Y Camp History

A Tradition of Building Better People

Founded in 1919 by Howard Crawford and George Weber, Y Camp began on a small piece of land nestled along the banks of the Des Moines River. Originally a boy’s camp, Crawford, the first Camp Director, began a journey that would lead the Des Moines Y Camp to become one of the premier summer camps in the Midwest and country. With the leadership of nine directors and the generous support of alumni, community members and volunteers, Y Camp now serves over 13,000 people a year and spans nearly 400 acres of the breathtaking Des Moines River Valley. 

Camp has been led by nine directors over the decades and many of their names have become intertwined with Y Camp’s legacy. They are listed here in chronological order:

  • Howard Crawford (1919 – 1945)
  • Leon Smith (1946 – 1953)
  • Harry Reinhardt (1953)
  • Marlow Cowan (1954 – 1969)
  • Ray Pugh (1970 – 1991)
  • Wyatt Pugh (1992 – 1994)
  • Dan Breitbach (1995 – 1999)
  • John Schmitz (2000)
  • Dave Sherry (2001 - Present)

We are thankful for camp’s rich history and the impact it’s had on hundreds of thousands of lives. Today year-round programs bring in campers, groups and families from many diverse backgrounds. Whether through school programs, summer camp or group and retreats, we strive to continue to carry on the tradition of building better people every day. 

We recognize the value that history has in our lives and in camp’s development. We can’t possibly tell the thousands of stories here, but please take time to look over the photos here which follow our journey over the last 100 years.

Click Image to Zoom