Minn. outdoorswoman recalls push to get girls in BWCA
By KARIN ELTON, Independent
MARSHALL, Minn. (AP) -- A lifelong love of the outdoors inspired Jean Sanford Replinger of Marshall to join Outward Bound and open up the organization to girls back in 1965.
She did it, she said, "because I was a girl. I knew that in our lifetime, as women, we would have a lot of emotional challenges and the Outward Bound experience would instill confidence."
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, having studied pre-med, health and physical education and counseling, Replinger taught at Antioch College in Ohio. During her summers off she would travel on ships to and from Europe giving educational lectures each way.
During a week off in Europe, she met someone who introduced her to Outward Bound, a wilderness adventure program. Having been a camper in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area since 1959, she had wanted to take youths to the BWCA to experience "risk in a safe environment, but I couldn't do it myself," she said. "I would be liable (for any accidents)."
She was one of the leaders in 1964 for a group of boys and then asked the board if she could lead girls as well. At first the board said no. Board members asked her why girls would want to have a wilderness experience. Did they want to be like men? A male colleague urged them to let her try.
Two groups, or "brigades," of 12 girls met Replinger (then Sanford) in 1965 in Duluth to board the bus for the Minnesota Outward Bound course in the Boundary Waters. Three women also accompanied the girls.
Forty-seven years later, one of those girls who went with Replinger to the Boundary Waters wanted to have a reunion because she was making a documentary about the experience.
"They found 12," Replinger said. "They are hard to find because they change their names after marriage."
After a reunion in the Twin Cities in September, they went up north as women who were now in their 60s. Replinger couldn't go with them, but she attended Outward Bound's 50th anniversary celebration last month in New York City.
The women and Replinger were invited as honored guests. Their expenses were paid by donors.
The women sat in two tables at the front of the banquet quarters, the Church of St. John.
"We were acknowledged one by one," Replinger said. "They made us feel so special. It was so nice."
Replinger has a scrapbook filled with photos from the first Outward Bound course for girls. The participants have since written how the program affected their lives.
"For most, it changed their lives forever," she said.
Maxine Davis, who is raising money to complete her documentary about the experience, wrote that she learned that "getting dirty is OK; being uncomfortable is OK. When I'm afraid of things in life, I figure if I could double-portage (carry a 20-pound pack and help carry a canoe) a mile in the rain with mosquitoes biting my face, I could do almost anything."
The mental toughness she acquired through the program helped her deal with a bout of cancer, she said.
The Outward Bound program later became co-educational, Replinger said, although she thinks it works better as a separate program.
Replinger is no longer associated with Outward Bound; she quit after her marriage to Randall Replinger, an engineering designer who shared her love of cross country skiing, canoeing, bicycling, birding, photography and music. The two moved to Marshall in 1969 and worked at Southwest State University.
Replinger was in administration, working on getting the college accredited. She also helped start the international student program and the handicap-accessibility program before working as a professor of health and physical education. The last six years she was in faculty development before retiring in 1996.
Her love of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area lives on. She is an officer of the Oberholtzer Foundation and recently edited the journal of explorer and conservationist Ernest Oberholtzer. Oberholtzer and his Ojibwe companion, Billy Magee, traveled by canoe from Manitoba to Hudson Bay in 1912.
"He and Sigurd Olson helped save the BWCA," she said.