Okontoe’s History Timeline

Okontoe has had a rich history in its first 50 years. Here are the major highlights, along with our best efforts to name people who served on staff for a year or more. (We apologize for any we’ve left out!)

We won’t even try to name all those who lived at Okontoe short-term, summer DC staff and counselors, etc…


Bill Sr. and Willie Barr purchase and begin a “Church without Walls” at Okontoe. They run it as a campground until Bill’s death in 1986. Willie remains part of Okontoe for another 26 years until her death in 2007.

Bill Sr. and Willie Barr
Bill Sr. and Willie Barr

Bill Jr. & Cheryl Barr are staff until May, 1985 when they move to Montana.

Bill Jr and Cheryl Barr on a hiking trail
Bill Jr. and Cheryl Barr

Adventurous Christians founded by John Patten and Ken Bosworth. They lease a section of Okontoe’s property for $1/year until AC purchases it about 8 years later.

people gathered in a circle outside for Sunday worship
Sunday morning worship before the Chapel


Newlyweds, Mark and Nancy Patten are staff. They add a team of sled dogs to the Okontoe family, which would last for 21 years.

group of early Okontoe families
Early families and singles


Discipleship Camps (DC) begin. There are two 1-month sessions per summer, 24 youth per session with a 3:1 ratio of campers to staff. Main activities are Bible studies, wilderness and canoe skills, campground work projects, a 7-day BWCA canoe trip and 24-hour solo on Lake Superior.

Campers on bed of pickup and on hay wagon at Okontoe
Early Discipleship Camp campers
group of DC campers at Okontoe
A DC camper group

Mark Patten becomes DC Director. Bill Barr Sr and Bill Barr Jr. do much of the teaching.

Counseling Ministry birthed as families of DC campers seek help.

Many, many people live at Okontoe throughout its history short-term for counseling, ministry and help with family life and marriages. That continues on into the present.


Advanced Discipleship Camp (ADC) begins for those who had gone through the previous year’s DC. Includes outreaches into northern Native communities in Ontario and Manitoba through the connections of Ed Viren.

A-Frame Chapel construction begins.

several men building Okontoe's A-Frame Chapel in the 70s
The A-Frame Chapel in construction

Bill Morel joins Mark Patten as co-DC Directors for the summers. He and Mary would eventually serve in Papua New Guinea for a couple of years, then be part of the St. Cloud ministry in 1981.


Okontoe Ministry Center in St. Cloud begins at the “Route 6” property—two houses and a couple apartments. Bill & Cheryl Barr, Bill Sr. & Willie Barr, Susie Potter, Bill & Mary Morel spend 9 months of the year there (Okontoe during the summers). The Counseling Ministry is very active.

Pastors counseling with a woman
Okontoe’s Counseling Ministry based in St. Cloud

Susie Potter serves as Okontoe’s secretary for many years, both at the Counseling Center in St. Cloud and at Okontoe.

susie potter
Susie Potter, Oktonoe’s long-time secretary

Mark & Nancy Patten start to live at Okontoe year-round.

Mark Patten meets Fort Hope Chief, Harvey Yesno, to ask permission to bring up a Christian hockey team in the winter. He brings an ADC group there.

45-below zero on the thermometer
Anyone living at Okontoe year-round had to be prepared for this!


Others involved as long-term staff during the 70s include:

Dennis & Grace Audet, part of the St. Cloud Counseling Center for many years. They also help at Okontoe during the summers.

Harold & Diane Wiehoff, for a couple of years.

Melody Logan for about a year.

Gene & Bonnie Mitchell for 3-4 years.

Larry & Patty Gamer for 2-3 years.

Dave & Sue Lofstrom work with Okontoe Ministry Training School in 1979 and live at Okontoe into the 80s.

two men baptizing a woman in Bow Lake while another man looks on
There have been many, many baptisms in Bow Lake throughout Okontoe’s history

Gary & Judy Davidson are involved with Okontoe and the Counseling Center for several years.

