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History of ECOEE

The Beginnings of the Environmental Conservation Outdoor Education Expedition of Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois
By Dr. Frank D. Lupton, Jr.

Dr. Frank D. Lupton, Jr. First ECOEE Group Later

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Environmental Conservation and Outdoor Education Expedition (ECOEE) grew out of the concern some faculty members in the Department of Recreation and Park Administration at Western Illinois University expressed when Dr. Frank Lupton took students on field trips during regular class time to view outdoor education programs in operation. Some faculty said to him "There you go again taking students out of my classes." After hearing this for a few years he camp up with a plan to eliminate those concerns with what started out as "Expedition Experience" and later became ECOEE. In 1975 he proposed to the department chairperson, Dr. Rick Bunch, that he put together a full quarter-load of courses (16 hours) and find students who would enroll in those courses which Dr. Lupton would teach. It would involve traveling to a variety of places in the mid-west to meet top professionals and to view outdoor education and recreation facilities and programs in operation without taking students our of other faculty member's classes. Dr. Bunch got the approval of Dr. William Lakie, Dean of the College of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Since no new courses were being created there was no need for the plan to be approved at the University level as required for all new courses. This fact was extremely important in allowing the program to start right away.

Eighteen students were interested in the idea and enrolled in the new program. A planning course was created for the spring quarter of 1976 in order to involve students in deciding some of the content of the program. Existing four-hour courses that students registered for were: Principles of Camping, Outdoor Education, Travel Workshop, Independent Study. Textbooks were required as was written work even though the "experiential" aspect was the heart of the program. It was important to keep the program academic to enhance student learning and to help gain support from the academic community at Western Illinois University, and beyond.

As planning continued Dr. Lupton, faculty advisor for the National Recreation and Park Association Great Lakes Region Student Branch, was on the program of the annual conference in Indiana. On the program also was Paul Petzoldt well-known mountain climber and outdoor leader who had been the Chief Instructor of the first Outward Bound program in the United States and later the creator of NOLS, The National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander, Wyoming. He climber with the first American party to attempt climbing K-2 the second highest mountain in the world located in the Himalayas. The meeting of these two dedicated professional resulted in an invitation to take ECOEE student group to Wyoming where Petzoldt would take them into the mountains of Wyoming for wilderness leadership training. Petzoldt volunteered his time and offered to supply at no cost or low cost the necessary equipment and clothing through his outdoor equipment store and factory in Lander, Wyoming. He indicated that he also had on hand used boots, tents, sleeping bags, etc. left from courses when he was the director of NOLS. He had recently left NOLS because of some differences with his new Board of Directors.

During the spring quarter planning course much information was received from Paul Petzoldt which helped students to decide in favor of expanding the program from travel in the mid-west only to include Wyoming. The cost was increased from an estimated $400 to $500 (The final cost was $525.) This was a difficult financial decision for some students. However, when students and Lupton talked about visits to Yellowstone National Park and other western attractions and programs students were willing to come up with the extra money.

Students were involved with working out the schedule and planning for food and equipment. Transportation hit a snag when the school bus that had been promised verbally in the spring was not available when it was time to pick it up in September to get it ready the week before heading west. Tom Friday who had worked at the bus company and had made the arrangements for the bus no longer worked there and our request was lost somewhere in his leaving. He had offered his 28 foot Winnebago motor home in the spring, but it was at that time deemed to be much to small when all 18 students and Dr. Lupton went into it and "tried it on". It was time to talk with Tom Friday again since the group was scheduled to leave for the west in just a few days. He was located at his new job as a mechanic at the Ford-Mercury garage in Macomb. He apologized for the mix-up agreed to look at it again and made the judgment that it could be made to work after Friday said he could build a box to attach to the rear of the motor home that could hold a lot of gear (It did hold 15 duffle bags.) Single beds on each side could seat 4 people each, the dining table could hold 4, the navigator seat up front could take 2 and folding chairs could be used in the aisle for the rest. The motor home seemed to be the only transportation possibility at the time. An accident would have set student travel programs back 50 years! There is no way that the group could travel that way today, as well as then, but desperate situations sometimes create desperate solutions. That solution seemed to be the only one at the time. Hindsight said that a rapid search of bus companies might have turned up a possibility, (The second year a bus was rented from a company in Rock Falls, Illinois about 150 miles away.)

The wilderness program was a great success. The most of the 18 points of the yet-to-be-created Wilderness Education Association were covered in some detail. They included: expedition planning, trail techniques, expedition behavior, evacuation and rescue, health and sanitation, cooking, conservation, camping skills, mountaineering, judgment and more. All students and Dr. Lupton were greatly challenged and learned more than they realized at that time. All came through the mountain experience tired, but happy and in relatively good physical condition.

