The most rewarding thing about James Rickner’s job is setting up opportunities for people to succeed, he said.
“Whether it’s youth, adults, staff; it’s great to be a part of their story and help them grow in a positive way,” Rickner, site director at Camp Chippewa, said.
Camp Chippewa, a United Methodist Camp and retreat center at 2577 Idaho Road, Ottawa, became a part of Rickner’s life early on while he was growing up in Humboldt. “I grew up camping here since I was 8 or 9 years old. I camped here through my freshman and sophomore year in high school,” he said.
At that point, Rickner said, sports became a big priority, and his time at the camp took a backseat. Little did he know, he would soon return.
Rickner played football for one year at Fort Scott Community College, then transferred to Ottawa University. Rickner, who spent a lot of time around horses in middle and high school, took up a seasonal position at the camp as a horse wrangler while attending OU.
“The horses are really where my heart’s at. I started out as a wrangler, I worked a year or two on maintenance, then moved through the ranks. The Moores (Becky and Clancy), they were really instrumental, working underneath them and understanding the camp,” he said. “Then, as the opportunity came up, I took over as site director.”
After graduating from Ottawa University with a bachelor’s degree in business and biology, then returning the following year to secure his MBA, Rickner felt confident coming into his position as Camp Chippewa site director, but he was quick to point out the support he enjoys from camp staff.
“I’m over the site, as far as the programming and site facilities. However, I’ve got a great team that does a lot of great things and makes me look good,” he said. “It’s really the team atmosphere that creates the great environment that we do.”
While the rewards to directing the camp are many, Rickner does face daily challenges. “Time management. Making sure that you are putting in enough, but not letting the job overtake your personal life,” he said. “It’s really easy: you wake up and walk out the door and there’s the work. [That] isn’t a bad thing, but it can also be challenging, trying to balance personal and professional life.”
Rickner talked about his goals for the camp, saying he’s always looking for ways to spread the word about it. “I’d like the camp to get more involved in the local community and for it to grow,” he said. “One of the things we’ve always heard is that the camp is one of the best well-kept secrets of the county. So, I’d like it to not be a well-kept secret.”
For those aspiring to manage a camp, Rickner offered two pieces of advice he said he learned from experience.
“I’d tell them don’t quit five minutes before the miracle,” he said, adding, “In this industry, you’re going to wear a lot of hats. Just make sure you always stay humble and graceful, not only to those around you, but to yourself.”