From Homesick Prep to Prep Unit Head

By Ben Woods

His convictions are closely held, his passion is indefatigable, and his theatrics are legendary. But Patrick Risberg wasn’t always the confident young leader he is today. “I used to get insanely homesick,” he says of his early years at Kooch-i-ching.

Born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, Patrick and his younger brother Joey learned about camp from childhood friends Lock, David and Cope Whitney, and Patrick first stepped onto Deer Island as a Bantam in 2000.

He credits his foundational growth to two years in the Prep Camp, including a particularly formative summer in Cabin 8A “under the close supervision” of Jimmy Bowers and Dan Heekin. His friends included Eoin Small, Bobby Ecker, Quinn Pinaire, Kory Kirchner and Greg Devonshire, but those relation- ships were strained when he beat all five of them to win the Prep Beginner Indian Dancing Championship.

Patrick’s sole year as a Junior was punctuated by a series of eye-opening events, including a screening of Deliverance on the bus ride to a backpacking trip out west, and an introduction to the music of Bob Marley on the ride back. “Also throwing a rock from the tetherball courts and accidentally hitting my brother in the head as he walked up to the Dining Hall almost 40 feet away,” he recalls. (Deliverance is no longer part of Kooch-i-ching’s DVD collection.)

After one year as an Intermediate in 2005, Patrick spent the following summer touring Denmark and Sweden with his soccer team and visiting the Whitney boys in Norway, where their father was serving as US ambassador. He would not return to Kooch-i-ching until 2015.

Patrick attended the University of Wisconsin—Madison for just two years, withdrawing in the wake of a traumatic break-up. “Definitely rocked my world,” he says.

Patrick decided that some sand and sunshine would help him clear his head. He fled the Midwest for Namibia and spent several months working at a backpacker’s hostel in the capital of Windhoek. “I’m happy to say it was what the doctor ordered!” he says.

Upon returning, Patrick settled in Oakland, California with his brother Joey. With a shared passion for video production, they traveled the state making promotional content for the gift-basket company California Delicious. “It was pretty rad,” he says.

That summer, he and Joey wrote, produced and starred in a theatrical reimagining of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. They put on a series of five-hour mixed-media performances that included film projection and live music. Patrick played King Louie, a club owner; Joey played the man-cub Mowgli. “Arts and theater have always been a huge part of my life, and will continue to be so,” Patrick says.

Indeed, when he returned to Kooch-i-ching as a Prep counselor in 2015, his opening-night performances and dining hall announcements quickly became famous à la Sam Smith, Pete Centner and Zach Schiller. Of camp, Patrick says: “It had always been a source of unfinished business—an unspoken rite of passage—to return one day. It was by no means an easy decision and it involved a lot of ‘being brave.’”

“I believe Preps truly embody the ‘Be Brave’ mantra in the Law of the Woods,” he adds.

Patrick returned in 2016 and continued to work with Kooch-i-ching’s youngest campers, recalling his own homesickness as he helped them overcome theirs.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota with degrees in Art and Cultural Studies, Patrick returned again in 2018 to serve as Prep unit head. He also started a theater class. Even in his various leadership positions—counselor, trip head, unit head—Patrick views his experience as one of learning and growth.

“Anyone involved with the camp, no matter in which capacity, will be rewarded. It is a truly bountiful place.”

This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of the Kooch-i-ching Tumpline.

Alumni, Kooch, StaffBen Woods