Marvin Webb ’76 (pictured left) and Dawson Wheeler ’77 (right) came to Baylor already infused with a passion for the outdoors. Webb’s came from hunting and backpacking with his father, climbing anything he could by the age of five and growing up on a farm. Wheeler’s was fostered by his mother, summers in the North Carolina mountains, and eventually camping out on his own by the age of nine.
Baylor was a great fit. They immediately felt at home. Outdoor activities were always available for the students, particularly those who boarded, and the timing of their arrival was perfect. Dr. Herbert B. Barks, Jr. ’51, the headmaster since 1971, had been busy developing Baylor’s unique Walkabout program.
“Dr. Barks was a true and brilliant educator. He knew there was more to developing students than academics and traditional sports,” Webb said. “The foundation of the experiential outdoor program was to develop the mind, body, character and spirit.”
The students’ shared love for the outdoors solidified their friendship that eventually would become a decades-long partnership. They went separate ways and lost touch after high school, but they both worked in outdoors-related fields.
Dr. Barks was a true and brilliant educator. He knew there was more to developing students than academics and traditional sports.
A few weeks after Wheeler purchased a little outdoors retail store in Chattanooga in 1987, Webb heard about it and stopped in for a visit. Living in Atlanta, he was in town for a rock-climbing excursion. During that initial reunion, the old friends soon agreed to join forces in developing the store Wheeler had bought.
“On a handshake, we decided to see if we could work a year together and get along as partners,” Webb said. The partnership was finalized at the end of a year.
But they didn’t do it blindly.
Wheeler said they talked about interpersonal work ethics, how they would handle certain situations. What if something happened to one of them? How often they would work, and what if their families wanted to get involved?
“We went through several days and hours of peeling the onion back and being very candid,” Wheeler said. “Looking back, I think that was one of our finest hours. I’d advise any entrepreneur to sit down and have those conversations about trust, communication and team building before starting a company, especially if you have partners or investors or really even staff.”
The enterprise they built, known as Rock/Creek, was financially successful. But money was never the driver for them.
Looking back, I think that was one of our finest hours. I’d advise any entrepreneur to sit down and have those conversations about trust, communication and team building before starting a company.
“We considered ourselves educators,” Webb said. “The sales came as an afterthought.”
Rock/Creek quickly became known as much more than a retail store. It evolved into a town center built on a cornerstone of community and stewardship. It was the go-to place for information, guidance, workshops, and advice.
The company sponsored trail building and cleanup efforts, raised money for environmental non-profits, hosted all sorts of outdoor competitions. It hired staff who knew and loved the outdoors and could share their expertise whether it was camping, backpacking, hiking, kayaking or rock-climbing.
“Our goal was to do what we could to enlighten the community,” Webb said.
Rock/Creek helped shape Chattanooga’s transition from an industrial town to an outdoor mecca. Wheeler said being a part of that “renaissance” was exactly the legacy he wanted for their endeavor.
We considered ourselves educators. The sales came as an afterthought.
A couple of years ago, they sold the business to two employees who shared their philosophy. Although now out of the retail business, Webb and Wheeler continue to enjoy their passion and practice the environmental stewardship that has been so important to them.
Having lived their own childhood dreams, they encourage today’s students to take advantage of the breadth of opportunities Baylor affords and never to rule out any ideas or dreams.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Wheeler and Webb were inducted into the UTC College of Business Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame on April 12, 2018.)