Norman B. Barr
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Norman Burton Barr (1868–1943) is credited with dramatically expanding the work of the Olivet Institute which was founded in 1888 in Chicago.
Norman Barr entered the McCormick Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church in Chicago in September, 1894 after graduating from the University of Nebraska. He married Minnie Dearstyne Goodman, his college sweetheart, in Chicago on December 20, 1894. (Barr. Papers)
Norman Barr graduated from McCormick and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church on May 10, 1897. Prior to graduating and in February 1897, he was asked to be an interim pastor at Olivet Memorial Church. In May, he accepted his first pastoral assignment as the regular minister at Olivet Memorial Church in Chicago. The church was located at 665 Vedder Street on the near north side. When Rev. Barr arrived, he was given responsibility for all religious work connected with the church at Vedder and Penn streets. Mr. N. B. W. Gallwey was in charge of the institutional activities and started the name of Olivet Social Institute.
The general area was known as "Little Hell" due to the poverty, crime and unemployment. Rev. Barr could not have picked a tougher area in which to start his career as a minister. Families were doubled up in houses and brick tenements of four and five stories. This was one of the poorest sections of Chicago.
In 1908, Rev. Barr was a speaker at a conference held at the YMCA camp (now Aurora University) on Geneva Lake in Wisconsin. During his visit, he walked along the shore path past a piece of property advertised for sale by Alice B. Stockman, M.D. He immediately viewed the property as ideal for a permanent camp for the Institute. He borrowed $50 from a colleague for a down payment and the land was purchased for about $9,000 in January 1909. Olivet Institute Camp was the new owner.
Members of the Olivet Institute community would take a train from Chicago to Williams Bay where they transferred to boats that took them to Camp. Housing consisted of tents and water was transported from a spring at neighboring Holiday Home. Kerosene was used for lighting and cooking. Food requiring refrigeration was stored in the ground until an ice house was built. As cottages replaced tents, a sewer system and electricity were added, showers were built, and the grounds were developed. Rev. Barr worked endlessly to raise money for Camp and the children's programs. When he retired from Olivet Church in 1937, he remained active at Olivet Institute Camp and fought to stave off a foreclosure on the property. Rev. Barr's struggle to raise capital for Olivet Camp stopped suddenly when he was stricken with a heart attack and died in 1943. A new drive to pay off the mortgage was successful later that year. The camp was renamed to Norman B. Barr Camp (NBBC) in 1946 when it became a non-profit corporation consisting of all volunteer members.
Over the years, the mission of NBBC refocused on the Children's Program started by Dr. Barr. A dormitory was built, and later new showers and updated rest rooms were added just for the children. Free summer camp sessions focused on sharing the message of God’s love and saving truth continue to be offered to under-served children from Chicago and surrounding areas. Weekly religious services, which have been a tradition since Olivet Camp opened, are held every Sunday during the summer season in the camp's Bowman Chapel. Each year, the camp's volunteers spend countless hours maintaining and improving the camp facilities and grounds. Several new structures have been added while others undergo repairs each year. As a result of the dedication and effort of the volunteers during the camp's first century, along with donations from companies and individuals, Norman B Barr Camp remains a vibrant and living memorial to Rev. Norman B. Barr and his life's selfless mission devoted to the less fortunate.
Thousands of under-served children have enjoyed free Christian summer camp experiences they would not have had, if not for Dr. Norman B. Barr. It was his dream that, "...this camp should go on forever ..." and it is our endeavor to make that dream come true.