Pastor Tuck Knupp and the First La Vida Patrol
by Rich Obenschain
In February, I had the chance to interview Pastor Tuck Knupp who was on the first La Vida patrol in 1970. Tuck and Steve Oliver took part in the first eastern Young Life training program which was housed in northern Virginia. Part of this training included going on the original Adirondack Expedition for the La Vida program which was being established at Young Life’s new outreach camp, Saranac Village.
Tuck filled me in on many facts about that first La Vida “patrol.” It was called a patrol because much of the philosophy and methodology on experiential learning came from Outward Bound. This is what they called their extended expeditions. The first La Vida experience included rock climbing on Mount Joe near the ADK Loj, hiking in the High Peaks and canoeing on a number of lakes and rivers. It included a three-day and three-night solo and a 10-mile run back to the Young Life camp, complete with a “Heartbreak Hill”. There was only one expedition that first summer in 1970.
The first patrol was led by two men, George Sheffer Jr. and Jim Koontz. Both men had been involved with Young Life, and George spent most of his career working at Young Life’s Dale House in Colorado Springs. The goal of that first patrol was to test out many of Outward Bound’s educational components and see how Young Life could add the important emphasis on faith development. Another goal was to do some reconnaissance of the Adirondacks so, in future summers, La Vida Sherpas would know where to take groups.
There were around 16 or so participants in the first group who were between 22‑30 years of age. Tuck remembers that it was a very diverse group, including African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Caucasians and one Native American. Participants were intentionally from both urban and suburban areas because La Vida wanted to minister to young people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Many young men from urban areas had been sent on the program by Dean Borgman and Bill Milliken, who were working with kids in the Lower East Side of New York City. One young man named Carlos even brought his German Shepherd on the trip.
After that expedition, Tuck and Steve were given the responsibility to promote La Vida to Young Life areas and recruit kids to participate in the program for the purpose of character development, discipleship and training in servant-leadership. They represented La Vida at divisional staff meetings and helped to develop a La Vida leadership program designed to train group leaders who would bring kids each summer. In the early days of La Vida, Sherpas didn’t travel with the groups. They met them for outfitting, framing the experience, the ropes course and rock climbing, solo and 10-mile run.
Tuck came back for two more Young Life summer assignments in 1973 and 1974 to serve as the La Vida director for half the summer. After La Vida, Tuck completed his M.Div. and D.Min. at Fuller Theological Seminary. He served as the area director for Young Life in Richmond for 18 years and worked another seven years as Development Director for Rockbridge Campaign while living in Williamsburg. After Young Life, Tuck served as senior pastor of Swift Creek Presbyterian Church in Moseley, VA and now serves at Hope Church in Richmond, VA.
We’re very appreciative of men like Tuck who saw the potential for ministry through the La Vida program and helped to give it structure and a great reputation for impacting the lives of young people.