Fran and Eddy Campbell are the summer cooks at Kodiak Baptist Mission. What began seven years ago as 11-day trips to Alaska for the married couple from Indiana are now six-month-long stays.
This active, retired couple delights in planning and chaperoning the annual counselors’ retreat to the mainland.
“We participate in a ‘thank you’ trip for the young counselors who volunteer their time each summer to work with the students at the mission,” Fran said.
Like many who went on this summer’s trip, a highlight for Fran was the visit to the Reindeer Farm in Palmer.
“The reindeer farm holds special meaning to me,” she said. “A close friend and neighbor of ours, who I walked with often, donated the monies for the counselors to visit the farm.”
The two chatted about the upcoming trip often before Fran departed for Kodiak. Tragically, her friend and husband were recently killed in an accident.
“My friend thought it important for the young adults to see things they wouldn’t otherwise,” she said.
Counselors and chaperones board the ferry for the summer packed in two Kodiak Baptist Mission vans with food and sleeping bags. According to Larry Velasco, a Kodiak local and long-time employee at the mission, the annual trip is a great way for summer volunteers to experience Alaska.
“Typically, the people who volunteer here are from the lower 48. They have heard about Kodiak Baptist Mission from someone they know,” Velasco said.
Another long-time local is Jonathan Samson, who moved to Kodiak 14 years ago from the Philippines. As a lead teacher at the mission, he has found his niche.
“KBM is definitely a great place. It’s at the point where working here doesn’t even feel like a job,” he said.
“What I love about this place is every day I go to work, the kids here give me a hug. You don’t get that in many places. We are a safe haven for many families in Kodiak and a second home for many. It’s my true passion to help people for the rest of my life.”
Samson is currently pursuing his bachelor’s in physical therapy with plans to work at the mission in the summers.
“I’d stay here the rest of my life if I wasn’t going into the medical field,” he said.
Although the counselors generally share close quarters on campus, most agree that the mainland trip holds bonding opportunities. Aged 18 into their mid-20s, many are in college and lead busy lives back home.
Conner Waite is originally from Mississippi. As a military child, he lived in Kodiak five years ago.
“The trip was nice because we got to do a bunch of singalongs and get to know each other, especially on the van rides,” he said. “We all got close.”
Kodiak Baptist Mission has students on campus five days a week, but horses, goats, chickens, sheep, turkeys, ducks, rabbits and one pig call the campus home every day. The current focus for the mission is their Farm and Ranch Camp, which encompasses horse riding and basic care of all of the animals.
Summer intern and counselor Gillian Brinker grew up in Anchorage and met Kelli Foreman, the mission’s assistant executive director, in Juneau while advocating with the Farm Bureau for agricultural legislation.
“I was the 2019-2020 Alaska state vice president for FFA,” Brinker said. “We hit it off right away. I love dairy goats and I worked on a farm in Anchorage for seven years.”
Brinker attends the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture and needed an internship working with horses.
“Kelli reached out about a position at Kodiak Baptist Mission, so the stars aligned,” she said. “Being from Anchorage, I am pretty familiar with the sights. My favorite thing about the trip was being able to show my friends where I was from.”
Brett Call from Kansas is outdoor lead at the mission and works on campus year-round.
“My role this summer is doing activities with the counselors in the evenings,” he said.
“Part of my responsibilities was going on the mainland trip as a show of our appreciation for what our volunteers do here and do with the kids. We enjoyed Exit Glacier, Hatcher Pass and the reindeer farm. We went from Kodiak to Homer, then Seward, to Anchorage, Palmer and Wasilla then to Whittier and back to Homer.”
For many, the ferry is a first-time experience.
“We had an eight-hour trip over and a 14-hour trip back,” Call said.
“It was an adventure. We saw whales as we left Kodiak and had good sunsets and sunrises. Our counselors have been learning line dancing and decided to do that going and coming on the ferry.”
College student Alexis Walton is from Lakeland, Florida. She is a student of marine sciences as well as line and swing dancing.
“It’s a friend-thing for me,” she said. “When I came here, I started showing others how to dance. Our goal, since being in Kodiak, is to dance in many odd places. We’ve danced on top of Old Woman, at Surfer’s Beach, on top of North Sister and on the ferry.
“We have swampland and alligators where I am from,” Walton said. “Moose and reindeer are foreign and beautiful to us. Our safety meetings here include information on tsunamis and bears.”
Kyjuan “Kiwi” Chrome, also from Florida, relates.
“The highlight of my trip has been the swing dancing. I picked it up on the ferry and I hope to share it when I get back home,” Chrome said.
Montana McGinley studies pre-veterinarian medicine in Florida. It’s her first time in Kodiak and has plans to return.
“The trip was for counselors to go to the mainland to explore and relax,” she said.
“We all hopped on the ferry and none of us were able to sleep on the way over. We played board games and talked. We arrived in Homer and drove straight through to get to Seward to visit Exit Glacier. The majority of us were still awake in the vans when we saw moose. This was a great start to our drive.”
College sophomore Zachary Auger studies finance and plays soccer.
“I was invited to come to Kodiak through a friend,” he said. “The ferry ride was interesting to me. I had never been on a boat like that. We did a lot of driving in the vans. I didn’t realize how far away everything is in Alaska, and the water is so blue here.”
All retreat participants agree that their time was well spent.
“We were always doing something, and the trip went by quickly,” Auger said.
Recent graduate Jessica Porr from Ohio works with the 10--to-12-year-olds at the mission.
“I heard about KBM from the Bible college I went to in West Virginia,” she said.
“I planned to come up the summer that COVID happened and of course that didn’t work out, so I applied for this summer, and I’ve decided to stay in Kodiak. I did a gap year in Anchorage after high school and knew that I always wanted to return to Alaska.”
The top two favorite stops of the trip were Hatcher’s Pass and the reindeer farm. Daniel Curtis from Missouri is finishing his degree in graphic design at the University of Missouri at Kansas City.
“The van rides were really cool as I got to see a lot of Alaska with my friends,” he said, adding that his favorite place was also the reindeer farm.