Jean Sanford Replinger grew up in a small town in Northern Wisconsin. Her mother worked and her father had passed away, so Jean spent a great deal of time exploring the outdoors. “That made all the difference in my life,” she confided. “I loved the trees and would climb any tree I could find. I would hug any tree I could hug. I loved rocks and the river. When I was not much more than 10, I would get an old rowboat, make a peanut butter sandwich and row up the river. I would ship the oars, float downstream and look at the sky, sometimes I’d jump out and then climb in again.” Jean learned early on that she loved to experience things herself, and she continues to seek out new adventures.
Leading Outdoor Trips
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Jean became a professor at Antioch College in Ohio and stayed on their staff for 17 years. During the summers, she wanted to travel and first found work leading bicycle trips for the American and Canadian Youth Hostel Organizations. Jean created itineraries and led trips in New England and the Canadian Rockies. While working with the Canadians, she noted that the Americans had trips overseas. She asked the Canadian Youth Hostel Organization why they didn’t have trips abroad, and they said that they didn’t have a leader. “I’m here!” Jean responded, going on to design and lead the trip across Northern Europe and Scandinavia. Once again, Jean had found a way to experience something new, and this time she was bringing others along with her.
In the spring of 1959 she took a group of Antioch students to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). She found the experience so incredible that she returned with students in every season, including one week between Christmas and New Years.
Back at Antioch, Jean started an Outdoor Education Center but was frustrated by the liability restrictions that limited what her students could do at the Center. Climbing trees and exploring cliffs weren’t possible at the Outdoor Education Center. Luckily, one day on a hike Jean met a British Outward Bound instructor who told her all about Outward Bound. Jean immediately looked into visiting the British Outward Bound Schools and was stunned to discover how aligned Outward Bound was with what she believed in.
When she returned stateside, she called her former colleague, Bob Pieh. “I don’t know if you’ve heard of Outward Bound, but we’ve got to start one in the Boundary Waters” she said, “It’s the thing for us.”
Trailblazing at Minnesota Outward Bound
“Funny you should say that,” Bob responded, “We’re already starting one, so come and help us!” So in 1964 Jean collaborated with Bob Pieh in the creation of the first Outward Bound program at Homeplace, located at the doorstep of the Boundary Waters in Ely, Minnesota. After the 1964 men’s program, the National Outward Bound Board of Directors met in Ely and Jean proposed an Outward Bound program for women.
“All my life, if I had a good experience, it was important for me to share it with others,” Jean said. The Board was reluctant to grant Jean the opportunity to start a women’s program, but Bob Pieh was willing to give it a try and Jean’s persistence won out and the 1965 women’s program was born. Jean promoted the program and recruited fellow female canoeists to lead the two brigades of women. Jean designed and directed the activities for the month-long program, which was the first Outward Bound program for women in the Western Hemisphere. You can learn more about the first women’s program in the documentary film Women Outward Bound, directed by Maxine Davis, one of the original participants. The Minnesota Girls Outward Bound program was such a success that it was repeated in 1966.
Jean didn’t stop innovating there. In 1971, Jean helped recruit a diverse group of students with disabilities and held the first program for students with disabilities at Homeplace.
Education for Life
More than 30 years after the original women’s program, the women have had multiple reunions. “That experience has been so rich in many of our lives,” Jean shared. “It isn’t only that original experience up at Homeplace that is wonderful, but it’s also how it feeds into the rest of your life. That’s why I want students to experience things; so that it’s deep enough to appear in their life later on.”
Today, at 94 years young, Jean continues to reflect on her experience at Outward Bound and recommend it to others. She’s proud of how far the organization has come, especially in regards to diversity, equity and inclusion. VOBS owes an ongoing debt of gratitude to Jean for pushing the organization forward and for expanding its scope to include women and, later, people with disabilities. We are lucky to count such a visionary trailblazer as one of VOBS’s original leaders and champions. If you would like to share a story about Jean’s impact, please do so here. We continue to honor Jean’s legacy through the Jean Replinger Scholarship Fund.