Russ and I were high school sweethearts who got married shortly after graduating from high school. We were young and financially poor, but where we lacked in funds we made up for in drive and desire. We were young and full of energy and determination to be successful in life. With only a high school education, I worked a minimum wage job in a department store while learning to be a new wife. Russ worked seven days a week in a factory and after finishing his 8 hours each day at PPG Industries, he worked an additional 8 hours logging to supplement our income. We had our first son, Russ Jr., within the first year of being married and what a blessing he was. Having him further spurred our desireto be successful in life to provide the quality of life we so desired for him. Our tiny, second story apartment shrunk in size by adding a child so we moved to our second apartment this time a first floor, we worked hard and played little but we were focused and determined. What little spare time we did have Russ was avid about hunting and trapping these were his passions and trapping became a way to provide a few extra dollars for Christmas. I tried my hand at home sales like: Mary Kay, Home Interiors and Jaffra, dreaming of making a successful home business to help supplement all Russ’ hard work, but little became of these ventures.
Pregnant with our second child, Ryan, in less than two years of marriage, we were very quickly the proud parents of two rambunctious little boys and we realized we needed to not only work hard, but also be willing to take educated risks if we were to provide for our rapidly growing family. So we moved from our $110 a month rental apartment into Russ’ mom’s home for a year while we obtained a half-acre lot just outside of town and decided to jump in with both feet when we got a $20,000 loan at 17 ½% interest to build our first home. It seemed crazy, but a move we felt we needed to make. So with pick and shovel in hand, Russ broke ground for our first home. He literally dug the footer by hand, cut all of the lumber to build our house, rented a sawmill to saw out the boards and builtthe house himself from the ground up with a little help from our dads and some friends. One year after starting we moved into what was now a home valued at over 4 times what we had invested, so we owned something for the first time thatwas our very own.
We continued to keep up the intense work pace: we worked hard to pay off the mortgage quickly, used the house as collateral to buy a piece of wooded property, cut the timber off the property to pay the 2nd mortgage back and thus began the quest and desire to own untouched wooded land. Now a stay at home mom, I started college, in an attempt to earn a degree that would give me opportunity to contribute more than just a minimum wage job if I needed to go back to work. Determined to contribute however I could to my husband’s hard work ethic, I wanted to do more than just provide encouragement and moral support.
Things were moving in the right direction, but something was definitely missing in our lives. It was at this time that the most life changing experience of our entire lives took place, we committed our lives to Jesus Christ and our life has been eternally changed. We no longer worked for earthly success, our focus shifted to more important things, those things of eternal value. Though we continued to work hard, we did not live our existence for work alone we became involved in ministry and reaching out to and helping others, who like us had not known who Jesus Christ truly was. For the first time in our lives we could say we were truly happy.
Shortly after committing our lives to following God’s path for our life, we were called to ministry for young people, but to be honest we were not sure what kind of ministry or where we were being called to. So we prayed, but put the thoughts on a “back burner” temporarily. As we continued to grow in our walk withGod, He blessed us with a third son, Heath, who was born on our one-year anniversary of our salvation (Heath was born on the exact day Russ and I committed our lives to Christ, one year later). We loved the Lord and we loved being the parents of three precious boys and we dreamed of raising them somewhere where they could run and play and hunt instead of along a busy highway just outside of town. So we dreamed and worked toward our goals whilemaking our main focus our relationship with God and family.
Our hard work came to a halt just before I graduated from college in 1988 when Russ was in a serious logging accident, which almost cost him his life. I can still vividly remember the pain in his face that day in the emergency room when he begged me to not let them take his leg, he feared he would never be able to hunt again or do the things his boys loved to do with him. After 21 days in traction, several surgeries and a long hospital stay my 100-mile daily trips to the hospital were finally over when we brought Russ home to start his long road to recovery. One thing that was not over was the mounting medical bills and daily expenses. Since Russ was hurt in a logging accident outside of his regular job, unemployment compensation or any form of monetary compensation was not available. We had 3 young children and no jobs or money coming in. I remember during this time I was hired by a church camp to lead their children’s ministry program for the week. At the end of the week when I was given a check for $250 I knew God was telling me to put the check in the offering plate, I was there to serve and I needed to trust Him to take care of us, trusting God I was obedient. When we arrived home from the camp we were visited by an employee from the factory where Russ had worked and they gave us a card containing twice the amount we had given back to the camp, God was faithfully showing us that He would provide for us. Somehow during that time we were never late on a bill and never went hungry.
God remained the strong hold in our lives and he blessed us and took care of us in so very many ways. One example was the initial purchase of property for Quest Haven. I had been praying specifically about where God wanted us to do the youth ministry he was calling us to when a man came to our door one day and ask if Russ could hall a load of logs for him from a farmer’s property that they were considering selling. He needed help hauling the logs, so his logging equipment wouldn’t damage the fields. It took Russ one visit to the property to fall in love, he came home so excited saying it was exactly the kind ofplace we had always dreamed of raising our boys and that the hunting was great.We had both been born and raised in the area and never knew about this secret paradise just a few miles from where we lived. Russ’ excitement turned to disappointment the next day when he and our son Ryan walked the property borders with the farmer and reality sank in. The property was much larger than we could ever begin to afford to even think about. As we prayed, God had other ideas, we knew He was saying to put a bid on the property, but it didn’t make sense. So out of obedience we figured how much money we could come up with if we literally sold everything we had: our home, property, our cows, everything and then how much could we afford to borrow. We were still way far away from the asking price. It didn’t make sense to even make an offer, but God was telling us to do it and trust Him. So we did and 24 hours after making the offer the two bachelor’s owning the property accepted the offer, saying their mom would want to see children on their homestead again. The landowners had no idea that we were praying for God to provide a place to do youth ministry, just that we had 3 young boys and they were feeling led to sell the property to us at a reduced pricerather than another interested buyer at full price. The other buyer like them, was a bachelor with no children. God definitely provided the original property that would eventually become Quest Haven Lodge.
