One can hardly talk of the BCC without recalling the history of this special place and its earliest owner, Mr. John Lindner. Born 1859 of German ancestry, he attended business college and quickly acquired success in the field of business. In 1891 he organized and incorporated the Lindner Shoe Company of Carlisle, Pa. Eventually the shoe company became quite successful and expanded to 500 employees. Mr. Lindner treated his employees and others well and was concerned about their wellbeing. He purchased 200 acres northwest of Carlisle and named this estate Forest Hills. It was on these grounds that his good will toward mankind was further extended. During WWI, Mr. Lindner felt the need to bolster the morale of injured soldiers returning from France.
We get a glimpse back in time according to a military history document stating that citizens of Carlisle showed particular interest in helping injured soldiers returning from the war. The record remarked that, “One of the outstanding efforts in this work was made by a public-spirited citizen, Mr. John Lindner. Mr. Linder owned a fine estate…disregarding the damage that might be done to his beautiful property by an encampment, he authorized Colonel Keefer to establish a camp for convalescents along the edge of his golf course. Here, from seventy to one-hundred patients at a time, selected from among those with good conduct records, spent two weeks before discharge at this summer retreat center. Mr. Lindner arranged field days of sports suitable for convalescents and furnished prizes for the winners.”
It seems as though this beautiful property overlooking the Conodoguinet Creek was destined to be used as a haven for people to come away and obtain healing and refreshing of soul!
Sadly the Lindner estate at Forest Hills fell into the hands of the banks. In 1944, the 200 acre Lindner estate (Forest Hills) was purchased by the Lancaster YMCA and was named Camp Shand. The Camp Shand years gave way to many children and teens enjoying the grounds and activities as they hosted summer camps and retreats. This retreat center marked the YMCA in those days. The facility was opened in 1946. The pool was built, but little else changed until May of 1965 when a disastrous fire, caused by lightning, destroyed the multi-functional mansion house. In July of 1967, the Dining Hall and Main Dorm (now Eagle Lodge) were completed.
Due to financial difficulties accrued by the Lancaster YMCA, the Board of Trustees decided to sell the Camp Shand property.
In November of 1983, the camp was purchased by the Pennsylvania-Delaware District Council of the Assemblies of God under the then Superintendent, Rev. Philip Bongiorno. The Camp Shand doors were closed, but it opened the way for the present Phillip Bongiorno Conference Center. The BCC’s first director was also the first full time employee to move onto the grounds in April 1984.
Many improvements and facilities were added and updated from 1984, and this work continues into the present to better accommodate the BCC's guests. These changes are important, but as Sharon Poole, Girls Ministries Director, recalls her early memories of Kids’ Camp at the BCC, “It was not so much about the facilities and amenities that they provided, but having a place that was dedicated to finding God’s presence and maturing in Him…since then I have seen the Bongiorno Conference Center become all of this to many. Young and old alike have stolen away, whether it is for a camp, conference, or just personal retreat time in His Presence.”
One pastor says of the Bongiorno Conference Center,
“…many stories mark my life and calling. Some special prayers have been prayed and special callings have been heard at this place. It’s a definite mark along the trail that tells the story of where it all began.”
Jeremiah Gruber, Children’s Pastor at Living Waters Chapel in Lebanon, PA remarks that, “My life has been changed in so many ways by the campus and ministries that take place at Bongiorno. It was during a kids’ camp at Bongiorno that I received my calling to serve the Lord in pastoral ministry. Now I am seeing God use me to reach boys, girls, and their leaders who attend retreats and camps at that very same place He touched me. Memories I will cherish forever have had their beginnings at the Bongiorno Conference Center.” Jeremiah has been used many times as Kids’ Camp speaker and continues to lead kids into salvation and seeking the Lord’s presence at the altar.
Written by: George Krebs Director BCC