This September, Rob Ribbe stepped down from his position as the executive director of HoneyRock, which he has held for the past 23 years. HoneyRock is Wheaton College’s Center for Leadership Development in Three Lakes, Wisconsin. Ribbe has been in conversation with HoneyRock’s advisory board about resigning since 2019. He said that the decision resulted from a sense of calling to finish his career in a way that was directly focused on training leaders.
“The Lord is providing for HoneyRock, which was one of the big considerations in this decision,” he said. “Two of the key things in deciding when it was time for me to step aside were that HoneyRock was in a strong place before I left, and also that there was a leader that could step in and keep it rolling.”
Matt Erickson ‘95 is taking over the executive director position. After a sabbatical, Ribbe will continue his 40-year career at the college by joining the faculty as HoneyRock’s director of academic programs and a professor in the Outdoor Adventure Leadership (OAL) graduate program.
Ribbe said the search for a new director was a careful and intentional process. The selection committee, made up of HoneyRock staff, faculty and several members of the advisory board, worked together to select qualified candidates and conduct interviews. They recommended the final candidates to the college’s administration, including Provost Karen Lee. The administration ultimately chose Matt Erickson ’95, a third-generation HoneyRock summer camper who previously served on HoneyRock’s advisory board.
HoneyRock was founded in 1951 by former head football coach Harvey Chrouser, his wife Dot, and a team of Wheaton College professors and coaches. Ribbe has been part of its growth in recent years, overseeing its expansion from a summer camp into a year-round center for leadership and spiritual development. Thousands of students and others outside of the college’s community have taken classes, attended retreats, and staffed the summer camp there.
Ribbe was a student at Wheaton from 1983 to 1987. He then worked as a student leader at HoneyRock while working on his master’s degree at the college from 1987 to 1990. In 2000, after spending a decade as a program director there, he was named executive director. Ribbe said that the team-focused orientation of HoneyRock, even for training individual leaders, is what drew him to the role.
“We’re leading individuals and trying to work with them so that they are growing, contributing and building capacity; we’re working with teams at the same time,” he told the Record in a recent interview. “It’s a dynamic interplay of all those pieces around a common goal.”
Ribbe and his wife, Jackie, have been involved with other Christian camping organizations, including Christian Camping International (CCI) and the Salvation Army during their careers, and all four of their children grew up attending the numerous summer camp programs (Residential, Advanced Camp, 2:22, etc) . While Ribbe was directing HoneyRock, he also taught in the Outdoor Adventure Leadership program, which is a graduate degree that teaches students how to “use experiential environments, temporary community in God’s creation and hands-on ministry leadership training to equip leaders to impact the world wherever they go,” according to the college’s website.
While on sabbatical, Ribbe has shifted his focus to other things: traveling, visiting friends and conducting a five-year camp ministry research project, sponsored by a $1.2 million-dollar Lilly Grant. Ribbe said he hopes the project will end in a book published around 2027, written with his co-researchers Rachael Botting, adjunct professor in OAL, and Jacob Sorenson, the founder and director of Sacred Playgrounds, an organization that equips Christian leaders in camp ministry.
When Ribbe returns to HoneyRock as a faculty member and staffer, he will focus on teaching. As director of academic programs, he will be the functional dean of OAL, the Vanguard gap year program, Passage, Wheaton in the Northwoods (WIN) and the Chase Leadership Program.
In this new season of life, Ribbe said that God has been teaching him how to trust.
“It would have been easy and comfortable to run the center for the next 10 years and do the same thing,” he said. “To give that up, and step into something new, there’s a lot of unknowns. Opening myself up to what the Lord has, I’m trusting that he’s going to provide and show the next steps.”
Olivia R. Sanchez-Moreno is a first-year student from the Austin neighborhood of Chicago.
(Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Ribbe had been executive director of HoneyRock for 33 years. The story has been corrected. The Record regrets the errors.)