Christian Berets, Inc. was founded in 1970 by Don Crooker, as a non-denominational, non-profit ministry for people with special needs. At that time, there were few non-profits that focused on serving the disabled. The name, Christian Berets, is meant to represent a team of people who (like the Green Berets, army special forces) are ready to handle any assignment and willing to do whatever it takes, with the purpose of serving the special needs community.
Photo: Don Crooker 2023
In 1971, Don Crooker and the Board of Directors decided to build a camp in the Sierra Mountains. Land was purchased in Long Barn from Jess and Laura Wirth. For years, the Wirth family had hoped to sell their land for the development of a Christian camp. By God’s grace and the Wirth's generosity (they returned all payments made by Christian Berets to them as donations designated for the purchase of the land), that vision became a reality! The camp in Long Barn was ready for guests in June 1973.
Months later, the Wirths shared that 35 additional acres of their land was available for sale near Mi-Wuk Village, which they generously offered to sell with a one-year option for one dollar. The Board decided to purchase this property for a larger camp site.
In 1981, Mary Greybell, who owned the frontage on Highway 108, donated three quarters of an acre to provide better access to the camp property.
Twelve years later, the Board accepted an offer on the sale of the Long Barn camp, which led to a groundbreaking ceremony on the 35 acres purchased for a new Conference and Retreat Center.
In 1995, construction began on a recently acquired 11-acre parcel adjacent to the other 35 acres. The 6,000 square foot building was designed to sleep about 50 guests and provide a multi-purpose room.
The first building (Meadowview Lodge) was dedicated in May 1996. It was built fully accessible (ADA certified) and was a big improvement over the rustic cabins in Long Barn. In May 2000, Wirth Lodge was completed and dedicated. These two lodges now provide 90 beds for our Summer Camps and guest groups.
In 2007, the Board approved a recommendation by Staff to rename the facility in Mi Wuk Village. Its new name was Whispering Pines Conference and Retreat Center.
In 2012, the Board approved a recommendation to change the facility name back to the original name, Christian Berets Conference and Retreat Center.
Christian Berets has developed under the leadership of these Executive Directors: Don Crooker (1970–2001), volunteers Mel Turner and Jack Coyle (2001–2003), Troy Thompson (2003–2005), Dave Shackelford (2005– 2011), Brad Barnes (2011 to 2012), Board of Directors (2012-2013), Tom Crooker (2013-2015), Rochelle Van Horn (2015-2016). Jeff Goudy (2017-2019), Board of Directors (2020-2021/Covid year), Kevin VanDonselaar (2021-present).