Within a month of purchasing the property, Russ was permanently laid off from his job due to automations taking workers jobs. We had sold everything we owned and had a mortgage that was the maximum we could afford with Russ working full time and logging after hours. Russ never being a man to give up or lose site of the future, made a first of many good entrepreneurial decisions. He expanded the logging business by setting up a sawmill, so now the logging business became a lumber business, which was more lucrative than just logging.I went to work at my first teaching job to try to help until the mill could get up and running. Once again hard work, good in-site from Russ and lots of blessings from God helped our lumber business be very successful. Even at a young age our boys all worked beside their dad helping. They were a team from the beginning.
In the first year of living at the farm and teaching, baby number 4 arrived, this time a little girl, our daughter Heather. Our family was growing, our business was thriving and God was saying build a lodge to do the ministry I have called you to do. My initial thought was, “Wow God, how can we do that, we have sold everything we have, purchased the land, started a new business, we are in debt and working hard to get out. We are not a church conference or big corporation, just a family, how do we begin?” His answer was, “On your Knees.” So we prayed and followed God’s lead. That’s when Russ became interested in breeding Whitetail Deer. Me not having the gift of being a visionary like Russ does didn’t understand how a hobby like deer and hunting could be anything but that. Boy, was I ever wrong. I was going to get educated by a man exercising his gift of being a visionary. Russ moved ahead full force and traveled the country to learn all he could from the top breeders in the nation. He bought the top geneticsfrom across the country to develop a doe herd second to none. The first breeder buck we purchased was a huge step of faith, when Russ told me we were going to spend more money for a deer than it cost to build our home my answer was that I believed in him and trusted his decisions. So we purchased a breeder buck that put us in the spotlight of the industry when we turned down over double whatwe paid for him if we would sell him before we even brought him home.
The deer breeding industry flourished for us. We had committed to take the money we earned from a passionate hobby turned business and use it to build the ministry God was calling us to. Russ once again committed to working more than one job and our boys worked right along with him. I had left teaching to take care of the family, have baby number 5, our son Isaac, and help Russ the best I could. We were learning quickly what it took to raise monster Whitetails and it was exciting and rewarding to see the genetic crosses Russ and the boys made to create some of the largest Whitetail Bucks in the world.
We took the finances God was blessing us with as Whitetail breeders and used it to build Quest Haven Lodge, a camping ministry and Christian Retreat Center in the Appalachian Mountains of Central, PA. At the same time Russ and the boys were building the breeding stock, they were attempting to manage the genetics on our property to produce bigger and better Whitetail Deer for hunting. Russ and our boys always had a passion for hunting and Heather being the only girl joined right in and learned to love the sport as well.
Managing the property became a nightmare, as poachers were a constant problem. After much thought and consideration to all possibilities and after trying desperately to manage the property to provide good hunting, we came to the realization that privatizing the property by building high fences was our only solution and it worked. With the deer protected from poachers they flourished in the hunting preserve. Our boys were experiencing opportunities to harvest Whitetail Deer like they had never seen before.
Completing the lodge in 2001 spurred the idea of not only using it for ministry, but for lodging for other avid hunters like our family who loved to hunt Whitetail. This was the beginning of Quest Haven Lodge. The first season we opened the property for public hunts we were thrilled to shoot our first Whitetail Buck scoring 200” SCI. Hunters were excited and raved that the hunting was the best they had ever seen. Interest increased rapidly and word of mouth advertising brought more and more hunters to Quest Haven.
As the number of hunters increased and the genetic foundation got stronger each year, Quest haven expanded to include two additional properties. Now hunting over 2200 arces, Quest Haven has over 40 deer in the SCI record book and many number one slots. This season the new all time world record wasshot scoring 659 5/8 “ SCI. God has blessed us tremendously: a wonderful family, a flourishing family owned and operated business and a ministry that is having a positive impact on people’s lives.
Quest Haven today hosts Christian summer camps for children and youth,support groups, Christian retreats, cooperate meetings and retreats, youth and children’s ministry opportunities, couples’ ministry, and adoption support. We have assisted in helping over 30 children from Ukraine to get adopted in the United States, including 3 children into our immediate family (Lena, Erik and Ana who have been with us 3 years and are 14, 16 and 17 years of age).
Our family has grown and we are blessed to have children and son and daughter-in-laws who are grounded in their faith and who live out their Christian convictions in their lives. We all work together to make Quest Haven what is today both in ministry and hunting. We invite you to hunt with us or join us for a ministry activity and become a part of our family during your stay.