Remebering Warren, Part One
by Carl Sniffen
As many of you know, Shadowcliff founder Warren Rempel passed away on December 27,2013. Those of us who love Shadowcliff and the Shadowcliff experience will always be grateful to Warren for his dreams and his commitment to make them come true.. As part of our way of remembering Warren, I’ve been asked to write about him as part of a two part blog. What a challenge—to write about a man who has impacted so many others for so many years, a man whose dream and vision built Shadowcliff, a place that has inspired many more.
I had the wonderful good fortune to spend time with Warren over the last several years, visiting about a wide range of topics. As delightful as our conversations were, they do not qualify me to write about Warren, Patt or the Rempel Family.
Fortunately, I don’t have to do this, in part, because back in 2000 Warren and Patt collaborated with Shadowcliff co-manager Karen Bigelow to write, “On the Edge of Earth Alongside Heaven, The Shadowcliff Dream.” For Part I, I’ll use Warren and Patt’s words and quotes to start the story. Yes, I admit, it’s more a story about the beginnings of Shadowcliff, but in so many ways, the history of Shadowcliff is a story about Warren and Patt, their dreams, character, perseverance and strength.
And, it is my hope that many of you who read this will come to my aid with your personal stories about Warren, Patt and the Rempel family. Those stories will form Part II of this blog in a few weeks.
Warren and Patt’s Words
“The Shadowcliff dream was in its entirety a family project—and the Rempel children (Scott, Sue and Peter) were caught up in and swept along with the “divine madness” that propelled this whole family mission for more than 20 years.”
“Our construction schedule was an uneven one, to put it bluntly. Basically, from 1959 to 1981 we had approximately five stages of construction: 1. Overlook Cabin; 2. Main Lodge (1963-1976); 3. Riverbend Cabin; 4. Cliffside Lodge; and finally 5. Shadowcliff Chapel, which might be considered our ‘opus magnum.’ You might consider it a sort of ‘crown jewel’ in the Shadowcliff dream. About 21 years elapsed between its conception and the time of its “birthing.”
“We had guardian angels hanging about all over the premises. This is all the more amazing, considering the great amount of volunteer and inexperienced help; the scrambling around on buildings 20-30 feet off the ground; the language barriers in working with persons from many cultural and linguistic backgrounds, to say nothing of the unpredictable weather.”
Warren lamenting the fact that so many have volunteered their time and energy to Shadowcliff over so many years stating: “There is no way of including all the countless people, many of the skilled professionals, who have ‘labored with love’ on some phase of the creation of Shadowcliff. Also we cannot elaborate on the many persons who, over the years, have served on the Shadowcliff Board or have given many hours of dedicated work.”
And stating a theme that continues as true at Shadowcliff today as it was in its beginning, “As in architectural matters, form follows function—and efforts are deliberately made to avoid a bureaucratic pattern and to allow the personal gifts of all staff members to flow into the objectives and purposes of the retreat center itself. The overall objective is to create an environment—a spiritually enriching environment—which invite people to ‘recycle their spirits and come alive in the mountains.’ We recognize that ‘teams’ and ‘community’ happen only as a subtle and collective combination of attitudes and commitment and cooperative spirit. That is why ‘structures’ and “Table of Organization’ are subordinate to day-by-day communitarian efforts and honest dialogue.”
Many know that Warren and Patt’s oldest son Scott died of AIDS in 1989. The cross which stands on the Point is a memorial to Scott. In 1991, Warren and Patt began hosting HIV-AIDS retreats each summer at Shadowcliff. This is a beautiful and lasting legacy, continuing today under the loving hands and direction of Shadowcliff Board Member Michael Dorosh.
Guest Book Quotes
Warren and Patt also enjoyed the Shadowcliff remembrances and thoughts written by guests and found in guest books and log books over the years. Some of their favorites include:
“Thank God for place-touched gentle people and mountains to climb.”
“Sunshine, rain, mountains, warmth, love, singing, shouting, growing, tears, smiles, laughing, learning …Shadowcliff!! And may you stay forever young.” Just writing those words can make me feel like I am relaxing on the deck at Shadowcliff’s Rempel Lodge.
“Shadowcliff is a wonderful place to find yourself thinking about things that need to be thought of and about. My gratitude and love to those who made the experience.”
In their book, Warren and Patt acknowledge the strong role that their parents had in their lives. Patt is the daughter of a nurse and physician described as a “courageous, compassionate, pioneer horse and buggy doctor, for whom being a ‘doctor’ was a truly healing ministry.” Warren’s grandparents came to the United States as Mennonites from the Ukraine where there was a strong emphasis on peace and justice. Warren’s Father Peter is described as having, “an indomitable spirtitual strength, surviving 21 years of progressive paralysis, unable to speak, move or swallow during the last years of his life.” Warren’s Mother was the real rock, managing a small hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico, working as a cook full time at the University of New Mexico, and caring for the rest of the family.
Warren and Patt’s book concludes with a Thoreau quote, “Give back a life for life.”
This is just Part I of Remembering Warren. The next part is yours to complete. We need your stories of Patt and Warren for Part II—what are your favorite recollections, the things that make you laugh to this day, continue to inspire or bring tears to your eyes. These are the real stories. Please share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or if you happen to be at Shadowcliff, pass them on to co-managers Dave and Karen.
Lastly, and speaking of being at Shadowcliff. We are proud to welcome the Rempel Family Reunion to Shadowcliff in late July to early August. It’ll be a great place to gather stories and create new memories. There will also be a memorial in honor of Warren in the afternoon of August 2. We hope to have more information on this available on our website.
Editor’s note: A wonderful piece on Warren’s legacy, “Remembering a Giant of Grand Lake” was published in Grand County’s Sky-Hi Daily News on July 23, 2014, page 3. Click here to access the online version.