Remembering Walt Friesen

Shadowcliff has been stewarded by many wonderful and gifted people over its 65+ year history. Last month, we said goodbye one of those special people – Walt Friesen. The Friesen family have been dear friends, guests, and volunteers at Shadowcliff for multiple generations, but it started with Walt. In fact, if you’ve ever participated in Volunteer Weekend at Shadowcliff, then you’ve experienced the enduring legacy of Walt! 

Below is some information as well as some written memories, contributed by Randal Friesen, Terry Woodbury, and Bob Mann. If you have stories or memories of Walt to share, we’d love to hear from you! You can email or share photos/memories on our Shadowcliff Facebook page.



Walter S. Friesen 

Walter S. Friesen, long-time friend and participant at Shadowcliff, died on Saturday, August 26th at Schowalter Villa in Hesston, Kansas.

Walt first helped at Shadowcliff with friend and Founder Warren Rempel, laying foundation block for The Rempel Lodge in 1961 and had his family and extended families there many times over the decades to work building Shadowcliff and to relax and play there.  In 1977 he and Warren worked out a work/play arrangement for Walt to bring a group up over Memorial Day weekend to work helping open Shadowcliff in exchange for a play weekend over Labor Day.  In modified form that tradition carries on today.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, September 23rd, at 11 AM at the Whitestone Mennonite Church in Hesston Kansas, followed by a light lunch and sharing (and probably some music!)

There will also be a visitation time on Friday evening the 22nd from 6 PM to 8 PM, also at Whitestone.

The service will be live-streamed and available afterward on the Whitestone Website:

Obituary and other information available at:



From Bob Mann:

Walt Friesen was a special human being. It is a personal delight and  privilege to have shared some visits with him on the deck of Shadowcliff’s Rempel Lodge and to have reaped the benefit of his spiritual and physical labors of love at Shadowcliff and beyond. Walt and Warren Rempel were spiritual companions in an era where inclusiveness and diversity were the exception in traditional religious communities. They brought and nurtured these qualities at Shadowcliff and the shadowcliff Community continues to reap the benefit of the fruit of their wisdom and labor.
In May 1977 Walt initiated the Volunteer Memorial Weekend at Shadowcliff where volunteers came to help open Shadowcliff for the coming season. That tradition in varying ways has remained a vital way in which Shadowcliff is shared with new guests and new generations of volunteers for over four decades.
Walt’s model of bringing his own family, nuclear and extended, to Shadowcliff as volunteers and guests is manifested by the commitments of his son and grandchildren who have joined Shadowcliff as Board members, staff and amazing volunteers. His son Randy served for many years as Shadowcliff’s Board Chair and is often the “go to” for architectural/design support. While Walt’s thoughtfulness and deep wisdom will be missed, his legacy is forever.

From Terry Woodbury:

I was in my 4th year as minister of Ecumenikos — a start-up, experimental, ecumenical church in Kansas City — when Walt Friesen became my Liaison to the Mennonite District Conference in 1975. The Viet Nam War, Black Power, Liberation Theology, the Women’s Movement were all at play in 1972 when Ecumenikos was born. Divorce was rifling through families and churches. Gay people were coming out. Aids was on the horizon.


Our house-church fellowship, inclined toward peace-and-justice embodied all of those cultural dramas – including the ecumenical movement that imagined all Christians could somehow join hands as a kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Consequently, I was simultaneously ordained Methodist, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, General Conference Mennonite and Presbyterian USA.


But that vision of unity faltered as all denominations lost members, leaving me a lonely young minister with 5 badges, but no spiritual home. As I, too, faltered, Walt arrived. Only the Mennonites offered me a personal Liaison. Can you imagine my glad-heart when I realized I had a K-State Dean of Students all to myself for several hours at a time!


You all know well the gifts he brought me: a listener par excellence; a deep-sea theologian; a visionary who saw beyond and thru boundaries and rules and assumptions, and a penetrating question-asker. His 1st tenor and my baritone voice found the poetry of hymns spontaneously interrupting our inspired conversations. Walt would start – usually about a third-of-an-octave too high for me – and I’d find the harmony. A lively duet we were for 2 years. Walt’s mentoring gave me hope while the dream of a national ecumenical faith was dying.


We had more in common than either of us ever named. But a new shared journey caught us both by surprise. I believe it was 1979. An Ecumenikos 40 person caravan had trekked 500 miles uphill to Grand Lake, Colorado for its 2nd week-long retreat at Shadowcliff Mountain Lodge. As we slid open the van’s door at the base of those rough-hewn, hazardous steps pointing upward to the Lodge, I looked up – then blinked and looked again: Walt Friesen?! What are you doing here?!


Both Walt and I had changed jobs a couple of years earlier, and our mentorship had lapsed. But reconnecting was instant and easy at Shadowcliff.

I learned then, and over the years learned more and more, that Walt and Warren Rempel were a “beloved community” of two whose daring convictions and entrepreneurial spirits worked miracles. For Walt, the phrase “On This Rock” — referencing the Lodge perched high atop a ginormous boulder — captured his sense of solidarity and permanence and confidence embodied in this ecumenical haven of hospitality. Once again our voices could harmonize.


So Walt: go ahead and pick a hymn. I’ll find my part, but you’ve still got the lead.


Blessings eternal!





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