It seemed fitting that Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” rang from distant church bells Thursday morning as a crowd gathered to dedicate the most newly renovated cabin at Epworth by the Sea on St. Simons Island.
The United Methodist conference and retreat center first built the cabins in the mid-1950s, and with a donation from the Terry Thomas Foundation, a St. Simons Island-based charity, has been able to rehab a second building.
“Terry loved camp, that’s what got me interested in this,” said Susan Goodhue, the foundation’s executive director and a friend of the late Terry Thomas of Sea Island. “She always kept a framed photo of a camp lake, and she loved children.”
The Rev. Wayne Racz, Epworth’s executive vice president, said the renovation of the cabin, which has been named after Thomas, who died in 2011, is part of an ongoing campaign to update the center’s cabins.
“We see about 106,000 guests per year, here,” he said. “We have such a wide range of ministries, and we’re unique because we have the conference center and a retreat camp.”
A total of two buildings, which are duplex-style with two cabins in each building, have now been renovated and work on a third cabin is expected to begin this December, Racz said.
The recent upgrades, which cost about $185,000, included re-arranging the cabin’s floorplan, as well as completely overhauling the bathrooms, which now feature more showers, sinks and toilets.
Ronald Daniel, an Epworth trustee, said the upgrades are needed to compete with other camps and conference centers.
“This is a different world,” Daniel said. “People are used to nice things now, and we have to compete with that. What’s different about us is that we’re a ministry. Other places don’t have the message that we have, and that sets us apart.”
Without funding from the Terry Thomas Foundation, however, that work may have taken a lot longer to accomplish, Racz said.
“A big part of this is charitable giving,” Racz said. “Charitable giving is still lagging and coming back from the Great Recession.”
The foundation’s gift, Racz said, will help Epworth provide top-notch facilities for the nearly 25,000 campers who use the cabins each year.
Goodhue said as director of the foundation, she’s thrilled to be able to support Epworth and its mission.
“As we’ve gotten involved, we’ve loved learning about the people they (Epworth) serve, regardless of their faith or background,” Goodhue said. “The foundation was established to continue her efforts. She was a believer in education and youth. She believed that every person could be a productive member of society.”
The cabins are used by groups of varying types and ages. Some groups rent the cabins and provide their own programming during their week-long stays, while others rely on activities provided by Epworth.
Scott Adams, a programs coordinator for the Northeast Florida chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, said the new cabins were sure to be the apple of every camper’s eye.
“The only bad thing about this is the kids are going to be fighting over the cabin,” Scott said jokingly.
For more information on Epworth, visit www.epworthbythesea.org.