned the programs, staffed them with volunteers, chose program resources, and even prepared food service for camps. The only hired staff was a superintendent, maintenance staff and part-time cooks for events in the retreat cottages.

The camps were hit and miss at best. As late as 1980, 17 camps were planned but by opening day 9 of the 17 had already been cancelled. Since then Spring Heights has become one of the premier outdoor Christian religious education camps in the entire United Methodist Church. The changes that made the development of Spring Heights camping program what it became are four-fold.

The greatest change at Spring Heights occurred when the Annual Conference hired a full-time camp director and placed the entire operation of Spring Heights, including the maintenance staff, all camping programs, camping staff and direction of camps, under the program director’s responsibility.

This meant that Spring Heights became a facility and program of outdoor Christian religious education and not just a place to have meetings and volunteer programs.

The director was a member of the Conference Council on Ministries staff and lived in Roane County. The director hired and supervised the staff, including maintenance and program staff, and recruited and trained the camping staff.

The second most important change at Spring Heights was hiring a summer camp staff, including counselors, musicians, religious educators, and a food service staff.

Most of the summer staff included students from U.S. colleges and seminaries and international staff that included people from England, Scotland, Germany, China, India, New Zealand, the Czech Republic and Holland. This provided a truly inclusive Christian emphasis.

The third most important change at Spring Heights was the extensive staff training. It began with intentional staff recruitment and a very intense pre-camp training which included all staff, including site staff as well as program staff. Curriculum for the training was developed by the committee on outdoor ministries of The United Churches of Christ in America and approved by the Board of Higher Education of The United Methodist Church. The staff training program was recognized by the Board of Higher Education of The United Methodist Church as one of the best in our denomination.

The fourth important change at Spring Heights was the addition of the new camp facilities such as the villages of Turkey Ridge and Homestead as well as two new retreat cottages and a renovated dining hall. In addition, the water and sewer infrastructure were updated during that time.

In order to be faithful to the mission of The United Methodist Church, and for that matter, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Springs Heights has as its mission the development of discipleship.”