John W. Shertzer lost his job at age 63 when the company he worked for downsized.

He found a new job as executive director of Quarryville's Black Rock Retreat, a nonprofit Christian camp and conference center tucked away on 100 acres of pristine woodlands at 1345 Kirkwood Pike.

“God blessed me with the best job I’ve ever had,’’ says Shertzer, 71, of Lancaster.

Titus McGrath, 36, used to bring his middle school science students in Owings Mills, Maryland, to retreats at the camp. Now he’s Black Rock’s outdoor education director.

Josh Foley, 27, attended summer camp at Black Rock for eight years, beginning when he was 8, followed by six years as a counselor when he was in high school and college. Then he became Black Rock's summer camp director.

“This is my 19th year here,’’ says Foley, a 2006 Solanco High School graduate. “I can't get enough of it.’’

Shertzer, McGrath and Foley took a break from camp recently to talk about Black Rock, which this year is celebrating “60 years of sharing the love of Jesus.’’

Black Rock began in 1954, when the late Rev. Frank Enck, pastor of the former Vine Street Mennonite Church, purchased 29½ wooded acres south of Quarryville for a Christian camp to minister to low-income children from Lancaster city.

“Get them off the street and out in the country,’’ Enck is quoted as saying in “Pathways,’’ Black Rock's summer/fall newsletter. “That's where you can teach them about God and nature.’’

“(Enck) would be excited that we’ve stayed true to his purpose,’’ says Shertzer, a member of Forest Hills Mennonite Church in Leola.

This summer, the camp has served more than 900 students in second to 12th grades. About a third of them are disadvantaged inner-city children and youth from Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., as well as Lancaster city, whose camp fees are paid by sponsors.

“We don’t turn anyone away (because they can’t pay),’’ says Foley, a member of Mount Vernon Christian Church in Kirkwood.

For about 10 weeks, from the end of May to the middle of August, the camp, with a staff of 42 (about half of them former campers), holds weekly sessions for various age groups from Monday to Saturday. Campers stay in 12 cabins — six for boys, six for girls — 10 students and two counselors per cabin. The season will end with a family camp from Sunday to Thursday.

“We want to provide them with an experience where they can have fun and grow in their faith in a refuge of God’s creation,’’ says Foley.

Foley and McGrath and their families live year-round at the camp.

Black Rock features a lake, with a 130-foot water slide, water trampoline and raft; an outdoor pool; an outdoor basketball court; an activities center; an archery range; a ropes course; and a nature center.

McGrath, a member of Oak Hill Fellowship Church in Quarryville, runs outdoor education retreats for summer campers and for Christian, public and home schools during the school year.

“One thing I’m excited about is the home school program, which has the largest potential for growth,’’ McGrath says. “We’re expanding it to make it their science curriculum.’’

McGrath, who joined the Black Rock staff last year, also is in charge of the ropes course, featuring a high line with a zip line and a low line with a challenge course. Open from March to November, the course offers team-building skills for schools, colleges, businesses and nonprofit organizations, as well as campers.

“This year, more than 1,800 people of all ages participated,’’ says McGrath.

“The Solanco football team comes every year,’’ Shertzer adds.

The nature center, built four years ago, houses a collection of animals — including a rabbit, chinchilla and gecko and snakes and lizards. The center features a digital sandbox, which McGrath describes as “a teaching tool that demonstrates contour lines, topography and watersheds.’’

“You have to see it,’’ McGrath says. (Go to

“It's cutting edge,’’ says Shertzer.

Black Rock also offers retreats year-round for all ages, including a Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) program. Its 66-room Maranatha Retreat Center was renovated last year, and its 12-room Dogwood Siesta Motel was renovated and expanded in 2004. Plans are underway to raze the existing chapel and dining hall in November 2015 for construction of a much larger combined facility.  

For support, the retreat, which is run by an association with a board of directors, holds annual fundraisers — an auction, a banquet, a golf tournament and a bike-a-thon. Shertzer says 200 riders already have signed up for this year's bike-a-thon, which will be held Friday and Saturday, Sept 12-13.

“We hope to raise $100,000 this year,’’ he says.

When they were dating, Shertzer and his wife, Henrietta, attended Sunday night youth meetings, hymn sings and evangelical meetings at Black Rock.

Foley met his wife, Bethany, when she was a counselor at the camp.

“She came here for a summer and never left,’’ he says.

Black Rock Retreat, circa 1960s

Black Rock Retreat, circa 1960s

Black Rock Retreat, circa 1970s

Black Rock Retreat, circa 1970s

Black Rock Retreat, circa 1980s