New co-directors find 'dream job' at Cliffview Retreat Center

December 17, 2004|HERB BROCK

BRYANTS CAMP - It was February 2003 and Lexington was encased in ice from a storm that had cut off heat to most homes and brought the city to virtual halt. David and Sharla Wells recall the storm all too vividly.

"Our home was without power, and the Lexington hotels and motels were fully booked with other Lexington residents looking for a warm place to stay," said David Wells. "We then thought of Cliffview (Retreat Center in Garrard County). We'd been here before for retreats and new they had guest rooms, so we called to see if they had room."

There was room at the center, and the Wellses and their daughter, Grace, then a year old, came to the center to spend the night. The family returned a few weeks ago but not just a for an overnight refuge. What had been a temporary shelter for the Wellses became a permanent home for them this fall.


On Nov. 1 the David and Sharla Wells became the new co-directors, replacing Joe and Judy Schuenemann, who had retired after serving as co-directors since the center opened by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington in 1998.

The Wellses see it as an opportunity for them to showcase their talents and experience. And also a chance to work together. David Wells, a native of Mayfield, and Sharla Wells, a native of Harlan County, met while they were students at the University of Kentucky and married in 1990. She graduated in 1990 after focusing on journalism and English; he had left UK to enter the workforce but returned to graduate in 2003.

David Wells worked for several years in the hospitality industry in the 1990's, including positions with Marriott Residence Inns and Hawthorn Suites, in Lexington, Louisville and Dallas. Over the last nine years, he served as budget officer with the Markey Cancer Center in Lexington. He will oversee the overall management of the center, especially its finances.

Sharla Wells has worked as a graphic designer for doctors' offices and has been free-lancing. She will handle the marketing side of the center's business, including preparing newsletters and Power Point presentations.

In addition, the couple are Catholic and belong to Christ the King in Lexington, considered by many as the flagship church of the Diocese of Lexington.

"We saw an ad in the Diocesan newsletter about the co-director positions here at the center, and we both thought, because we had experience in the things that the positions call for and we were from the diocese, that it would be a dream job," said David Wells. "Now we'll find out."

Center welcomes guests from all denominations

While it is owned and operated by the Catholic Church, the center welcomes guests from non-Catholic, non-religious groups and organization. It offers facilities and overnight accommodations for individuals and church groups of all denominations to conduct spiritual retreats and renewals but also for non-profit and for-profit organizations to hold workshops, seminars and conferences.

"Just since we've been here our guests have included school groups, business groups, church groups and a group of Native Americans, as well as several individuals," said Sharla Wells. "People have come in groups or by themselves. They have stayed a night. They have stayed a week."

The center's main building has one large meeting room and two small meeting rooms, a dining room that seats 70, a patio with seating for 25 and a lounge and fireplace sitting area. Also, the main building has 31 guest rooms with double beds with private baths and two handicapped-accessible rooms with private baths for overnight guests.

The center's chapel has seating for 100 and is constructed and furnished for groups to hold communion services.

There are three sets of rates: one for people and organizations associated with the Diocese of Lexington; one for people and groups from other churches and non-profit organizations; and one for people and groups from for-profit organizations and others.

"This retreat not only is beautifully but it has been run beautifully by the Diocese and by Joe and Judy Scheunemann," said David Wells. "But like all retreats, finances are a concern. It is rare that a retreat pays for itself. Our short-term goal is to make that happen."

Federal natural habitat guidelines expire in 2006

The Wellses also plan to improve the grounds in ways that will make the property more usable and appealing to guests but do so in such a way that the uses are environmentally acceptable and not intrusive to the natural habitat. Federal natural habitat guidelines greatly restrict the use of the land around the center; those guidelines expire in 2006.

"We would like to have life-size stations of the cross, for instance," said David Wells. "We also are looking at better using the part of the property near (Herrington Lake), especially for young people. There used to be cabins down there when part of the property was used for a camp for disadvantaged youth.

"Whatever we do will not disturb the habitat, whether there are federal guidelines or not," he said.

Bur before they launch into any involved plans to improve the center, the Wellses are enjoying the place as it is.

"It's a wonderful facility located on beautiful land, and we not only are blessed to have the opportunity and responsibility to operate it but also the privilege of living here," said David Wells. "So far our dream is coming true."

For reservations, rates and other information about Cliffview Retreat Center, call 859-792-3333 or 877-792-3330 or send e-mail to Log on to the center's Web site at

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