Jeff Schellenberg: Here, There, and Everywhere

August 9th

Most of us who are at all connected with Camp Valaqua know, or at least have met, Jeff Schellenberg.  Jeff has been a constant, a familiar figure at Camp Valaqua as he has been the manager since 1996. However, he’s hard to get a photo of as he is here, there, and everywhere.

Do we actually know what Jeff does? What he does every day? Every year? Simply arranging for an interview highlighted the diversity of his daily and weekly tasks during the summer months. “Sorry, that won’t work I’m ferrying campers to the starting point of their canoe trip.” “We can’t chat on Tuesday as that’s the only day the dump is open and I need to take the garbage and recycling away.” And then finally, a Wednesday afternoon seemed possible but even that day had already included a morning spent with the health inspector, water system and plumbing issues. In addition to busy, there’s always some misplaced guilt for not getting to the bookkeeping, always a struggle in summer. Jeff takes care of the day-to-day bookkeeping while leaving the more precise accounting details to Tany Warkentin, Mennonite Church Alberta’s treasurer. Although there is a seasonal rhythm with fall, winter, and spring being more predictable, Jeff never knows on any given day or week what tasks will fall to him to do. He does one thing and then is pulled away to something else.  “That’s one reason I like it. I’m never bored.”

Jeff, whose family has a long history with Camp Valaqua, and his late wife Ingrid Janssen came to Valaqua in September 1996 intending to stay for a year, maybe 2. For the first 7-8 years they job shared but as their children grew and they opted for homeschooling, the job became more and more his. Ing was always involved in summers though as she loved that part of the work. After a brief illness, Ingrid died in 2015. The Camp garden, a dream of hers, is called Ing’s Garden in her memory.

Although there are not too many maintenance volunteers, when there are, Jeff shepherds and organizes them. Darrell Krahn has been volunteering one week of the year since 2015 when his daughter was apprehensive about going to camp. He asked Jeff if there was an opportunity to help him with some things around the camp and 8 years later is still volunteering each summer. He said, “Jeff is an irreplaceable asset to Valaqua. I feel blessed to be able to know and work with him.”

Ron Janzen of Springridge Mennonite in Pincher Creek has been the longest-serving maintenance volunteer to work with Jeff. Ron not only did significant fundraising for Camp but also filled in the gaps during the summer. He did weed whacking, painting and other small tasks that are easily missed in the busyness of the season. Summer 2023 is the first summer without Ron and Jeff notices his absence.

A highlight of Jeff’s year is the spring season when for two months, staff who will later transition to counselling, work under his supervision to get the camp ready for campers. He enjoys their eagerness to learn new skills and as most of them have spent the winter as students, they put their energy into cleaning, painting, and doing repairs — mostly outdoors.

Kitchen staff are particularly aware of Jeff’s many skills. His troubleshooting skills are invaluable. According to Louisa Adria, this year’s head cook, ”Anything I use in the kitchen as a cook, Jeff gets it to work: fridge, freezer, running water, including the filtration system that cleans it, hot water, ovens, dishwasher. Lights and fans and condensers and drains and even the fire extinguisher, should it come to that. He checks, charges, changes, tunes, tests, empties, fills, and fixes all these things. Camp would be smaller and colder and leaner and a whole lot grittier without Jeff and all the systems that need to run. “

Camp Valaqua has changed since 1996. Those who have known the camp for decades notice that some trees have fallen and have been removed while other trees have grown. The forest goes through cycles. Some of the Jeff’s work has changed as well. Summer tasks remain the same but how the property is used has increased significantly. When Jeff began, only a few groups rented the facilities off-season but now rentals are a significant part of the camp’s usage. Making sure booking is done correctly and the camp is ready (which includes snow clearing in winter) for all these varied groups is Jeff’s responsibility.

With a few weekends set aside for MCA congregations to hold church retreats, off-season is usually fully booked — sometimes to the disappointment of MCA committees who would like to host an event there. The struggle is to balance availability while still generating rental income to offset the costs of the summer program. Using our beloved Camp Valaqua year round is a goal of the Camp Committee and Jeff is a key person who helps to meet that goal.