Much learning took place in a variety of settings during the fall program. Other facilities visited and persons who shared their professional lives with Dr. Lupton and his students included: United States Forest Service Personnel, National Park Service Personnel, Camp and Outdoor Education Programs and Personnel, Church Camp and Conference Center Programs and Personnel, YMCA Outdoor Programs and Personnel, Illinois Park District Outdoor Programs and Personnel, University Outdoor centers and Personnel, TVA's Land Between The Lakes Outdoor Programs and Personnel, American Camp Association Professional Staff and Volunteer Personnel. It was a very full schedule that was quite challenging for both Dr. Lupton and his students.

Evaluations of the program by students, Dr. Lupton, Dept. Chairperson Dr. Rick Bunch and Dean William Lakie were very positive. Approval was given to continue the program the next year, 1977. Dr. Lupton immediately began the promotion of the ECOEE program and the search for only 15 students for the second year's expedition. The group of 15 was selected from the applicants and they enrolled in the spring planning course. The second ECOEE group followed a similar schedule in the fall of 1977 with Paul Petzoldt again providing the wilderness education for the group with Dr. Lupton assisting. During the fall expedition Petzoldt and Lupton talked about the need for a nationally recognized certification program for wilderness trip leaders. Petzoldt had been interested in doing that for sometime but never had the opportunity for it to happen until Lupton came along with his university students. When the time with Petzoldt ended and Lupton and his students left Lander to go to Yellowstone National Park and then to other places enroute back to Macomb and Western Illinois University no plans for a certification program had been made.

The day after Dr. Lupton arrived home following his six-week trip west with his ECOEE students Paul Petzoldt made a telephone call to him saying that they needed to get together and plan for a wilderness leadership certification organization. After having been away from his family for six weeks Dr. Lupton's reaction to Petzoldt was "not now, I just got back from being away from my family for six weeks and I am not going anywhere this week before I leave again for three more weeks." Petzoldt was very persistent. Lupton finally said "If you want to get together to work on the certification program you'll have to come to Macomb, Illinois!" Petzoldt agreed to that and invited two other university professors to the Saturday, October 17, 1977 meeting on the campus of Western Illinois University. They were: Dr. Bob Christie, Director of Indiana University's Bradford Woods Outdoor Center and Chuck Gregory, Director of Penn State University's Stone Valley Outdoor Center. Both had previous contact with Petzoldt and knew his interest in certifying outdoor leaders. They were friends of Lupton's from previous professional and personal contacts with made for a very compatible group to create The Wilderness use Education Association on that October day. The 18 point curriculum used with Lupton's group was adopted as the framework for the organization. In the weeks following the meeting refinements were made in organizational details. Finally, WUEA was officially incorporated on January 2, 1979 in the State of Wyoming with the help of Petzoldt's lawyer John L Vidakovich. The name was later changed to the Wilderness Education Association.

Lupton continued as the instructor of the ECOEE program for two more years following a similar format, but extending the program in 1978 when Western Illinois University changed from the quarter system to the semester system. The program gained national recognition but still had some faculty who were not completely sold on it. Department Chairman Rick Bunch who had been a solid supporter or ECOEE left his position in 1979 and Dick Westgate became the Acting Department Chairperson. This was a time of transition and possibility of losing the ECOEE program was very real. Lupton decided to apply for the Department Chairperson position hoping to be able to support the continuity of the program. He was in competition with some very qualified candidates from across the United States. Fortunately he won out and became the new chairperson in the summer of 1980. That left the ECOEE program without an instructor. Paul Runestad, a new graduate student who had been the director of the Rockford park District's Atwood Outdoor Education Center and Jeff Olson, another graduate student with WEA instructor certification became faculty assistants and co-directors of the ECOEE program. This arrangement worked out very well for 1980 and the ECOEE program continued to be very successful.

The next year, following a national search, Jeff Olson who had completed his Masters Degree in the Department of Recreation and Park Administration (the department name later was changed to include Tourism) was hired as the ECOEE instructor and faculty member of the department. he was highly successful and continued his leadership of the program through 1985. At that time a limited search was made and Gordon Oles was hired on a one-year contract to carry out the program Jeff Olson had organized with his students, ECOEE 1986. Oles was assisted by Otto Jose, graduate student and WEA instructor.

Another national search was conducted in 1987 and Dr. Michael McGowan from Indiana University's Bradford Woods Outdoor Center was hired as the ECOEE instructor and was the first tenure-track faculty member in that position since Dr. Lupton. He was assisted by graduate students Kent Clement and Karen Peitzmeier, both WEA instructors. Dr. McGowan served in that position for 1987, 1988 (Rogene McKiernan was his grad assistant), 1989 and 1990 (Jeff Tindall was his grad assistant and was a WEA instructor). Rogene McKiernan was the ECOEE instructor in 1991, 1992 and 1993.