A 30-year veteran of camp leadership through both the YMCA and The United Methodist Church will be the first director of camping services for GP Camps.
Bob Kahle is currently director of programs and operations for SC Camps and Retreat Ministries in the South Carolina Conference, including managing the largest of its three camps, Asbury Hills. He previously worked for YMCA camps in New Jersey, California, Michigan and North Carolina.
“We thought he could bring a new, fresh perspective as we change our governance model,” said the Rev. Bill Ritter, chair of GP Camps.
Under the GP Camps 2.0 model approved during a special session of the Great Plains Annual Conference in September, camp governance would shift from its current consultancy system by a conference employee who had no authority to speak for the board to a director who answers only to the board, Ritter said.
“We will now have an employee working for GP Camps, fulltime, who will have authority and will bring about a straight line of accountability for the camps back to the GP Camps board,” he said.
Kahle, 61, said he is comfortable with the new governance system, which oversees Camps Fontanelle and Norwesca in Nebraska; and Chippewa, Horizon and Lakeside in Kansas.
“God put a real coaching spirit in my heart, so I think I’ll be effective in helping the five camps and the five camp directors grow,” he said. “The conference is behind it, and the conference is key to its success.”
He will start Dec. 1.
A native of suburban Chicago, Kahle (pronounced KAY-lee) attended George Williams College in Wisconsin, named for the founder of the YMCA.
“I was going to be a teacher, and someone whispered in my ear, ‘Hey, you know you could be a really good camp director,’” he recalled, “so I decided to do that, and I haven’t looked back and haven’t regretted it.”
Kahle was notified of the GP Camps opening by Luke Austenfelt, a consultant who has worked with the Great Plains.
“He was so complimentary about the board chair and the whole structure there,” he said. “He was very excited about what was happening there.”
Although he has not yet visited the camps, Kahle said he’s been impressed by what he has seen online and heard from the board.
“I love the fact that there’s camp directors at each one of those, four of the five at least,” he said. “As I was looking into who they were and their tenure, I thought that was a dedicated group. Every camp has its own distinct personality, which really came across. Camps get to serve the communities they reside in, and I think that’s one of the blessings of camping ministry. The community gets the camp it deserves, and there’s good things happening in those communities.”
Born and raised a United Methodist, Kahle said the denomination’s camps far outshine the others in their ministry.
“We only have X amount of time to take the talents God gives us before He comes back,” Kahle said. “He’s gonna ask us, ‘What did you do with them?’ And I want to say I touched lives. The Great Plains camps not only affords me the ability to touch the lives of church kids, but there’s a lot of other kids who come to camp because their friends tell them about them.”
Kahle’s wife, Tina, is a physical therapy assistant. They have two adult sons, one of whom is on his way to becoming director at the New Jersey camp where his father formerly worked; and another who is an information technologies professional.
He and his wife began looking for homes last week, starting with Topeka. Though he won’t be employed by the Great Plains Conference, “at least I’ll be close to the heartbeat of the conference.”
Ritter praised the work of Sara Shaw, camping ministries coordinator for the conference since 2014.
“Sara is a fantastic supporter of camping, and we could not ask for someone more dedicated to the ministry that changes lives in camping,” he said. “She’s done a wonderful job over the past eight years.”
The Rev. Jeff Clinger, congregational excellence director, said Shaw would remain with the conference to work on various projects and will remain the team's liaison to the Dodge City and Hays districts.
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