In 1963 the founders of Carefree, Tom Darlington and K.T. Palmer, constructed a building in the center of the new town, on one of a series of knolls just south of the Sun Dial, to house the International Restaurant. The restaurant had six dining rooms, each featuring a different ethnic theme and menu, plus a grotto-style wine cellar. The architect of the original building was Wong Associates of Scottsdale, the builder was Mardian Construction Co. of Phoenix. For 20 years it was the place to dine in the new resort town of Carefree, Arizona.

Today the unique, multi-building facility is still “international.”  Program offerings continue to grow and participation has increased by 16 percent in the first half of 2017.

In 2017 more than 4,500 people from all over the U.S. and 46 countries participated in 322 programs at Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center.

The retreat center is a dream come true for people who saw the need for a place where people of all backgrounds, religious or non-religious, can experience renewal, reconciliation, healing, and transformation.

Mac and Maybelle Estrem of Sun City, AZ and Richfield, MN made the dream possible with gifts totaling nearly three million dollars, used for the original purchase in 1993, and construction of new buildings. The Estrems donated the campus to the Southwest Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who set the retreat center as a separate non-profit organization. Lutheran Churches and members are actively involved with the center that provides comfortable over-night accommodations and three meals a day for up to 75 people. Fees for services, charitable gifts, and grants support the non-profit center.

Richard Andersen, the retreat center’s Executive Director since January 2016, said, “Our purpose is to offer the opportunity for renewal, reconciliation, healing, and transformation for every participant. We do this with welcoming hospitality, the expertize of program facilitators, and our serene, eight-acre, Sonoran Desert environment that includes open spaces for meditation, prayer, and reflection.”

Retreats include, “Healing of Memories” for veterans and first responders, “Boundless Compassion” for all those seeking to live and share compassion, mercy and justice, “Leading Well” for clergy and ministry leaders, “Spiritual Director Training,” and our annual, “Lutherhostels.” Personal retreats have attracted 189 participants during the first five months of 2017.

Andersen added, “Our mission is to provide the supportive environment and resources for people to freely discovery their calling.” Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center is a unique local and global resource for personal renewal.