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Sharing our Gratitude for Karl Rohnke

Updated: Nov 27, 2022

I am one of the lucky ones. 

From the beginning of my attendance at the Association for Experiential Education conferences, Karl Rohnke was a name that I heard frequently and always spoken with reverence and love.  When I heard that he was coming to Northeastern Illinois University to lead a full day workshop, I jumped on the chance to attend.  Throughout this workshop, I remember a happy energy from the moment I walked in the door, and the activities that I learned that day have influenced my own work and mindset ever since.  One of the activities was a splitting activity.  During this activity, Karl had us separate into two groups based on a heap of different tasks - cross your arms, which one is on top?  Fall backwards, which foot did you put back first? Draw the face of a dog in the air, which way is it looking?  Within each, it was never a perfect split between the group.  Finally, he asked us to pair up and have one person get on their knee proposing to the other person - and there we had it - two even groups.  Throughout the day, I remember wheelies that we tried getting into a bullseye, traversing the length of the gym with my eyes closed, straws being used in crazy ways, and making up the rules of the game as we went.

Most of all, I remember Karl’s motto - FUNN - 'Functional Understanding Not Necessary.'*  As someone who was always so focused on my ability debrief and facilitate meaning for my participants, the importance of FUNN and joyis an idea that has never left me since.  Goals of connection and laughter have been infused into my practice ever since, and everything about Karl Rohnke’s presence - his laughter and smile and silliness - was foundational in building that mindset.  This workshop was at least 8 years ago, and I still remember every game we played that day.  

I knew I was lucky the day that I attended that workshop and now even more so.  Throughout our experience building Kikori, we have learned time and again that all roads in the experiential education world lead back to Karl.  When we talk with people in the field, their stories so often begin with working with Karl at Project Adventure along with so many other places - work that spread from forests to fields to gyms to around the world. We’ve heard stories of games created on football fields and ice buckets and the first-ever ropes courses.  We’ve heard about young people inventing and playing and laughing and creating.  And we make a promise to the world that we will work every day with the principles that Karl shared with the world at the forefront of our hearts.  

Karl Rohnke passed away on September 22, 2020 at the age of 83.  Our hearts and thoughts go out to his family, friends, students and the education community at large. 

*Please see FUNN explained beautifully by Playmeo's, Mark Collard. 

​Written by Kikori co-founder, Kendra Bostick

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