Camp Kooch-i-ching Director and Alumnus
Tim Heinle is in his early 70s, but he still has vivid memories of his first trip to Camp Kooch-i-ching on Rainy Lake. He spent eight weeks there when he was ten years old and went on his first canoe trip. It rained about five out of the six nights he spent on trail, and it seemed like his sleeping bag was always wet. His counselor told him that he didn’t paddle hard enough, and Tim’s canoe always lagged behind. Whenever he did catch up, the lead canoe took off before he could rest. Tim wasn’t used to the work of being on trail—portaging, setting up the campsite, collecting firewood—and it seemed like more effort than fun.
When he rode the train home to Cincinnati, his father met him at the station. “I told him I liked it okay, but I’m not too sure about going back. He said, ‘Don’t even think about quitting.’ He knew it was good for me,” Tim remembers.
Tim was an active child, born to parents approaching fifty, and his father had umpired four and five softball games a night on top of working full time to send his son to camp. He sent Tim back to Camp Kooch-i-ching the next summer, and suddenly, everything clicked.
“I loved pitching in, building the campsite and the fireplace, getting the tent set up. I was helping the guy next to me and I got satisfaction out of that,” Tim remembers. He paddled hard and did more than his fair share of the work. He made second and third trips on portages, and he liked knowing that by doing more of the work himself he was giving someone else a break. “I could understand the value of tripping, of teamwork and of giving to your fellow man.”
Over the years, he missed a couple of summers due to financial reasons, but Tim was a camper throughout high school and a counselor during college. In 1961, he and a group of friends he’d met at Kooch-i-ching even paddled to the Arctic Ocean. He thrived in the outdoor and camp environments, and even though he went on to earn an MBA and do well for himself in business, Tim credits Camp Kooch-i-ching with teaching him the most important life lessons.
“There are all kinds of people from all kinds of walks of life at Camp Kooch-i-ching, as many as there are in world. And if you can try to get along not with some of them but with all of them, and say okay, this person that’s in my cabin is a good guy but he really lac
ks strength in this area maybe I can help him, well those are the kinds of things you learn at camp,” Tim says.
Camp made such an impression on him that a decade or more after leaving—after he’d had a successful run at Proctor & Gamble and he’d worked as CEO of a growing premium dog food company—he left the salary and benefits of the business world to return to camp as director. In the early 1980s, the camp was in debt, and one of the men who helped run the program asked Tim to help them find solid financial footing. Tim had come to think of him as a second father and couldn’t say no.
“Because I’d learned more from camp than the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago combined, I couldn’t turn my back on that,” Tim says. For one year, he balanced his day job with Camp Kooch-i-ching and then he went to work solely for the camp. For more than a decade he worked as director, guiding the camp out of debt and then building up endowments so it would never fall into the same situation again. And then, In 1993, Tim was diagnosed with colon cancer. He resigned his position, figuring that he’d done what had been asked of him and not knowing how much time he had left to live. But after successfully treating the cancer, Tim found himself back at camp when the new director asked him to lead development efforts, building relationships with alumni and fundraising for camp. He stayed on for another ten years, and in many ways continues to have a strong and positive presence at camp and in the region.
Tim and his wife, an International Falls native, still split their time between Arizona and their cabin on Rainy Lake. Over the years, Tim has brought his same financial sense to the Oberholtzer Foundation, helping them raise money and keep their finances in shape. The Heinle cabin is just a mile down the lake from Camp Kooch-i-ching, and of their three children (two boys and a girl), both sons attended camp. One is now the director of operations for Kooch-i-ching and a newly formed girls’ camp, Camp Ogichi Daa Kwe. and the other lives in International Falls and has built several log buildings at camp. It could be said that Camp Kooch-i-ching and Rainy Lake are Tim’s family genes. But he downplays his role, saying that a good German background and the accompanying work ethic are all that separates him from the next guy. He continues to stay involved—raising money and helping start the girls’ program—because he believes in camp.
“If we can teach a young person to give of himself and be a team member he’ll get much more out of life than one who wants to be on the take all the time,” Tim says. “If he can leave camp with his feet on the ground, build self confidence and self esteem and walk away from our place a little bit taller and he’s left a bit of himself on that island, most likely he’ll be back and we’ll get the maximum out of him. That’s what happened to me.”
This article appeared in Wilderness News Winter 2012 Issue >