John Davidson is involved with Okontoe, especially DC and the Counseling Center.

Bruce Moe and Pam Knowlen serve as staff for about a year. They eventually marry.

(Marriages from relationships formed at Okontoe have been common over our history!)


Okontoe Sports Ministry begins with hockey outreaches to Fort Hope, Ontario, a fly-in-only Native village. It later grows to include other communities in northern Canada.

Okontoe men's hockey team in Fort Hope, Ontario
Early Okontoe hockey team in Fort Hope, Ontario
Fort Hope native men's hockey team
Fort Hope’s hockey team

Dave Boeltl becomes the director of the Sports Ministry, including hockey outreaches. At its peak, about 160 men play on many different hockey teams in a league in the Twin Cities.

Dave Boeltl with a hockey stick
Dave Boeltl led Okontoe’s Sports Ministry for many years


Debbie (Wood) Adair and Lynn (Hankins) Hartke are Okontoe’s first missionaries to Fort Hope.

Lynn Hartke and Debbie Adair
Lynn and Debbie, Okontoe’s first missionaries to Fort Hope

Debbie served Okontoe in various capacities including DC and Okontoe Mission Outreach. She served in Fort Hope through Okontoe from 1985-1992.

native american youth having fun in a canoe
Okontoe hosted DC camps for youth from the North, too

Lynn then meets Kevin Hartke (who is working at AC). They marry and serve as staff at Okontoe. They find the cabin, now known as Grandma’s Cabin (as Willie Barr lived there for many years), and moved it to its present location on the property. They serve as staff for several years.


Dedication of the A-Frame Chapel and burning of the mortage.

men and women celebrating Okontoe chapel dedication and burning the mortgage
Chapel Dedication and burning the mortgage!


Mark & Nancy Patten and their family move to Fort Hope as Okontoe missionaries for about a year.

Mark & Muriel Orr serve as staff for a couple of years, both at Okontoe and Fort Hope.

John & Diana Sanny partner with Bill & Mary Morel as DC Directors.

Bill & Mary Morel and their family move to Okontoe full-time, until 1994.

Bill and Mary Morel and family
Bill & Mary Morel family

Willis & Carol Wood join Okontoe’s staff full-time, until 1992.


Jeff & Lynn Knowlen and their family serve as Okontoe missionaries in Fort Hope.


Okontoe’s ministry emphasis gradually shifts from the St. Cloud Counseling Center to mission work in the North in the early 80s. By 1985, all Okontoe staff are based at Okontoe.

Jerry & Gene Goodmanson and their family serve as Okontoe missionaries in Fort Hope for a couple years.

Bill Barr Sr. retires, and Mark Patten becomes Director of Okontoe.

Mark and Nancy Patten and family
Mark & Nancy Patten and family


First Mission Quest. About 250 people come to Okontoe from the north and the south for a long weekend of worship, teaching and fellowship over Memorial Day Weekend. There would be three Mission Quest events.

whites and natives gathering for Mission Quest
Mission Quest in the A-Frame Chapel

Bill Barr Sr. passes away.

Bill Barr Sr. teaching
Bill Barr Sr.


Bill & Mary Morel move to Fort Hope as Okontoe missionaries for a couple of years.

Steve Miller joins Okontoe staff for a couple years.

Jeff & Mary Moe and family move to Okontoe to join full-time staff (1988-1994).

DC campers sitting in the trees listening to a speaker
DC campers


Others who serve at Okontoe as long-term staff include:

Greg Pearson, for about three years.

Elaine (Roberts) Weygandt for several summers and a winter in Fort Hope.

Shelly (Paydon) Martin served as Okontoe Secretary for about three years.


Rick & Robin Sedgwick joined Okontoe staff for about a year.


Final DC camp.


Bill & Mary Morel family and Jeff & Mary Moe family leave Okontoe staff.

Chrissy Patten joins full-time staff, until 2006.

End of the sled dog era at Okontoe.


