As a 501c3 non-profit organization, Okontoe Fellowship is run by an Executive Director and Board of Directors:
Ben Selin, Executive Director, and wife, Jody
Hello! My name is Ben Selin, I am the executive director of Okontoe. Jody (Barr) is my wife and we have four kids Audrianna (18), Kaylee (17), Keean (15), and Aidan (13). I have been coming up to Okontoe for twenty years now. My very first visit was going up with Jody and her family and leaving with her as my fiancé. I thought it was a very good first visit!
Jody is Nancy Patten’s niece and Bill Barr Jr.’s daughter, so she has spent her whole life coming back and forth to Okontoe. This is our second time living at Okontoe. About 8 years ago we spent more than two years preparing for missions overseas. It was a truly valuable and important time for our whole family. God really used it in us all and did some deep work.
God brought us to Mongolia and we were there for 3-1/2 years before coming home again last year. I served for 2+ years as Executive Director for a non-profit organization that did community development work in the poorer districts of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, the capitol city.
My other work background has been mostly as an automotive mechanic, with a mixture of construction, aircraft restoration and camping.
Jody is an RN and worked at our local hospital in Cambridge, Minnesota until we moved to Okontoe the first time. Since then she has been graciously homeschooling our children. In Mongolia, she also was an advisor for a girls’ shelter and helped at the non-profit organization that I was leading. Here at Okontoe she’ll be doing most of the bookkeeping.
I must tell you it is an honor, a privilege, a challenge, and a great joy to be leading Okontoe. My greatest desire is to work alongside Him with this tool of His—to see His transforming love and power in the lives of those He desires to touch with it!
Okontoe is merely a tool, a tool in His hands. Anyone who works here is the same, a tool in His hands for His ends. He is about the restoration of people, the development of people, the wholeness of people—HIS people. He wants nothing more then to set people free from bondage, restore hope & heart, revive families and relationships—that is simply what Okontoe is for.
It is simple, yet it is deep, and in those depths it takes courage and it takes His Spirit. These things are the core of His heart for Okontoe, and I do believe He has placed that in me.
He will use Okontoe for His purposes and plans. He will see to it’s care, restoration, and development. He will see these things done in the hearts of those that He calls here too! What a beautiful adventure ahead!
Just Retired: John Ward
A HUGE thank you to our dear friend and Board Chairman of the last 12 years, John Ward!! He’s officially retired from the Board as of May, 2020. His expertise, compassion and clear thinking has been such a blessing to Okontoe.
John is a retired Mechanical Engineer who spent the last 30 years of his career as a Sales Engineer for a commercial heating and cooling products sales agency.
John is married to Marti, and has one adult daughter and three grandchildren.
He was saved in June 1989 in South Dakota after listening to sermons from Wooddale Church while driving between Pierre and Rapid City. He was baptized at Woodridge Church, which was located in Plymouth at the time.
“I am committed to Okontoe because I am convinced that people need a place to reconnect with God and His creation where they can get away from the distractions of life, be still and listen to God.”
John became involved with Okontoe in 2007. He helped with bookkeeping and had been on the Board of Directors since 2008.
Jonathan Stuart, Board President
Jonathan Stuart works in higher education and as a corporate trainer. He’s a teacher at heart and enjoys being in the classroom with undergrads or working with companies to develop their employees.
His global work experience includes South Korea, South Africa and most recently in Guatemala as a Fulbright Scholar.
Jonathan and his wife, Colette, have been married over twenty years and have three children. They often do training together on topics ranging from marriage to working across differences.
His connection with Okontoe dates back to the 1980s when he went to camp there and then worked on staff during several college summers. One of his favorite memories is helping light and set out lanterns under the stars in -20 degree weather while assisting the Patten’s with the sleigh rides one winter.
Brian Rupe, Board Vice-President
Brian Rupe is the husband of Lynn, father of six and grandfather of seven. He graduated from Purdue University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nature Interpretation and a vision to share Christ through the book of nature.
In 1982 Brian and his family moved to Camp Tecumseh YMCA where he would serve four years as a program director. In this role he discovered God’s plan for sharing the Gospel through the book of nature and the opportunity to shape the character of Christ in children through camping ministry.
He went on to serve as executive director at four other YMCA camps in Michigan, Minnesota, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, finishing his YMCA work as the interim CEO of the Youngstown YMCA. In 2019, Brian, wife Lynn and youngest daughter Amy, returned to Minnesota to join the majority of their children and grandchildren.
