Kettunen Center: Celebrating six decades of serving Michigan 4-H
Arne G. Kettunen, state 4-H leader from 1925 to 1956, envisioned a site where 4-H could grow through the training of its volunteers and members. In 1956, four years after the Michigan 4-H Foundation was incorporated, the foundation purchased property in Osceola County. Later that year, the foundation launched its first major fundraising campaign to construct “Camp Kett.”
On September 17, 1960 a Cornerstone Ceremony was held to celebrate the beginning of construction for Camp Kett. Mrs. A.G. Kettunen, widow of Michigan’s longtime state leader for whom the camp was named, attended the dedication. Mrs. Kettunen lived in East Lansing for many years following “Kett’s” death in 1959.Camp Kett was dedicated and opened in May 1961.
The first Camp Kett sign was provided by Ivan Anthony, president of the Mason County 4-H Council and Teen Club members in 1962. 4-H agents held a work bee on May 21, 1962 to build the Bob Dancer Memorial Pavilion at Camp Kett. Dancer was a long-time 4-H agent in Ionia County.
Camp Kett was renamed “Kettunen Center” in 1972. Jim Peterson, Kettunen Center director from 1976-1977, is well-known for his wood carvings. He carved a 4-H county map of Michigan which was on display for many years in the Gerber Room.
The Kettunen Center Improvement Project resulted in the construction of an earth-sheltered house in 1980. It became the full-time residency and energy-saving home for the Kettunen Center director. Kettunen Center celebrated its 20th anniversary on Oct. 4, 1981. In 1988, Kettunen Center began offering programs. Some of the first programs included a 4-H environmental education program called TRACKERS, and also a youth and adult team building program, called Teams Recreational Environmental Experience (TREE). The center also began hosting community events such as its annual Breakfast with Santa.
A few years later, in 1991, Kettunen Center began offering Elderhostel programs (Road Scholar today). Then in 1992, Kettunen Center began offering the 4-H Learning Science through the Arts Camp, a week-long summer camp for youth to learn and explore environmental science and arts.
1991 marked Kettunen Center’s 30th anniversary celebration. In 1991, the board of trustees also approved the Vision 2021: Master Plan for Kettunen Center, and in 1994 launched a $2.5 million capital campaign for facilities and grounds improvements and 4-H environmental programs. Vision 2021 resulted in the addition of the Mawby Learning Center and Red Oak Hall, renovations to Aspen and Birch lodges, as well as a new front entrance, dining and administration facilities. Many donors from the Vision 2021 Campaign were recognized on the Kettunen Center giving tree for their support of the center. Kett donors continued to be added to this wall each year.
2002 marked 100 years of 4-H with many 4-H events across the nation. Kettunen Center hosted the 4-H Family Reunion, one of several Michigan 4-H events celebrating the National 4-H Centennial.
In the 2000s, private gifts continued to provide facility upgrades and enhancements. The Bird Observation Station, sponsored by Janet and Gov. Blanchard, was built in 2003. The Harwood Learning Landscape Arboretum and a self-guided nature trail was also upgraded in 2003 with gifts from the Harwood family. Additional arboretum upgrades included a gazebo sponsored by the Diehl family and the Firewise Garden, funded by a USDA grant with volunteer support, to demonstrate fire-safe building techniques.
In 2004, the 4-H Emerald Clover Society wall was built to recognize extraordinary Michigan 4-H alumni for their service to their communities. A gift from the Gerstacker Foundation provided for an addition of new family-friendly rooms and air conditioning to Cedar Lodge. Funding provided by the Kelsey-Stophlet estate gift fully endowed the Kettunen Center endowment and also expanded the fishing dock.
The Kettunen Center Master Plan was updated in 2008 with a focus on needed upgrades to meet the lodging and programming needs for 4-H. In 2008, Kettunen Center was also recognized for their environmental-friendly practices as a certified Green Lodging Michigan Partner with the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth and in 2009, upgraded to a Green Lodging Michigan Steward.
Kettunen Center celebrated its 50th anniversary on August 13, 2011. The 1961 Camp Kett time capsule was opened and on display during the celebration. Before the celebration program, Kettunen Center hosted its first-ever 5K Trail Run/Walk Event sponsored by Cadillac Rotary and Yoplait of Reed City. The celebration also included many fun activities throughout the day: 4-H archery instruction, pontoon boat rides, a petting zoo, sidewalk art, face painting and more.
The Kettunen Center waterfront was upgraded in 2014 thanks to a gift from the Consumers Energy Foundation. In 2016 two shooting sports ranges were made possible by a generous donation from former board president Thomas Cobb.
In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, Kettunen Center hosted 604 4-H participants at seven 4-H events. Workshops held included the 4-H Creative Arts Celebration, Beef, Sheep and Swine, Veterinary Science, and Winterfest, to name a few. Their participation was supported by 4-H adult and youth participant training scholarships that totaled $46,618 from the foundation.
A total of 27 MSU Extension and MSU groups brought nearly 2,000 participants to Kettunen Center generating about 15 percent of the conference center’s revenue for the year. Operational costs for the facility were $2.15 million for FY2019-20, representing a significant increase in operational costs over the previous fiscal year.
Kettunen Center hosted the 38th annual Breakfast with Santa event on Dec. 7, 2019 with 1,500 community members present. The event was made possible thanks to nearly 50 donations from individuals and businesses, including a sponsorship from the Walmart store in Cadillac.
In mid-March, Kettunen Center closed to comply with the original Stay Safe, Stay Home order (EO2020-42). On May 28, the board made one if its hardest and most heart-breaking decisions ever — to place Kettunen Center for sale.
4-H volunteers have been attending 4-H workshops at Kettunen Center for more than half a century. Each year a variety of 4-H workshops served approximately 800-2,000 4-H teen and adult volunteers. Donors to the Michigan 4-H Foundation have made it possible to cover 60 percent of the cost for 4-H volunteers to attend these skill-building 4-H experiences. What made Kettunen Center unique, was its dedicated staff. Many times over, surveys showed how much guests enjoyed coming to Kett — not only for the delicious food, but also for the excellent customer service. Many staff members enjoyed their job so much, they made Kettunen Center their career, retiring after many years and oftentimes, giving back as a volunteer. The board especially thanks all of the Kettunen Center staff members for their service over the years.