- Associated Press - Sunday, April 30, 2017

PLATTE, S.D. (AP) - Daniel Daum’s eyes light up when he talks about a Christian summer camp that will soon “redeem” an area stamped by tragedy.

New Hope Christian Camp and Retreat Center, located on the former Westerhuis estate, has undergone extensive renovations and its “retreat center” is nearly complete, likely ready for use by the end of May, according to Daum, with the Platte Area Ministerial Association.

“It’ll be really exciting to have that first group come in and utilize the facility,” Daum told the Daily Republic (https://bit.ly/2nVZJ6b ) earlier this month, looking out a window in the Retreat Center overlooking the 40.4 acre property.

The Ministerial Association hopes the camp will bring healing for Platte residents who were stunned by what authorities ruled as murder-suicide.

New Hope sits on the land formerly owned by Scott and Nicole Westerhuis, a pair of Platte residents allegedly involved in a string of scandals resulting in the termination of an annual $4.3 million management contract held by Mid-Central Educational Cooperative, at which both were employed. In Sept. 2015, Scott is accused of shooting and killing Nicole and the couple’s four kids, setting the family’s home ablaze and killing himself.

In Sept. 2016, nearly a year to the day after the killings, the Ministerial Association purchased the land for $370,000. And, if the Ministerial Association’s vision for the property - including implementing a three-acre pond, paint ball area, rope course, playground and more - becomes a reality in the coming years, it could create a one-of-its-kind camp in South Dakota.

“Whether that work begins a year from now or two years from now, we’re not really sure,” Daum said. “Right now, we’re just overwhelmed by God’s grace to make everything possible this far.”

The nearly completed retreat center is located on the second floor of the shop building, and features four bedrooms, bathrooms, a dining room, kitchen and other living space. Only minor work is left to be completed, Daum said, like drywall and trim work. The last “major” piece of the renovation is to install an outside doorway to serve as an exit from the second floor, that will be a stairwell that leads from a doorway to the ground outside.

But once the work at the retreat center is complete, the Ministerial Association will have to begin what it considers the “major” work at the site. Those renovations will include installing an industrial kitchen, renovating current buildings for cabins, building bathroom facilities and the outdoor chapel and creating space for various activities, Daum said.

Before that work can begin, the group has to do serious fundraising, Daum said. They have already started fundraising.

For $500, people can sponsor one of 20 bunk beds the camp needs, or $250 for a half-bunk. In its first week, the fundraiser has netted enough to buy half of the bunk beds the ministerial needs, and Daum said the fundraiser is expected to continue throughout April.

That kind of generosity isn’t unprecedented for New Hope.

Most of the supplies for the camp have been donated, as has much of the labor involved in removing charred remains of the house that once sat on the property.

Some of the help has come from people who said they would not be associated with the camp, Daum said.

And while the Ministerial Association is anxious to have all of the work done, its members are more excited get campers to New Hope this summer.

“The thing about Platte is that it’s a real God-fearing community, so tragedies like that don’t happen here,” Daum said. “They were content with sweeping it under the rug, and us coming in and making people talk about it again wasn’t really well-received at first. We’re breaking through that now - people are coming around.”

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Information from: The Daily Republic, https://www.mitchellrepublic.com

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