In 2015, when Jeff Kahl heard that his alma mater, Northland International University in Dunbar, was going to close, it wasn’t long before he began to receive calls asking him to step in.
Northland was established in 1958 by Paul Patz of Pound, a successful farmer and entrepreneur, along with the Rev. Harold and Arlene Seiler. Patz had a vision to provide a campus that would provide affordable camping and educational programming to school-age and college students. The result was a 1,500-acre campus with housing, camping, and top-class educational and physical facilities.
In 1976, the Northland Bible Baptist College was added in affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention school, Boyce College. The relationship ended with the announcement in 2015 that Northland would close. New strategies that had been put in place in the face of declining enrollments had not helped.
“Northland appeared to have no more momentum or motivation at that time, so it was decided to close," Kahl said. "But Northland did not close; Northland just suspended operations for a brief period, long enough to bring in leadership that could restore relationships with key partners.”
Heading that leadership team was Kahl. He has been involved with Northland since 1984 as a student and then worked his way up through various roles to vice president.
“I returned in 2015 because I couldn’t believe that a facility this large wouldn’t continue to serve,” he said.
The new group made arrangements with the Southern Baptist Convention to take over the 501c3 corporation. A board of directors was established, and the plans for rebuilding began, but Kahl emphasized that it was the business and not the facility that needed rebuilding.
“This is a fantastic facility, and it is in mint condition,” Kahl said.
John Twohig, who recently joined Northland as director of the Scholars Academy, agreed. “The first time I came here, I was stunned at the beauty of the place. It is kind of a camp/paradise.”
The size of the campus provides ample opportunities for programs. Although Kahl said it seemed like he and his wife were moving into a 15-room mansion where they only needed a few of the rooms, the spaces are being filled.
Kahl, who estimates that he has talked to over 1,000 churches and is at the point where he feels there isn’t a person he hasn’t talked to, also reached out to the Green Bay SCORE chapter.
“I was advised by several people to take advantage of the resources that SCORE provides individuals and groups who want to move forward,” he said. “Paul Carron (a SCORE mentor) came up, and he put us in contact with people who could review our business plans and with others who would be interested in tentacles of our product.”
With the various programs, the product is complicated. The board has identified a diverse number of possibilities that will help ensure the success of Northland.
“Is it overwhelming, is it risky?” Kahl asked. “The answer would be yes, but people have told me that I am extremely well-organized and optimistic. I have a natural entrepreneurial mindset. I think the reason so many people were looking at me at the beginning is that they saw my work ethic and knew I was a driver.”
Others have bought in to the plans, and there are a growing number of volunteers and supporters. There are employees who are willing to take a lower salary during the building process. There is enough cash flow to keep moving forward.
In next week’s column, Kahl will share the plans to take Northland from a singular focus to one with a variety of programs.
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.