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Northern Light Spring 2021

The Northern Light is written four times a year to share updates from program managers, photos, and peeks into life at HoneyRock.

A Note from the Executive Director

By Rob Ribbe, Executive Director

Last summer we were incredibly blessed to run a successful summer camp serving 450+ campers and 100 staff. That involved massive sacrifices by our team to re-write the program with extensive modifications in 6 six weeks’ time! Summer staff committed to being at camp for the entire 7 weeks without any trips home and received half of their anticipated salary due to the reduced length of the summer season. The sacrifice was worth it!

I hardly need to say this to parents who have been living with children in the home, as you’ve had first-hand experience. The impact of social isolation, inactivity, screen time, interrupted school, and social disruption is impacting their mental and physical health, their learning, and their social development among other things. The potential long-term impact on an entire generation will be significant. Now let’s talk about the summer camp environment: lots of people, lots of activities, zero screens, all-in active engagement. In a summer camp experience, kids are active, they’re outdoors, and they share life together with friends and mentors. This is exactly what our kids need always, but especially now. 

In our planning and execution for last summer, we discovered that intentional mitigation efforts work. These included pre-arrival quarantine and testing, using cohort models, monitoring symptoms, physically distancing, using masks when mixing with non-cohort groups/individuals, increased hygiene measures, enhancing cleaning and disinfection, keeping programming outdoors, and attending to indoor ventilation. We put all of these practices into place last summer at HoneyRock—and they worked. We had zero outbreaks of COIVD-19 after hosting campers and staff on site.  We are confident that we can do it again with clearer knowledge gained over the past year.

You are most likely aware that the CDC has reported that collected data from across the world shows it is safe to make the shift back to in-person learning for schools in the U.S. “Children, especially those under 13, are less susceptible to infection, less likely to experience severe symptoms, far, far, far, far less likely to be hospitalized or die if they are infected and are less likely to transmit the disease if infected.” Children are at significantly less risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19.

We are planning to run a full summer in 2021. I do acknowledge, however, that things could change at any moment, especially as the COVID-19 variants continue to emerge. But, what we do know, after a year of living with COVID-19, can give us more confidence to proceed. We are planning our programs now with faith and determination. Please tell your neighbors, friends and relatives: HoneyRock is open and thriving!

Registration for Summer Camp at HoneyRock is Open!

We are SO excited to return to our traditional summer lineup of programs this summer. We're quickly approaching waitlists for several programs. You can see a complete list of our summer camp programs, dates, and cost with the link below.

In this Edition of the Northern Light

A Note from the Executive Director | The End of a Chapter at HoneyRock: Saying Goodbye to Erin Sharp | In Memory of Dr. Al Smith, Ginny Elsen | What's New on the HoneyRock Blog | HoneyRock Introduces an Outdoor and Adventure Leadership Concentration in the Global Leadership M.A. | HoneyRock is Hiring! | Meet HoneyRock Students

The End of a Chapter at HoneyRock

By Erin Sharp, January 29 | Erin originally posted this on her Facebook page and we asked if we could share it here, as well. Thank you, Erin!

The end of a chapter always comes with the emotions that follow an ending as well as the excitement of what awaits as you turn the next page. 

HoneyRock has been a huge part of my life story, calling it home as I walked in my dad's shadow and encountered my growing up years in the woods nestled next to Long Lake. I found my life passion there as my eyes were opened to the world of horses. It was a safe, exciting place to start and a perfect springboard as I launched into my adult life.

2013 arrived and HoneyRock again became a part of my life story along with my little family. Learning and growing as I had the great honor of leading some of the best people a person could know throughout the seasons.

A dream of Jonathan and mine has been to live a life where we grow and manage our food teaching our kids as we too learn from the powerful mysterious ways of the land. I knew that if we were to fully step into this farming role, I couldn’t realistically split my time between our farm and HoneyRock along with being a mom and wife. It was time to make a big decision 1) allow this property to be a quiet place to rest and call home and continue at HoneyRock or 2) take a step of faith. Leave the known as I join my family to farm. Along with the added bonus of being able to operate my own equestrian programs from my backyard close to my kids.

Through lots of prayer the word I received was “it’s time to go home”. The decision was equal parts easy and hard. Hard in that I love my job at HoneyRock and the adventures that unfold there. Easy in that even as awesome as HoneyRock is it could not come even close to competing with the ability to live into a dream, start up my own equestrian program and do it all at home with my kids along for every step of the wild ride!

Thank you to all the people who I got to share space with at HoneyRock. Those who were adventurous enough to work alongside me. Parents who entrusted their precious kids to come learn from me and my fellow full-time staff who like teammates walked alongside me through the years. I will miss the daily adventures with you and treasure deeply the moments we shared.

The HoneyRock horses. The faithful, dedicated, hardworking horses. They were my teachers. Much of what I know is due to horses I’ve shared space with. Well done gentle teachers. It’s time for you to spread your instruction to others. I leave you in good hands. 

My last day at HoneyRock is February 12. I am so excited to get started full-time on the farm. I know the adventures that await in the next chapter hold so much for me and my family and I can hardly wait!

