Camp Fire was founded in 1910 by Dr. Luther Gulick and his wife Charlotte Gulick, as the first nonsectarian, multicultural organization for girls in America. Camp Fire was originally developed as a counterpart to Boy Scouts. In 1975, Camp Fire opened its doors to boys, and today Camp Fire is open to ALL youth of any race, creed, religion, gender, national origin, economic status, and sexual orientation. Our local council, Camp Fire River Bend, was founded in 1920. Since 1921, Camp Tannadoonah has been providing camping opportunities for children and adults alike.
Through the 1980s, the core program of Camp Fire River Bend (formerly Michiana Council of Camp Fire) was the Traditional Club Program. For many decades, the local Camp Fire program had more members than the local Girl Scouts. The Traditional Club Program features volunteers leaders who meet with small groups of youth for informal educational experiences. Recognition awards, in the form of emblems and beads, are earned by completing program activities and service projects, such as making Valentines for Vets, Goodwill Dolls, Food Bank visits, etc. Youth usually meet once to twice a month for a group meeting. Once per month, the Council provides an activity that all families can participate in like bowling, nature hikes, caroling, parties, and weekend camp outs.
At one time, there were multiple Camp Fire councils serving the Michiana area. There was a South Bend Council, a Mishawaka Council, and an Elkhart Council. In 1993, the South Bend and Mishawaka councils merged to form Michiana Camp Fire. The Elkhart Council later closed, and the Michiana Council became Camp Fire River Bend, serving Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties in Indiana, and Cass and Berrien Counties in Michigan. Camp Fire River Bend now serves southwest Michigan and northwest Indiana (known locally as Michiana), and is the only Camp Fire Council in the state of Indiana.
Today, our largest program is our summer resident camp. Camp Tannadoonah is owned and operated by Camp Fire River Bend. When the local Camp Fire Girls started camping “on their own” in 1921, it was in true pioneer fashion. They opened the “Wohelo Camp” at Pleasant Lake, Edwardsburg, Michigan that year under the direction of Col. and Mrs. C. Seymour Bullock. It wasn’t until the third season that they adopted the name of Camp Tannadoonah. They opened the season with 20 girls and 4 tents. One was used for the kitchen area and dining under cover in case of rain, two for sleeping and the fourth for supplies. They did their own cooking over a cook stove out in the open, washed their dishes in the lake, and one girl usually walked into Edwardsburg each day for supplies. Their icebox was a stone-lined dug-out in the side of a hill. The cost per girl for each session was $3.00.
Camp Tannadoonah moved to its present site on Birch Lake, in Vandalia, Michigan in 1929. Camp Tannadoonah is licensed by the State of Michigan and accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA). An old farmhouse “cottage” at the top of a 100-foot bluff and a small sleeping cottage that became the infirmary formed the nucleus of the new camp. Both buildings are still in use on the 45 acre site. The “cottage” is now known as Main Lodge, where the director lives and the staff gathers. The guest house is now the camp store and crafts building.
The dining hall from Pleasant Lake was moved to the new location and attached to the back of Main Lodge. A portable schoolhouse was moved to the new site and rechristened Copp Lodge. Sleeping cabins were donated by the Luta Koda Camp Fire Group, the Exchange Club and the Rotary Club. The Exchange members also donated a canoe and boats, and put in cement steps winding down the hill to the waterfront. Exchangettes, Demolay, and Wallace cabins were soon added. Morris Lodge was built in 1938 and the present Dining Hall was added in 1954. Two cabins for Bluebirds were built in the 1960s to accommodate the younger campers.
The camp now includes 7 sleeping cabins and Morris Lodge. The lodge was donated in 1938 by E. M. Morris, to house 17 campers and 3 staff, and to provide a large indoor common room with a fireplace. In the late 1940s, a large “H” shaped pier was built to provide for an extensive waterfront program including Red Cross Certified Swimming Classes, sailing, canoeing, and kayaking. In 1954 the modern Dining Hall was built to seat 176 through a bequest by Laura B. DeRhodes. The infirmary was donated by the Kiwanis club, and houses the nurse and medical facilities. In 1990 the shower house was built to provide campers with hot water and shower facilities.
