TUSTIN — There was a heightened sense of anticipation and excitement in the air at Kettunen Center on Saturday morning as cars and vans brought more than 150 visitors for a special event.

They came from towns and villages throughout Michigan to join in the daylong celebration of a significant milestone—the 50th anniversary of the founding of the center.

The history

The center opened in 1961 and was known as Camp Kett until 1972 when the name was changed to Kettunen Center. It is owned and operated by the Michigan 4-H Foundation and is located among the rolling hills, woods and sparkling lake which form the scenic grounds of its 160-acre site near Tustin.

The idea for the center came from Arne Kettunen, Michigan 4-H leader from 1925 to 1956. He envisioned a leadership camp where 4-H volunteers could be trained to foster the growth and development of the organization in all areas of the state.

“Today the center is for 4-H and for much more,” said John Grix who has been director of the center since 1988.

It is a full service conference and retreat facility that serves the 4-H organization and also hosts more than 250 conferences and programs annually that attract thousands of visitors. Throughout the year many groups meet at the center such as family reunions, university retreats, church functions and school programs.

The celebration

“My focus was on fun,” Grix said, “as we planned the festivities.”

And in spite of intermittent rain, it was a full day for everyone offering a program of exhibits, demonstrations, games, crafts, picnic lunch, sports and waterfront fun designed to showcase the facilities of the center and entertain visitors of all ages.

Highlights included:

• Farm animal petting tent—favorites included alpacas from Jim and Holli Meier’s farm in Tustin and Boer cross goats exhibited by 4-H members Erin Millen and Nathanael Millen, also from Tustin.

• Archery fun shoot—provided by volunteers from the Mecosta County 4-H On Target Archery Club. “We wanted to introduce kids to the world of archery,” said Tim Smith, certified archery instructor. “There’s more to archery than just hunting. It helps kids build self-confidence and discipline while they’re doing something fun.”

• GPS treasure hunt—“We provided treasure hunters with GPS units and taught them how to use them,” said Alex McKinstry from Lake City. “Then, they had to go out and search the grounds for hidden items.”

• For love of the arts—dance performance by Kim DeVoe. Kim is a 4-H state award delegate for performing arts. She performed dance routines and explained how 4-H helped develop her talents and interests.

• Waterfront fun—including kayaking, canoeing, pontoon and paddleboat rides. Ron Hewlett, 4-H leader from Caledonia, offered fishing instruction. “I also did a demo on how to filet a fish,” he said. “Fishing is a great outdoor activity anyone can enjoy for a lifetime.”

Sandra Griffin, Michigan State University extension educator, may have expressed it best. “Our group is having a lot of fun at the celebration. What’s great is there are lots of different things to do so everyone can have a good time.”

Griffin came with 38 children and adults from the Mount Zion 4-H Youth Club in Wayne County. “We are from the largest urban county in the state,” she said, “and many of our young people don’t have the opportunity to travel to northern Michigan and I wanted them to have a chance to see the rural areas and they are really taking advantage of all the fun things to do.”

Grix wishes to thank members of the community and volunteers who came from 4-H groups around the state to sponsor and staff some of the activities of the day. He also thanks Yoplait USA, the Cadillac Rotary Club and Patterson’s Flowers for their contributions to the celebration.

Fifty years of achievement

The anniversary program featured a number of speakers who looked back at the early days of the center and commented on its accomplishments over the years.

Speakers included Cheryl Howell, Michigan 4-H Foundation executive director, Thomas Coon, director Michigan State University Extension and Dr. Russell Mawby, chairman emeritus of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and former 4-H state leader.

State Sen. Darwin Booher and state Rep. Phil Potvin both spoke and presented a tribute from the state of Michigan honoring the Kettunen Center.

The tribute signed by Booher, Potvin and Gov. Rick Snyder stated:

“Let it be known that we are proud to join with the members and friends of the Kettunen Center as they gather to mark the 50th anniversary of this outstanding facility. This milestone is a reflection of the great commitment to the four guiding principles of 4-H, head, heart, hands and health. While members of the 4-H Foundation celebrate 50 years of service at “Camp Kett,” we offer our thanks for their contribution throughout the entire state of Michigan.”

The future

When asked what the future holds for the center, Grix said he and key staff have been updating the master plan and working with the board of directors to determine which building or expansion plans and new directions will be a priority in the coming years. He added that one of his goals is to communicate to the public that the facilities of the center are available to many groups, not just the 4-H.

For more information about Kettunen Center, visit the website (kettunencenter.org) or call (231) 829-3421.