Jonathan and I hope that many of you get to be a part of our farming story and can’t wait to see how it all falls together!

Watch Erin's Farewell Video 


In Memory Of

By Dr. Paul Egeland 

Dr. Albert “Al” Smith passed away on February 10th, 2021. Al, with his wife Audrey, taught at HoneyRock for over 15 years during the 1980s and ’90s.  Al was a long-time HoneyRock faculty, supporter, and colleague. He also was a staple at the fall Northwoods Adventure retreat for Wheaton Alumni for many years.  

He will be fondly remembered by many students, alumni, and faculty who spent one or more summers at HoneyRock. After years of teaching biology at Wheaton’s science station in the Black Hills, he agreed to teach Environmental Science at HoneyRock long before other Wheaton faculty were attracted to teaching in the Northwoods. His pioneering spirit and love for the flora and fauna in and around HoneyRock led him to plan a sabbatical at the Northwoods Campus. He studied in the National Forests near Camp, and the experience served to expand his love and appreciation for the Creator of this environment. 

Dr. Smith prepared many Outdoor Education college students to become effective day camp instructors through his environmental science course. Students gained new and fresh understandings of the diversity and interdependence of the environment found in the Northwoods. As a participant of numerous field trips with Dr. Smith, I can attest to his love for God’s natural world and his enthusiasm for sharing it with others. He leaves a legacy of HoneyRockers who continue to respect and steward God’s creation. 


By Scott Eppler

Virginia Culver Elsen quietly slipped away to her eternal home in the presence of Jesus Saturday evening, January 23, surrounded by her children and family at her beloved Northwoods home. Known as Mom to 13, Grandma to 40, and Great Grandma to 63, she was affectionately known as Aunt Ginny to hundreds over four generations, now scattered around the world. Ginny and her late husband John were great friends and supporters of HoneyRock throughout their lives. Whitebuck Lodge, their family retreat on Big Stone Lake in Three Lakes has been enjoyed by many HoneyRockers over the years. Ginny was a devout prayer warrior and prayed faithfully for her family, friends, HoneyRock, and the work of the Gospel around the world. It has been a joy to call her a friend and she will be missed dearly by the HoneyRock family. 

What's new on the HoneyRock Blog

Tap the photo to read the stories!

grad students collaborating in class

Equipping Ministry Professionals with Program Planning Skills and Experience at HoneyRock

One of the hallmarks of the graduate student experience in the Outdoor and Ministry Leadership program at Wheaton College Graduate School is the applied learning opportunities found at HoneyRock. Explore how coursework intersects with immediate and practical application in OAL 548: Program Planning & Leadership.

Rob Ribbe, Director of HoneyRock

HoneyRock Director Teaches Executive Leadership to Christian Camping Leaders on a Global Scale

As part of Christian Camping International’s Global Leadership Series, Dr. Rob Ribbe is sharing decades of industry knowledge with camping leaders from 28 different countries.

voyageur center pre renovation

Voyageur Center Renovation Begins at HoneyRock

A new and exciting HoneyRock construction project is on the way! George Polcaster, HoneyRock’s Facilities Manager, has been overseeing the renovation of the Voyageur Center.

Northwoods Adventure Week Retreat - September 20-25, 2021

Northwoods Adventure Week is a retreat for friends and alumni of Wheaton College (ages 55+). There is a 10% discount for first-time attendees and financial assistance is available. We look forward to welcoming new and returning Northwoods Adventure participants back to HoneyRock this September! 



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HoneyRock Introduces an Outdoor Ministry Concentration in the Global Leadership M.A.

By Rob Ribbe

Wheaton College Graduate School, in partnership with HoneyRock Center for Leadership Development, is introducing an optional track within the Master of Arts degree in Global Leadership (MAGL): Outdoor Ministry. This additional Master’s level option strives to equip ministry professionals that would like to add an outdoor ministry emphasis to their current credentials. 

The MAGL courses are offered in online, hybrid, and intensive formats so students can participate from a distance while maintaining employment. Outdoor/adventure programs are on the rise in colleges and universities across the country (i.e., campus recreation programs, outdoor leadership degrees, and orientation programs like Wheaton Passage).

This MAGL track in Outdoor Ministry would be very different from the current Outdoor and Adventure Leadership (OAL) M.A., which attracts early career and recent college graduates who are pursuing a program management degree. The MAGL with a track in Outdoor Ministry has been developed to serve currently practicing, mid-career professionals who desire enhanced training, want to move to senior-level leadership within growing organizations, or those switching from careers in higher education, church ministry, or other fields to leadership in outdoor, adventure-based, or camp-related ministries.

Looking for a Quick Northwoods Getaway?

Our newly renovated private cabins create an incredible place apart for you and those you love to retreat and enjoy time spent with one another. Whether you're more of a cozy up and read a book type or one who likes to do all of the winter activities HoneyRock offers in a day (or a little bit of both!), we have an experience for you. Learn more about your Northwoods getaway options with the links below!



Meet HoneyRock Students

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