Transforming lives through meaningful relationships in a sacred place
Dwight Mission’s history stretches back to 1820 when it was originally established as a mission to the Western Cherokees living in the area near present-day Russellville, Arkansas. Following the Treaty of 1828, the Western Cherokees moved to Indian Territory and tribal leaders requested that Dwight Mission accompany them. By 1830 many of the new buildings were finished and the school had reopened at its new location on Sallisaw Creek. Between 1830 and 1850, some fifty missionaries from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions were stationed at Dwight Mission. Throughout this period Dwight Mission averaged more than 60 students. The Civil War brought tension between the Cherokees and the missionaries forcing Dwight to close. In 1884, a representative of the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions was visiting the Territory and was asked by the Cherokees to reopen the school at Dwight Mission.
A Second Chapter
The school reopened with the support of the Presbyterian Church and thrived over the next 25 years, despite several fires. In 1914, the dining hall was built to accommodate up to 150 people and in 1917, a three-story school building housing classrooms, workshops, offices, and a 200-seat auditorium was completed. However, fire again thwarted progress. Four major fires over a seven year period destroyed the student dormitories and the school was again closed at the end of 1919. Soon after, the Women of the New York Fifth Avenue Church who had been the “sponsoring angels” of Dwight Mission, visited the site and made recommendations for rebuilding. By 1922 the school had reopened and by 1924 three new buildings were completed and are still in use today. The superintendent’s home (Finney Lodge) was named after Alfred Finney, a founding missionary and is currently the Executive Director’s residence. The boys’ dormitory was named for Cephas Washburn, a founding missionary, and the girls’ dormitory was named for Mrs. Russell Sage, whose generous gift made possible this new day for Dwight. Three-fourths of the cost for these native stone “fireproof buildings” was borne by the Sage legacy and the balance was provided by the Presbyterian Women of Oklahoma, who were now becoming conscious of Dwight Mission and its needs. During this time many summer conferences for both youth and adults were held at Dwight Mission. In 1945, at the request of the Synod of Oklahoma, the Board of National Missions began to work out a plan of cooperation in administration and supervision of Dwight with a committee of five from the Synod. This relationship however, did not last long.
A New Beginning
By June of 1948, the Synod of Oklahoma, concurring with the decision of the Board of National Missions, voted to close the school. With the closing, a number of committees from the Synod began to study potential uses for the property. It was the general feeling that the property should be preserved because of its historical importance and its potential for many more years of educational and religious training. As a result Dwight Mission was reopened as a camp conference and retreat center. During the fall of 1950, a number of laymen became interested in securing the site as a Synod property to be used as a Presbyterian conference center. The property was purchased by the Synod of Oklahoma on May 6, 1951 for $35,000; and, thirty days after its purchase, camps were using the site. For the first thirty years of this new Dwight Mission, volunteers managed the daily operations and programs at Dwight. The on-site staff was kept to a minimum with only seasonal workers and a caretaker who lived on site year-round. With the reorganization of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in the early 1980s, the governing structure of Dwight Mission also changed. The Synod of Oklahoma was divided into Cimarron, Eastern Oklahoma, and Indian Nations Presbyteries. Dwight Mission, Inc. became an agency of the Synod of the Sun and the Agency for Dwight Mission was formed as a separate entity to handle the daily operations and programs. The Board of Directors for Dwight Mission, Inc. are currently elected by the presbyteries and, as a board, are charged to hold title to the property, maintain an insurance reserve, and manage the endowment fund. All net profits are turned over to the Agency for Dwight Mission for operations and improvements. The Agency for Dwight Mission, formed by the Synod of the Sun in 1984, operates Dwight Mission in cooperation with the three Oklahoma Presbyteries. When Dwight grew to the point where the Agency decided it could no longer effectively manage the day-to-day operations the first Director was hired in 1986. The Agency, however, still retained much of the responsibility for daily operational decisions. In 1991, the Agency completed a long range planning process that set some new directions for Dwight Mission. The Christian summer camp program emphasis was changed from a conference style model to a modified small group model, which shifted more program responsibility to individual counselors or small group leaders as the focus shifted from large-group activities to more small-group activities. In order to implement this program shift, the Agency also decided to move away from a volunteer-based program to one with trained, paid staff. As a result, in addition to the Executive Director, Dwight Mission hired its first full-time Program Director and paid summer program staff.
As part of this change, the Agency shifted its attention from daily operations toward an emphasis on governance, focusing on policy-making, planning, and monitoring a professional staff hired to run the day-to-day operations and programs. Dwight Mission currently has four full-time employees and hires as many as 30 seasonal employees to run the Presbyterian Christian camping programs.
In January of 2016 Dwight Presbyterian Mission Inc. and the Agency for Dwight Mission were merged into one Board of Directors, retaining the name Dwight Presbyterian Mission Inc.
About Our Programs
The purpose of the programs sponsored by Dwight Mission is to provide experiences in Christian community in which individuals of all ages may grow in their commitment to God and in the practice of the Christian life. Dwight Mission is currently open year-round and sponsors resident Christian summer camp programs for youth from third through twelfth grades that include one- and two-week camps, leadership development programs, and adventure travel camps. Additionally, Dwight offers non-summer ropes/challenge course programs, an annual Spring Break youth event with Christian programming, and a Confirmation Retreat for confirmands from many Presbyterian Churches. Recent additions to the program schedule include an Alumni Camp for past campers and staff and their spouses, and a Youth Leaders Retreat for those working in churches on a professional or volunteer basis. Over the last few years Dwight-led programs have averaged approximately 500 participants per year. Dwight has hosted more than sixty churches, businesses and family groups for retreats, conferences, meetings, and reunions. Annually Dwight Mission serves more than 4,000 visitors.
Transforming Lives through meaningful relationships in a sacred place