Who is Ben Lippen? The answer is arguably Bob Weeber, one of our distinguished 2022 Athletic Hall of Fame Inductees, honored at the 2023 Homecoming celebration. His career at Ben Lippen spanned over 40 years beginning in Asheville and later to the Columbia campus.
In his younger years, Bob was quite the slugger and was being scouted by the Detroit Tigers during his senior year at Creston High in Grand Rapids, Michigan. However, the story took a different turn in 1944 when the 18-year-old went to war. Bob served in the Navy and was sent to the South Pacific until 1945. During his time in the service, he connected with the Navigators ministry, changing the trajectory of his purpose and career.
After Bob returned home, he enrolled at Wheaton College to study Bible. In 1948-49, he was selected as vice-president of the Foreign Mission Fellowship at Wheaton and roomed with Jim Elliott, the missionary later killed in ’56 while evangelizing the Huaorani tribe in Ecuador. The next year, Bob served as president of the FMF and met his future wife, Dorothy (“Dot”). The two decided to become Bible translators, and after graduation in 1950, they enrolled in the Wycliffe Summer Institute of Linguistics. In the fall of ’50 they both enrolled in Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University) and the next year, they married.
In the fall of 1952, armed with their two Master’s degrees in Bible, Bob and Dot accepted the challenge of a two-year internship accompanying Robertson & Muriel McQuilkin, Tony & Anne Fortosis, and Earl & Annabelle Sandifer to turn the Ben Lippen School for Boys in Asheville, North Carolina into just Ben Lippen School, while they began to organize financial support for their planned destination in Central or South America. In that first year at BLS one coed student was matriculated and Bob and Dot admitted one daughter, Judy, into their family. Weeber taught a variety of courses and coached all sports, including football, through the ’53-’54 school year.
The Weebers were accepted by the Latin American Mission board and in late summer of 1955, the young family, with Judy and baby John in tow, moved to San Jose, Costa Rica where Bob and Dot began a LAM language school. Later that year, Joy was born and just as Bob was beginning to scout possible tribal groups for their New Testament translation project, Joy contracted polio in the ’56 Costa Rican polio epidemic. The Costa Rican hospital system was overwhelmed and, at the urging of doctors and after much difficult prayer, the family moved back to Grand Rapids, Michigan, while Joy received treatment in relatively nearby Ann Arbor.
In the fall of 1957, Ben Lippen welcomed the Weeber clan back to the Asheville campus, where daughters Jeanne and Janice were eventually born, and treatment continued for Joy. The school and faculty had grown and Bob was once again immersed in BL life as a Bible and Spanish teacher, class counselor, coach, athletic director, business manager, and alumni director over the next three decades. He was known to be very effective in teaching the technical aspects of baseball, for spending countless hours creating and grooming the athletic fields, even in the frigid mountain temperatures, and, as Business Manager, for procuring a fleet of Army surplus vehicles to get things done within budget and walking around campus with both a clipboard in hand and a camera around his neck.
Coach Weeber was certainly passionate about athletics, but even more so about missions and the opportunity to support missionaries by helping their children navigate a ‘stateside’ boarding school, by helping teach eternal lessons through sports, and by challenging students of all origins to deepen their faith. The athletes saw not only a hardworking and contagiously enthusiastic coach but more importantly, Christian character in action.
As a coach, Bob led Falcons baseball to a second-place finish in the Carolina Athletic Association (CAA) in 1972. By 1974, they had an undefeated season. In the 1980s, the Falcons won nearly every conference baseball title. It was important to him that the boys showed good sportsmanship and left a good testimony, which he believed would have significance for eternity.
Outside of athletics, he was known for going out of his way to get to know his players and other students at a personal level. As a class counselor for many years, Bob organized annual hiking camp-outs to nearby Mt. Spivey and, with Dot, cultivated the habit of inviting a couple of that year’s “boys” to dinner at the Weeber home on Friday evenings to help those far from home feel more connected to a family.
Ben Lippen moved its high school program to Columbia’s CIU campus in 1988 after a fire destroyed the Inn, a central building on their original campus, in 1980. When the doors opened for the ’88 school year, Mr. Weeber greeted students in his new role as Alumni Director. He is said to have cherished this role and had an incredible gift of remembering details about all his alumni, even down to their pets’ names. After more than four decades of faithful service to the Ben Lippen community he loved so well, Bob retired in 1996.
We are grateful for the many years Bob Weeber dedicated to Ben Lippen School and the lasting impact he made in the lives of so many students. As a tribute to his remarkable legacy, the Hathaway-Weeber football stadium and track at Ben Lippen was named after him, along with Coach Bob Hathaway, in 1996.