A staff of at least 30 is hired for the resident camp season. A cook and a licensed nurse are included in the support staff, and college-aged counselors run the camp programs.
In addition to the resident camp program, which runs from mid-June through mid-August, Tannadoonah is a site for weekend camping in the late spring and early fall for Camp Fire groups from the surrounding Michiana area. In May, August, September, and October the camp hosts weddings, reunions, and groups from churches, athletic teams, sororities, and school bands.
- 1920 Local Camp Fire Council started
- 1921 “WoHeLo Camp” started on Pleasant Lake, Edwardsburg
- 1923 “WoHeLo Camp” became “Camp Tannadoonah”
- 1929 The camp site moved from Pleasant Lake, Edwardsburg
- 1930 Five cabins built (Luta Koda, Exchangettes, Exchange, Rotary, Wallace)
- 1930s Copp Lodge was moved to Birch Lake from the old camp site on Pleasant Lake (This lodge no longer exists)
- 1938 Demolay cabin built (This cabin no longer exists)
- 1938 Morris Lodge built (donated by E. M. Morris)
- 1940 Flagpole given by the Fraternal Order of Police
- 1941 Kiwanis Club built the Health Center
- 1948 Stairway to the waterfront built by Exchange Club
- 1948 New pier was built from Donut Sales
- 1952 One hundred trees were donated by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Fitch
- 1953 Blacktop play area was built with funds saved from Cookie Sales
- 1954 Laura B. DeRhodes Dining Hall Built
- 1955 Two Bluebird Cabins built (from DeRhodes fund)
- 1960 MishaBend Kiwanis Club gave a Dwyer Kitchen Unit for the infirmary
- 1963 Seawall was constructed from funds from candy sales
- 1968 stairway replaced by a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Robert Fitch
- 1971 Three cabins were constructed on Candy Hill to be used for Senior Girls unit. Construction was done by volunteers and members of the apprentice class of the Carpenters Union. A wash house with two showers, two sinks and three stools was constructed in 1971. Fixtures, well, and pump were donated by the plumbers Assn. Mr. Richard White was instrumental in this donation. This unit was completed in 1975. (The Candy Hill property is no longer a part of Camp Tannadoonah)
- 1990 Shower house built to provide hot water and showers for campers
- 1993 South Bend Camp Fire and Mishawaka Camp Fire merged to become Michiana Camp Fire
- 1999 New archery shed constructed
- 2004 Murphy Memorial Sports Complex built to provide new tennis facilities for campers, in memory of Mrs. Jo Murphy, camp director from 1971-1997
- 2009 Tennis Courts surfaced and new nets installed at the Murphy Memorial Sports Complex. Also built new sports shed and memorial wall
- 2011 100 new vinyl mattresses purchased for camper beds
- 2011 Legend Tree dedicated to honor individuals who have made legendary contributions to Camp Fire and Camp Tannadoonah. The first inductees were Peggy and Tony Laskowski, Don Harman, the Morris Family, and the DeRhodes Family
- 2012 Mrs. Jo Murphy, Mrs. Pat Laing, and Ms. Toody Goldsberry were inducted into the Legend Tree.
- 2013 Waterfront stairway rebuilt
- 2013 Finished Shower House floor with acrylic coating
- 2013 Added Gaga Pit for new activity
- 2013 Lois Keisling and Janie Stephenson were inducted into the Legend Tree.
- 2014 Added electricity to four “adventure cabins”, renovated Shower House and several cabins.
- 2015 Installed new aluminum pier at the waterfront.
- 2015 Built new porch on the Handcraft / Store building
- 2015 Completed renovations to Wallace, Exchange, Rotary, Exchangettes, and Luta Koda cabins.