Muellerleile retires after 38 years at Camp Courageous

After 38 years working at Camp Courageous, Jeanne Muellerleile is set to retire later this month. Through the years, Muellerleile started several programs at Camp. One of her favorites has been the annual Holiday Party in December. Here she is with camper Cindy Wright. (Photo submitted)

During the April 27 retirement reception, Margo and Kevin Ahrendsen both spoke about Muellerleile’s dedication over the years at Camp Courageous. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

It’s a bittersweet ending… 

After 38 years of dedication to Camp Courageous, Program Director Jeanne Muellerleile is set to retire on May 17. 

Knowing her time was coming to an end, Camp invited Muellerleile’s friends and family and past Camp associates back for a retirement reception on April 27. Despite the snow that day, the Durgin Pavilion was full of well-wishers. 

Muellerleile was treated to kind words and fond memories from Camp Director Charlie Becker. She laughed as camp staff put on a skit highlighting all of Muellerleile’s funny moments working at Camp Courageous. 

She also got teary-eyed hearing from current and former camp staff and campers and families who thanked her for her kind heart and warm spirit. 

Camp Courageous Board member Margo Ahrendsen and her son, Kevin, an avid camper, both shared their thoughts of Muellerleile. 

“I got to know Jeanne 28 years ago,” recalled Margo of when two of her sons started coming to Camp Courageous. “My first memories are the movie nights and swimming.” 

Margo also shared some funny moments from Camp’s cruise to the Bahamas. 

“Most of all, your dedication to Camp, your diligence to getting the best staff, and providing opportunities for campers, and knowing that when kids came to camp, they were safe and secure,” said Margo. “We will definitely miss you.” 

Kevin said he has been coming to Camp for 25 years. He said Muellerleile has always made camp fun. 

Muellerleile first started working at Camp Courageous in April 1980. She left in May 1982 for a short time, and returned in November 1983. She’s been there ever since. 

Muellerleile is no stranger to the camp environment. It also helps that she loves being outdoors and going on adventures. She brought many of the current programs to Camp Courageous over the years, wanting to give the campers with disabilities the same camping experience as anyone else. 

Before coming to Camp Courageous, Muellerleile was working at a summer camp in Illinois, and knew her time was coming to an end. 

“I wanted something year round,” she said. 

Muellerleile was helping the camp recruit staff at a college when she met someone from Camp Courageous doing the same. 

“So I took a brochure,” she said, clearly not knowing she’d make a career out of living and working at Camp Courageous. 

Muellerleile sent several resumes out to various camps in the Midwest, having grown up and lived in St. Louis. She also decided to go back to college for her master’s degree. 

After coming to Monticello, Iowa, for a casual visit and tour of Camp Courageous, Muellerleile was hooked. 

“I was impressed,” she said. 

She was blown away by the wealth of natural resources in the Monticello area from the river to the bluffs to the caves and more. 

Muellerleile was hired as camp’s program director, and kept that title ever since. 

“It was a good fit,” she said. 

Having worked at other camps, Muellerleile felt there was so much Camp Courageous could do with the campers. She started the Adventure Program, which explores the outdoors, and the Travel Program, which now has its own department. 

“The travel program was new to Camp Courageous,” she said of its inception. “They were a little hesitant, and it took a few years.” 

Under her direction, camp’s first travel trip in ’94 was to her hometown of St. Louis. At the time, they were taking one trip a year. Now, in 2020, over 50 trips are planned all over the world. 

“It’s nice to know I planted the seed,” Muellerleile said fondly. 

Muellerleile’s favorite program, “Wild Edible Hike,” allows the campers to eat the natural fruits, greens, berries and nuts while on a hike. Her love of the outdoors prompted Camp to make a sign in her honor, which was presented to Muellerleile during her retirement reception: “Wild Edible Trail. In honor of Jeanne Muellerleile.” 

Aside from the program changes, Muellerleile has also physically seen just how much Camp Courageous has changed and grown over the years. 

“We’re serving way more campers now than ever,” she said. “And we have a lot more staff.” 

The timeframe for all of the camping experiences has also grown, offering more weeks of camp, along with more programs. This led to the need for more staff, both seasonal and year round. 

“Twenty years ago we saw the need for yea-round staff,” said Muellerleile. “That’s when we offered year-round programming.” 

Muellerleile said she’s enjoyed hiring and training staff for Camp Courageous, something she’s taken pride in. She said people with the right experience and background offer a greater level of care for the campers at Camp Courageous. 

“Our counselors have really made an impact,” she said. 

Through the years, Muellerleile’s passion has always been to make sure Camp meets the American Camp Association (ACA) standards. 

“That’s a big deal,” she said of all of the requirements. “Camp has traditionally done very well.” 

After taking some extended time off in December to attend her daughter’s wedding and explore Singapore, Muellerleile started to feel as though her time at Camp Courageous might be coming to an end. 

“It’s a good way to end a fabulous career,” she said. “I’m on top of my game.” 

With her husband, Wayne Nappe, already retired, they both plan to travel extensively throughout the U.S. and Norway. 

“We want to do something fun while we’re in good health and still have the energy,” said Muellerleile. 

With big shoes to fill, Sabrina Strella, current respite care director at Camp, will take her place. The two have already been planning for the easy transition. 

“Sabrina will be terrific,” praised Muellerleile. “She’s so familiar with Camp. She’s highly capable and certainly my choice.” 

Looking back on her 38 years, Muellerleile said she would no doubt miss the campers, families, and staff the most. 

“I have so many friends here,” she said. 

Muellerleile said she’d be just a phone call or text message away for those in need of her quick expertise. 

She wants those left to carry on her traditions to focus their efforts on the campers as they grow in their development and abilities. 

“That can-do attitude makes a world of difference,” she said. 


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