Special Friends History

It was the spring of 1993 when George Locke of the Michigan District asked Dennis Pieper to assist with the running of the Special Friends Camp sponsored by the Michigan District of the LCMS. Dennis was to assist Mary Lou the Director as she was dealing with cancer and didn’t have much strength to lead. As it turned out she bowed out at the last minute. So, jumping into the midst of camp, Dennis and his family embarked on a new ministry. At the time Dennis and Valerie’s children were 10, 8, 5, years old with Joshua at 6 months old. Dennis soon found that he needed the family to step in with help. Valerie became the “Camp Mom” being the comforter and super support giver behind the scenes – a role she fills to this day. Joy, Amanda, and Emily learned to jump into the events and give support as needed. Over the next 3 years, the kids (including 3-year-old Joshua) developed relationships with our campers – more like extended family. In fact, in a decision that impacted our lives more than we ever expected, it was the kids that took the lead. The Pieper family was moving to Illinois as Dennis accepted a call to be a Lutheran School Principal. They were in the process of packing after camp, when the kids insisted, “Dad, we will move with you to Illinois, but we have to come back and see our friends.” “But you will make new school and neighborhood friends over there” “NO. dad, not those friends. We mean our CAMP friends.” Well, that was 1995 and Dennis asked if he could continue in this leadership role, so long as the family could also continue. The answer was yes. In 2023 it will be 30 years of Special Friends Camp. The impact on our lives? Joy is a special education teacher and administrator, Amanda is a clinical counseling psychologist working at an agency for people with cognitive and social-emotional disabilities. Emily is a physical therapist assistant. Joshua is a college baseball coach trained as a special education teacher.

Future outlook? Amanda continues as our Medical Officer and Craft Lady, Emily has taken over as Head Female Counselor and Music Director. Joy is carrying on the tradition by bringing her daughter Leila since she was 1 year old. Joshua continues what his father started by transitioning into the role of Director and has been leading the charge in expanding the Special Friends Ministry.