Patten Family Sleigh Rides begin at Okontoe. Guests would come from 48 states and about 50 countries. More than 12,000 people are estimated to have been hosted on the rides and in the Patten home until they closed the sleigh business in 2015. The four remaining Belgian horses, the sleighs, harnesses and other gear were donated to another Minnesota camp.

a two-horse sleigh ride at Okontoe
Sleigh rides were the winter focus for 21 winters

Patten family active in Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) in Grand Marais High School through 1998.

Andrea Patten joins Okontoe staff full-time, until 2002.


Prayer Chapel built on hill overlooking Bow Lake.

A-Frame Chapel torn down due to rotting logs.


Sonia Trinidad joins Okontoe staff, until about 2006.

Andrea Patten, Chrissy Patten and Sonia Trinidad goofing around
Andrea Patten, Chrissy Patten and Sonia Trinidad


Present Chapel construction begins (completed in 2011)

Begin hosting AA Retreats (until 2007).

Boundary Waters and Gunflint Trail suffer “the Blowdown” of July 4th. An estimated 5,000 trees lost on Okontoe’s property. No buildings, vehicles, RVs or tents are damaged!


Tim Bermel joins Okontoe staff for about a year. He eventually marries Andrea Patten and they leave in 2002.


Jon Barr (grandson of Bill Sr. & Willie, son of Don & Sheri Barr) home-going to glory.


Pete Jacobson joins Okontoe staff for about a year. He eventually marries Chrissy Patten. They leave Okontoe in 2006.

Christy Miller joins Okontoe staff (for the first time!), until 2011.

Christy Miller
Christy Miller


Willie Barr passes away.

Willie Barr
Willie Barr

Lumberjack Breakfasts begin (until 2010), a living history experience. The Okontoe property had been logged in the past, with some operations set up in the back of the property across the lake. Used the horses and wagon to bring guests to the Dining Hall/Cook Shack.

a long table full of people eating
Lumberjack Breakfast

Jake & Andrea Patten join Okontoe as staff, until 2015.

Andrea and Jake Patten
Jake and Andrea Patten


Okontoe hosts Wilderness Horse Clinics each summer through 2012 with Jack & Sararh Leiser, who come up from Texas.

horses and riders at the Discipleship Camp
Wilderness Horse Clinic participants

Internship Program begins and continues to the present, working with many, many young adults in summer up through a couple of years of living at Okontoe.

group of young people
Internship participants with staff

Off-the-Grid Program begins (through 2019) to train people in off-grid survival skills including outdoor cooking.


Okontoe begins to host Midwest Challenge/Life Rebuilders retreats, through the present.

four men sitting on a Belgian horse
A few of the men on a Midwest Challenge/Life Rebuilders retreat


Ben & Jody Selin and family live at Okontoe (for the first time!) for 2.5 years, training for the mission field in Mongolia.


Marissa & Sarah Rinke (sisters) join the Internship Program and eventually become staff, until 2019.


Tom & Bobbi Cromwell serve as Campground Hosts through 2021.

Tom and Bobbi Cromwell
Tom and Bobbi Cromwell, our campground hosts


Mark Patten passes away.

Mark and Nancy Patten, hugging
Mark & Nancy Patten


Ben Selin becomes new Executive Director. He, his wife, Jody, and their four kids move to Okontoe.

The Selin family in front of a frozen waterfall
Ben and Jody Selin and family

The Campground breaks records with guests in the cabins and campsites due to the Covid-19 pandemic and everyone heading outdoors!


Christy Miller re-joins Okontoe as full-time staff.

Okontoe celebrates its 50th Anniversary with a Campout in August, hosting around 200 people for the weekend. Events include a Saturday evening potluck meal, community campfire and Sunday morning Chapel service.

Okontoe 50th Anniversary cake
50 years of “Welcome home!”
Family photo of the Barr family in front of the wood shed
Three generations (four?) of the Barr family—Bill Sr. and Willie’s legacy


We look forward to seeing what the Lord does…!