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New camp helps kids ‘Feed the Fish’

Marie Nitke/FOCUS Rick and Shirley Umberger stand on their dock on Hoffman Lake, next to the pontoon they use to take kids fishing at their new camp, called Feed the Fish.

It’s said that every amateur angler will at first “feed the fish” by losing their worms in the water before learning how to reel one in the right way.

That was the idea behind the name of Rick and Shirley Umberger’s new camp for kids in rural Dent, Feed the Fish.

With many kids at the camp fishing for the first time, the couple said, they figured there’d be a lot of “fish feeding” going on.

And that’s just fine with the Umbergers. In fact, that’s the whole point – to help kids learn how to fish, and to give them the opportunity to swim, tube, kayak, jet ski, pontoon, camp out, and just have an all-around great time in the great outdoors.

Intended especially for kids who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to do these kinds of things, Feed the Fish is the brainchild – and calling – of the Umbergers. For years, they talked about living on a lake in the area, and they also wanted to find a way to give back to others. Feed the Fish helped them achieve both those life goals.

“The idea of giving back led us to this,” said Rick during an interview with the couple last week. “Knowing that we’re here to serve others; knowing that we need to do that – not just talk about it, but do it.”

The couple recently moved to Hoffman Lake, and this is their first summer offering Feed the Fish. They’ve been focusing on getting the word out about their camp, distributing brochures in some local churches and to families who receive food assistance through a program at Northwoods Assembly. They’ve also created a website and plan to start working more closely with local schools and children’s programs like Kinship Mentoring. Eventually, Rick said, they’d like to reach out to foster children and kids from all over the region, offering the camp as a place to have fun and be safe.

“We’re looking for kids who don’t get the opportunity to be on the lake,” said Rick. “We live in the land of 10,000 lakes, but how many kids have to drive by the lakes without ever enjoying them?”

Feed the Fish is aimed at teaching kids about responsibility and cooperation, giving them the ability “to focus on fun, learn new skills, build friendships, learn about our Creator and enjoy nature,” according to the camp brochure.

Campers typically arrive at Feed the Fish on a Friday around 6 p.m., and stay until the following Saturday at 8 p.m. Kids camp out in tents, telling stories around a campfire at night and making s’mores. Eventually, Rick said, he’d like to keep the program going through the winter, as an ice-fishing day camp.

As of last week, the Umbergers had hosted one group of kids at the camp, fifth through eighth-graders from the Boys and Girls Club, where Shirley works.

“It went fantastic,” Shirley said. “There were about 10 kids here, and at the end they all said they wanted to come back again. After that weekend, our neighbor said to us, ‘Oh my gosh, if we could have bottled all that laughter…’”

One of the kids from that group, 11-year-old Coltan Myers, said his favorite part was going tubing behind a jet ski – something he’d never done before. But he also really liked fishing, swimming, and sitting around a campfire.

“I want to go back again next year,” he said.

Paige Rourke, also 11, agreed. She loved kayaking, and said of the Umbergers: “I thought they were really nice and they were really generous for letting us go to their house.”

Another, larger group of kids from the Boys and Girls Club was scheduled to visit the camp in August, and the Kinship program planned to host a picnic at the camp this Wednesday.

But Feed the Fish isn’t only for groups. Parents who would like to give their kids the opportunity to camp are encouraged to call the Umbergers, who keep a lot of their weekends open for possible campers – even if there’s only one or two of them. Depending on weather, they said, Feed the Fish will be open to the public on Aug. 2 and 3, 9 and 10, and possibly even into September, if there’s interest.

And the Umbergers are hoping there will be. Both of them find working with the kids to be a rewarding experience.

“I just love to see the kids laughing and the smiles on their faces,” said Shirley.

For Rick, there was a memorable moment when he watched the face of a young boy as he caught his first fish ever.

“That made my day,” he said. “Those are the moments when we say, ‘Thank God that we did this and we’re able to enjoy this.’”

“That’s the whole thing,” he added. “If we can make a difference in a child’s life, as little as something like this might do, if we can spark an interest and maybe turn their lives around a little... that’s the goal.”

Feed the Fish is a nonprofit charitable organization. Donations are always welcome.

For more information, visit or call the Umbergers at 218-779-7334 or 218-791-0848.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their young son and daughter, and their yellow Lab.

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