He remembers meeting Mark Patten a couple of decade ago at Okontoe. And he’s known Ben Selin for many years, starting when Ben worked under him at YMCA Camp du Nord in Ely before Ben met Jody.
Sharon Brodin, Board Secretary
Sharon writes and designs marketing and website content for several companies and non-profits through her business, Brodin Press. She also owns and maintains two outdoors-themed websites.
Sharon’s introduction to Okontoe was serving as a summer camp counselor in 1987 and again in 1990. She fell in love with the ministry and the Boundary Waters/North Shore area. She spends as much time “up north” as possible each year!
She’s married to Nick, who grew up going to DC camp each summer. Their three children, now in their 20s, grew up spending many weeks each summer at Okontoe at their lease campsite.
Some of Sharon’s most-cherished Okontoe memories are joining Mark and his guitar on the keyboard during worship times—many times over the years.
Nancy is the daughter of Bill and Willie Barr, the founders or Okontoe Fellowship, and has been involved in the ministry since its inception in 1971. She married Mark Patten in 1973, raised four children with Mark and has twelve grandchildren.
She worked alongside Mark at Okontoe all through their 46 years of marriage, including the 33 years Mark functioned as the ministry director until he passed away in March 2019 after a long battle with ALS.
Nancy carries the original vision the Lord gave her father to create a “church without walls” where people who wouldn’t normally enter a church could find Jesus in a wilderness setting.
She also shares Mark’s visions to mentor, disciple, provide hospitality and refuge for those who need a place to rest, a new compass bearing, and to hear the Lord.
Jerry and his wife Jean live in Stillwater, Minnesota. Their journey with Okontoe began with a vacation Bible school trip to the Indian village, Fort Hope , Ontario. They eventually ended up as full time missionaries to that village. Many of the relationships formed there are lifelong.
Jerry also was an educator for 25 years serving in both Christian and public schools.
Every trip to Okontoe feels like a trip home. He feels like Okontoe is truly a place of God’s presence.
Bruce has taught school in inner city Minneapolis, spent three years as a missionary in Mexico with his wife, Betty, and was a school principal in Lake Crystal, Minnesota. After getting his doctorate degree, he taught at Northwestern College (now the University of Northwestern St. Paul) for 17 years.
He’s been married to Betty for 48 years. They have one son, who they adopted while in Mexico when he was 2 days old. They have 3 grand kids.
Bruce and Betty have owned a cabin on the Gunflint Trail since 1974. Their contact with Okontoe goes back to the 70s when they rented canoes from Bill Barr for their outfitting business. They became “fully” connected to Okontoe in 2006. Bruce first served on the Board from 2007-2016, and came back on in 2019.
Ken earned his BA degree and performed post-graduate work at the University of Minnesota. He founded and owned a manufacturing firm employing 225 employees.
During the thirty years he owned the corporation and served as its CEO, he also spoke and lectured on a variety of topics in churches, colleges and men’s groups around the country.
Currently, Ken lives in Rosemount, Minnesota with his wife, Sally. They have six children and twenty-two grandchildren. He’s been involved with Okontoe since the late 1980s and was a Board member for a few years in those days.
Since his “retirement” in 2009, Ken’s been employed as the VP of Ministry and Housing for Life Rebuilders, a faith-based organization that works with newly-released prisoners, men with addictions and men who are homeless.
Kirsten loves Jesus, people and coffee. She has recently relocated back to Minnesota/Wisconsin after living much of the last 25 years in Tampa, Florida. While in Tampa she received her Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling and served as a leader and teacher in the Community Bible Study organization.
In 2014 she co-founded a ministry called IAmFreedomGirl. Through this ministry she reached out to women working in the adult entertainment industry in the Tampa Bay area. She is also an artist and entrepreneur and enjoys all things outdoors.
Kirsten has been involved with Okontoe since the late 1970s. She attended Discipleship Camp and Advanced Discipleship Camp and then returned as staff for two summers during her college years. Okontoe has provided some beautiful life-forming and transforming moments that have been anchor points for her life.
Legend has it Mark Patten told her that any man who wanted to marry her would have to take him down first. In 1990 a young man proposed to Kirsten and took on the challenge. It was a bit of a David and Goliath scenario, but Dusty Voorhees prevailed. We’ll never know if Mark actually got taken down or if he liked Dusty enough to let him win 🙂