Byron Bible Camp came into being in 1937 as a home mission project of the American Sunday School Union. Rev. and Mrs. Lyman Lockwood, Mr. and Mrs. Rudolph Anderson and Mr. and Mrs. Gene Harmon met in the Lockwood home on Thanksgiving Day, 1936 to make their plans and pray. On July 6-11, 1937 59 young people and about 12 staff met at the YMCA Lodge on Lake Byron for the first camp under the direction of Gene and Hazel Harmon. From 1938-1940 there were two weeks of camp each summer at Lake Byron. The lake dried up and camp was held on Farm Island at Pierre in 1941.
In the 1940’s the camp rented land from John M. Tschetter on the James River, later that land was purchased from the family. In 1942 the camp was held in its new location with its own buildings.
In October of 1942 the first Byron Bible Camp Pheasant Hunt was held.
After serving under the American Sunday School Union for 20 years Gene Harmon resigned and devoted himself full-time to the ministry of Byron Bible Camp. Over the years, junior camps, senior high camps, tour camps, family camps, guest camps, sport camps, winter retreats, International retreats and senior citizens’ retreats were developed. In 1969 Gene Harmon said “More than fifty missionaries on the foreign field of the world point to Byron Bible Camp as either the place of their salvation or dedication for service.”
Native American Outreach
In the late 1940’s the camp took on a ministry to Native Americans. In 1968 there were 260 Native Americans that attended camp. Gene Harmon said, “Some 50 of them responded to the claim of Jesus Christ and accepted Him as their Savior.” It is recorded that in the 1960’s a week of camp was dedicated to reaching the underprivileged boys and girls of the Huron area.
After Gene’s death in 1971, three of his sons served as directors. Phil and Connie Harmon served as directors from 1971 to 1982. During Phil’s leadership the boys’ dorm was renovated, a big slide was moved to the camp and the Harmon memorial building was built. Craig Harmon left teaching to take leadership and direct the camp for eight years with the help of his wife Dorothy. Buildings were remodeled and additional staff were hired during that time. Joel and Bobbie Harmon served as program directors and later stepped into being the directors for 12 years from 1986 to 1998.
A Devastating Flood
In 1997 a devastating flood destroyed much of Byron Bible Camp’s facilities. The camp board waited for a financial settlement from the State of South Dakota. In April of 2000 Jon Duba came to serve as director of the camp along with his wife Elizabeth. In the summer of 2000 the Harmon Memorial retreat center was renovated so that the ministries of Byron Bible Camp could continue. Since 2000 the camp has been running a year round ministry with retreats, summer camps and winter camps. A wide variety of new things were built like a climbing wall, obstacle course, new water front, frisbee golf course, Mohawk walk, spool pyramid, wild woosey and a spider web wall. We also purchased kayaks, broomball equipment, canoes, fooseball tables and other fun things.
A Bright Future
In 2005 Darrel Stahl, Molly Lamont and Shelly Amundson donated 25 Acres of lake front land to the camp. The land is on the southeast end of Lake Byron. It was a great blessing to the camp to receive this generous gift. The camp board then made plans to relocate the camp to this new property.
In the spring of 2008 the camp was moved to its new location on the southeast end of Lake Byron. All the outdoor equipment, low ropes elements, climbing wall, zipline and obstale course were moved to the new location. Leaving the memories experienced on the James River valley property was difficult, but it was a good feeling to leave the threat of flooding behind.
Pastor Jon Duba is the active director of Byron Bible Camp, running year-round day camps, weekend retreats, pheasant and goose hunts, backpacking trips, and various volunteer work camps to maintain and improve the facilities.