Director’s Stories

Director’s Stories

Background and biography on Spirit’s board of directors.

Amy Cassidy is on the board of directors at Spirit in the Desert

Cassidy Named to Spirit Board Post

Energy for Caring Meet Amy Cassidy. The first time Amy Cassidy visited Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center, she quickly assessed this was a special place with an important mission. The occasion was a dinner for a small group of people, that included Amy and her husband Joel (Joey), hosted by Executive Director Eric Simonson and his wife Michelle.   Amy listened to Eric describe how the center provides hospitality to retreaters who are on a journey of renewal, whether for one…

Griller Named to Spirit Board Post

Fair Justice for All Meet Gordy Griller. “Very few people want to come to my workplace,” said Gordy Griller of Scottsdale, Arizona whose life work has been as a court administrator, a place where the legal resolution of disputes are usually emotionally charged. Mr. Griller has served as administrator and chief executive officer for various courts in Hennepin and Ramsay counties in Minnesota and Maricopa County in Arizona. He was appointed in May, 2021 to the Board of Directors of Spirit…

Braaten Named Chair of the Board

Spirit in the Desert is welcoming retreaters again. Meet Jennifer Braaten. In January 2020, Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center, its Board of Directors, and staff, were still reeling from the sudden and unexpected death of its dynamic Executive Director, Richard Anderson, who had been leading the exciting growth of the Carefree, Arizona retreat center. The Board turned to Jennifer Braaten, Ed.D., of Sedona, Arizona to serve as Interim Executive Director with a portfolio of tasks including leading the search…

Charitable Funds are Oxygen

“Spirit in the Desert is one of the most exciting and dynamic ministries of the church.” That is the informed assessment of Paul Evenson who has spent years supporting Lutheran congregations, camps, colleges and institutions. When Paul was asked to serve a second term on Spirit in the Desert’s Board of Directors he enthusiastically said, “Yes.” He did so because he knows that the retreat center provides spiritual hospitality for guests of all people of faith.  He said, “We believe…
howard and mary wennes

Global Citizen and Activist

Mary Wennes is a retired schoolteacher and has taught in Japan, Minnesota, Arizona and California. She describes herself as a “global citizen and an activist for poverty, hunger and immigration.” Mary is a board member of Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center and also uniquely familiar with how the center came to be. In 1993, Mary’s husband, Howard Wennes, the Bishop of the Grand Canyon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) had what he calls “the million dollar…
Tammy Devine is leader of the Leading Well Learning Retreat at Spirit in the Desert

Fostering Wellness and Healing

Fostering wellness and healing is a passion and call for Tammy Devine. From nursing, to parish nursing, to health and wellness ministry, she has helped foster health, healing, and wholeness in the lives of God’s people. Tammy has a Masters in Leadership from Luther Theological Seminary, and she is a Lutheran Deacon.  She has served as the director of wellness for a long-term care facility, and currently she is the Wellness Manager for Portico Benefits Services, a ministry of the…

Expanding Our Circle of Inclusion

Sometimes the Rev. Melissa Maxwell-Doherty, of Thousand Oaks, California attends the Spirit in the Desert Board of Director meetings via video conference.  However, she prefers attending the meetings on campus because, “I have a fondness for the desert, for the Center’s comfortable facilities, and the opportunity to have a retreat experience during a working board meeting.” Melissa, who was appointed to Spirit in the Desert’s Board of Directors in 2016, is Vice President for Mission and Identity for California Lutheran…

Spirit in the Desert is Consequential

Dennis Dahlen became acquainted with Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center while attending the annual men’s retreats sponsored by his church, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Phoenix. He discovered that the center is a perfect place for a retreat because of its location in the peaceful and beautiful Sonoran Desert of Carefree, Arizona. Later, Dennis was asked to be a member of the Center’s Board of Directors, and for the past two years, he has served as Chair…

Spirit in the Desert is a Holy Place

Dr. David Tiede became acquainted with Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center in the 1990’s while attending meetings at the center with the presidents of Lutheran seminaries when he was professor of New Testament studies and President of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He said, “The retreat center was a great place for productive meetings. I saw huge potential for the retreat center as an anchor Lutheran institution in the Southwest, but that potential was just being discovered.” In…
bob ulland

Margin for Mission

Bob Ulland and his wife, Myrna, moved to Arizona from Duluth, Minnesota in 2013 and became aware of Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center through their connection with Living Water Lutheran Church in Scottsdale. Ken Bash, a member of Living Water and former board member and long-time supporter of Spirit in the Desert, talked to Bob about becoming a member of Spirit in the Desert’s board of directors. Bob said, “Ken can be persuasive, and I was elected to the…

A Place Where the Spirit Dances

Paula Sturgeon was a young girl when she and her parents drove north from their home in Scottsdale, Arizona to eat at the International Restaurant in Carefree. She remembers the exotic middle eastern food served in what is now the Estrem building of Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center. At the time, she had no way of knowing the restaurant was going to become a major church-sponsored retreat center, and, years later, she would be a strong supporter and board…

This is a Holy Place

The Rev. Deborah Hutterer has been a member of Board of Directors of Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center since 2013. In June 2018, voting members of the Grand Canyon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America elected Deborah to be their bishop. She will leave her position as Chief Development Officer for Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest and serve a six-year term as bishop, while continuing as a board member of Spirit in the Desert. Deborah’s connection…
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