Long-time Camp Ondessonk supporter Cyril “Pete” Korte was recently honored as the first recipient of the Ondessonk Builders and Founders Legacy Award at the 2015 Camp Ondessonk Gala and Benefit Auction in Fairview Heights.
The Highland man’s support for Camp Ondessonk spans decades, even as his children and grandchildren attended the camp in Ozark, Ill., as campers and later as staff members.
Korte’s deep passion and greatest gift has been giving camp scholarships to children in need.
As the owner of Korte & Luitjohan Contractors Inc. in Highland, Korte hosted the first annual Camp Ondessonk Golf Benefit in 1996 to raise funds to support the camp and its scholarship foundation.
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Since then, hundreds of Korte’s business partners, family and friends have participated as golfers, sponsors and volunteers.
This year is the 20th anniversary of the golf benefit, and when it is all over, Korte and his team will have raised more than $600,000 to benefit the children who attend Camp Ondessonk. This year’s golf benefit will be held Sept. 12 at the Roland Barkau Memorial Golf Course in Okawville.
Over the years, Korte has been instrumental in helping Camp Ondessonk with its many building projects, from volunteering his employee’s time and expertise to proving his company’s equipment to help camp complete projects on time and significantly under budget.
Korte has also played a big role in building the camp’s beach shower house, the installation of water lines down the camp’s main road, the construction of the old dining hall pavilion, the high ropes challenge course and climbing wall, and many other small projects that make this camp special.
The incredible history behind Camp Ondessonk is the result of the vision and efforts of many people.
With blessings from His Excellency, The Most Rev. Albert R. Zuroweste, Monsignor John T. Fournie led St. Philip Parish of East St. Louis in creating a summer program for its children by renting the facilities of Camp Piasa and Camp Vandeventer. After successful summers in 1957 and 1958, great interest from other Diocese of Belleville parishes stimulated expansion beyond St. Philip Parish. In 1959, Camp St. Philip evolved into Camp Ondessonk.
After much consideration, a 300-acre tract of land was purchased adjacent to the Shawnee National Forest of southern Illinois. The scenic beauty of the region lent itself to picturesque exploration in an area now considered by many to be among the most beautiful and diverse ecosystems in the United States. An example of this diversity is illustrated by native sugar maple trees of northern climates and native swamp cypress trees of southern climates growing within the Ondessonk Valley.
Over the years, several land acquisitions have been made. Camp Ondessonk now covers 983 acres, much of which is undisturbed and managed as wilderness. Further, its proximity to the Shawnee National Forest allows visitors even more land to explore.
The word “Ondessonk” is a Huron word meaning “Bird of Prey.” It was a name given to St. Isaac Jogues, a Catholic Jesuit priest that came to North America from his native France in the early 17th century to bring the Gospel to the Huron people of Quebec. He gave his entire life to them, with the ultimate ending of torture and martyrdom. Several other Jesuit Missionaries, working among the Huron during this time, were martyred as well. These martyrs and their American Indian companions provided inspiration for spiritual development at Camp Ondessonk; the camping units, lakes, and major land forms were named in their honor.
While Camp Ondessonk’s facilities continue to improve, much remains the same since 1959. Ondessonk campers still sleep under the stars on Wednesday nights, they live in wonderfully rustic open-air cabins, they swim in cool, bluff-flanked creeks, and they still hear the calls of whippoorwills at night.