Words that would offend most people now, were commonly used by professionals when Dick Endres began working with people with mental retardation.
Moron... imbecile... idiot... were all part of the nomenclature in 1950 when Endres arrived at Faribault State Hospital, fresh from St. John's University.
The founder of Confidence Learning Center on Sylvan Lake has seen tremendous changes in the treatment of the mentally retarded. His efforts on their behalf are, in part, why he'll receive the Crow Wing County Human Rights Award Monday.
The ceremony is at noon Monday at Central Lakes College cafeteria.
The 81-year-old retiree recently reflected on his experiences of more than 50 years of working with the mentally retarded.
Dick Endres, recipient of this year's Crow Wing County Human Rights Award, reflected on his more than 50 years of working with the mentally retarded. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
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Armed with a bachelor's degree in English and recreation, Endres went to work at Faribault State Hospital. At that time it was Minnesota's largest state hospital with about 2,600 residents.
Endres met his wife, Jeanne, at the Faribault hospital. A former nurse, she recalled patients lined up in chairs with few activities. The prevailing attitude toward patients, in those days was out of sight, out of mind, Endres said.
As part of then-Gov. Luther Youngdahl's mental health team Dick Endres organized songfests, baseball games and marches with plenty of clapping by the patients.
"It was an old hospital and people didn't do those kinds of things," Endres said. The prevailing attitude, according to Endres was "Keep 'em clean. Keep 'em fed and above all, keep 'em quiet."
When he moved to Brainerd to work at the Brainerd State Hospital in 1960, he jumped at the chance to use Camp Vanasek on Whipple Lake for recreational opportunities for the patients. Seven or eight weeks a summer, however, was not enough, in his mind.
Endres had his eye on the current Sylvan Lake site of the camp. He tracked down the owners and after setting up a nonprofit corporation and recruiting a board of directors he convinced the owners to sell the 140-acre site.
"It was a steal," he said of the price.
Although no state funds were used for Camp Confidence, Endres did have to talk his superiors into letting him work full-time on the camp. He had an office at the state hospital, but he spent most of his waking hours at the developing camp.
"I had to convince a lot of people," he said of his self-designed position.
He persuaded the U.S. Army Reserve to build a road into the camp, build a beach and a bridge and work on the Nature Playground as part of its community service. He also persuaded state officials to let him work full-time on the Camp Confidence project, even though it wasn't a state-run or state-funded program.
"I had to convince lot of people," Endres said of his unusual work arrangement.
For years he labored at the developing camp. He said he had an office at the Brainerd State Hospital, but he was seldom there.
Camp Confidence offered fishing, canoeing beach activities and other recreational pursuits in the summer. In the winter, campers could take part in cross-country skiing, tubing, ice skating and other pursuits. The camp offered downhill skiing at one point but it was discontinued because of insurance concerns.
There was nothing in Endres' personal background or in his college training that might have pointed him to a career with the developmentally disabled.
"I just happened to fall into the job," he said.
In 1968, Endres returned to the University of Minnesota for a master's in therapeutic recreation, leaving his wife home with a family of what was then six children. The Endres family grew to include eight children. The Endres lost their 20-month-old daughter, Anna, when she drowned accidentally.
With the help of many volunteers and a forward-looking board of directors, the camp opened for business in the spring of 1969.
Endres said he was fortunate to have hard-working board members and volunteers over the years. Among them was the late Marv Campbell, who was president of Citizens State Bank (now the Bremer Bank) when he first became involved with Camp Confidence.
"He called me one day and said he wanted to be on the board and the next day he was our board chairman," Endres said.
Endres credited Everett Lassig, a Camp Confidence board member and owner of the Log Cabin Restaurant and Lodge, for coming up with the idea of a celebrity golf tournament to raise funds. Then-Sen. and former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey was the first honorary chair in 1974. Among the celebrities who took part in the golf tournament during its run were Vikings Bill Brown and Karl Kassulke, football great Bronco Nagurski and hockey legend John Mariucci.
Mariucci initiated his own "fiesta" for the tournament, a sumptuous Italian meal with a variety of pastas and lots of garlic. Endres said the hockey coach would personally supervise the cooking and his standard reply, when asked how long sauce should be stirred, was that it wasn't done until the paint falls off the walls.
"He was so down to earth and so much fun to work with," Endres recalled.
New fundraisers such as Coffee Day and the Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Extravaganza helped keep Camp Confidence in the public eye.
"You've got to keep pushing," Endres said about running a nonprofit. "It's not begging. It's making our needs known."
Endres' proudest accomplishment is that for its first 25 years Camp Confidence was the only year-round, free-of-charge recreational camp for the mentally retarded. A slight fee is charged for the camp's services today.
The south Brainerd resident advised nonprofit managers to set their goals high and stick to the work that needs to be done.
"Rely on people around you," he said. "Surround yourself with the best people you can find. I'm sure you can't do it all alone."
One of the keys to Camp Confidence's success was that the workers did things with the mentally retarded not for them, he said.
"I couldn't be more pleased with the community help (for the camp)," Endres said. "The good Lord will not let it fail."
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
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