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No April Foolin’ when mining town turns Lutheran

On April 1, 1960, a letter was mailed to Howe Sound Company, Chelan, Washington. Howe Sound owned a mining village in the Cascades above Lake Chelan. Wes Prieb, a student at Seattle’s Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI), wrote the letter … on LBI stationery.
It was Prieb’s third inquiry to Howe Sound — the first in 1957 when Wes learned mining had ended and Holden town was abandoned, another in 1958. His 1960 letter said: “[Holden’s] property might be a desirable place for the use of the church or Lutheran Bible Institute as a summer camp … for young people. Information [about asking price] will be deeply appreciated.”
Howe Sound had replied to Prieb’s two earlier inquiries, saying the village was “for sale at $100,000.” The company hoped to sell it as a mountain resort, but no buyer had appeared. The 1960 response, a telegram, asked Prieb to phone “our office in Salt Lake City.”
Wes called and was told Howe Sound would give the property to Lutheran Bible Institute, asking only that LBI “send a statement saying it had received a gift in the amount of $100,000.”

Holden Village is a well-known Lutheran retreat center near Chelan, Washington. It had been a mining camp until an entrepreneurial Lutheran named Wes Prieb convinced its donation for youth ministry.

Holden Village is a well-known Lutheran retreat center near Chelan, Washington. It had been a mining camp until an entrepreneurial Lutheran named Wes Prieb convinced its donation for youth ministry. Photo provided by Holden Village

When Prieb first announced the offer, some Lutherans thought it was an April Fool’s joke. It sounded “phony and a bit ridiculous,” said LBI President E.V. Stime.
But two months later, LBI decided to have a look. Visiting the property was a team including Stime and Prieb, who’d just finished his LBI studies. They were impressed by its possibilities and recommended that LBI receive the gift.
By December 1960, negotiations with Howe Sound for legal receipt of the gift were finished. Because the town sits on Forest Service land, that federal agency needed to okay its operation as a church facility — and it did.

A village is born

Youth departments of national Lutheran bodies were then drawn into planning. LBI and youth leaders jointly crafted a purpose statement, saying Holden would be a “center where youth and adults interested in youth may find spiritual, intellectual, and physical renewal for Kingdom service.”
A permanent Holden board was created, with representatives from LBI and national youth offices; it first met in May 1961. And because LBI declined any permanent responsibility, a separate Holden corporation was created.
An early concern was what to name the enterprise. The mining town had been known simply as “Holden” — after James Henry Holden, the prospector who’d discovered ore in 1896 and in 1899 had formed Holden Gold and Copper Mining Company. (No mining occurred until 1938, 20 years after Holden died, but the name “Holden Mine” had lived on.) Suggestions for the Lutheran center included “Holden Village in Luther Alps” and “Hidden Village.” The new board chose “Holden Village: A Place Apart” — to most it’s remained simply “Holden Village.”
Holden was envisioned initially as a program center for youth and young adults, and the younger generation did provide vital volunteer service during restoration work (the summers of 1961 and 1962), plus during Holden’s half-century of service since. But from the beginning, Holden has welcomed families and offered programs for all generations.
Also from its start, Holden’s leadership has been bi-national (Canada/U.S.) and inter-Lutheran. Active in the early ’60s were youth leaders from these bodies: The American Lutheran Church (ALC), the Augustana Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Free Church, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), and the United Lutheran Church. Holden’s board today includes persons from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and LCMS.
Two of Holden’s early on-site leaders came from Lutheran youth leadership, and from Minneapolis. Wilton Bergstrand, youth director of the Swedish-background Augustana Church, in the summer of 1961 directed nearly 50 work-campers who prepared the Village for receiving guests. The next summer he and his wife Dolores Bergstrand provided program leadership for the first guests.
Holden’s first executive director was Carroll Hinderlie, who had been the youth director for the Norwegian-background Evangelical Lutheran Church until its 1960 merger into The ALC. From 1963 to 1977, Carroll and his wife Mary Hinderlie were shaping Holden into a center for “hospitality and hilarity inspired by the Gospel.” Hinderlie enjoyed noting that a divine challenge came when “God gave a gift like this to God’s least imaginative people — the Lutherans.”
What about the young man whose letters led to Lutheran inheritance of Holden? When asked what he had hoped his inquiries might accomplish, Wes Prieb would say he never expected Howe Sound to “give the property away, but I hoped they would reduce the price, or some miracle might happen.” Prieb spent much of his later life there, serving as Holden’s PHD (pool hall director) for 32 consecutive summers, from 1968 through 1999. He died in early 2000.
Though operated by Lutherans, Holden is known as an ecumenical center for renewal, with a priority focus on faith and society concerns. It is known also as a place of “holy hilarity.” Elmer Witt, an LCMS pastor who was Village director in the 1980s, noted that “Holden is one of very few church-related organizations with the word humor in its incorporation articles.”
Holden has been a prized destination for Minnesotans. Its attendees over the past half-century have been outnumbered only by those from Washington state.
Through all its Lutheran life, Holden has been acutely aware of living with mine remains. Drainage from inside the mine cavity and ore tailings outside have contaminated the environment. The federal government decades ago declared it a disaster area needing cleanup. Rio Tinto, a large mining corporation, has accepted responsibility for massive mine remediation; now under way, it will be completed in 2015.
During construction seasons (May-November) Holden houses remediation workers and volunteers doing Village renewal, leaving no room for guests. In 2013 its revised summer program included “Holden on the Road” — at locales across the continent, several of them in Minnesota.
Now Holden is launching “Refresh, Renew, Rejoice,” a capital campaign seeking $4.8 million. It will follow mine cleanup with restoration of Holden’s 75-year-old buildings and infrastructure. Village friends, old and new, are asked to help. For specifics, visit or email
So, 54 years after Wes Prieb’s April First letter, Holden Village continues, a gift serving both church and world. Always, it serves with fun — and that’s no April Fool’s joke!
Charles P. Lutz, editor-emeritus of Metro Lutheran, is a member of Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer (ELCA), Minneapolis. He is author of Surprising Gift: the Story of Holden Village, Church Renewal Center (Holden Village Press, 1987).

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