So Isaac is gone. There is nothing we can do to bring him back. However, we can let his death inspire us.
This is what you now know about Zion:
----The initial mission
----The building progress
----The pains of programming
----The success of promoting healthy lifestyles (5ks etc)
----The staff comradery
----The good times
----The bad times
Isaac's death affected us in ways that many will never understand and unfortunately many do understand. Almost one year to the date of Isaac's death, my son's classmate died by suicide. I took my son to the visitation. Seeing the pain and realization on his face that someone his age had died by suicide was heartbreaking to me. I came to work the next day and told Lori and Heather about it. We decided that day that Zion must now be a part of the struggle that our youth are experiencing.
Lori & I decided that her Faith, Family, & Friends 5K was now going to be called the Connect-Communicate-Care 5K. We joined that event together with a light the lake ceremony. We then decided to add yoga to the event so that we could offer something for everyone.
We truly believe that physical fitness can help with depression. We also truly believe that Zion is a very special place for people to get away from their problems. There is a feeling here like no other. When you are sitting on the dock looking out at the lake, watching the trees blow in the wind you feel peace. We have actually been told this by passerbys.
I had only been working at Zion for about a month when this gentlman came into the office. He said he and a co-worker were driving past our office the previous day on the way to work at the gas wells. When they left work that evening they started having a conversation about God. He stated that he is not a religious person and he has never really had conversations with anyone about God or religion. However, that night for some reason he did. When he had to return to work the following day he noticed our sign that read Zion Christian Retreat & Nature Center. He stopped in the office and told us what had happened the night before. Before he left, he said something that has stuck with me. This is what he said, "I really don't know what you all do here but I just had to stop and tell you what happened with me yesterday. You all have something real special going on here."
Since this is my blog I guess it's time to admit that I have struggled with my relationship with God for several years and I do not attend church. I won't bore you with the reasons. If you want to know them, message me and I'll tell you. Maybe we can start up a conversation! With that being said, I love the "feeling" that I get when I am at Zion. It truly is a place to Reflect-Relax-Retreat.
In the past week, I have read about 2 teen suicides. One is a Northwestern basketball player who was having a great season and was always happy. Read about her story in this link.
Isaac was happy too. Or so we thought.
I ask you this, What are we missing? What can we do to help our youth today?!
May & June of 2015 were very busy for us at Zion. I couldn't wait to go on vacation!
We all were working a lot of hours. We were all tired & cranky. Isaac had been sick off and on for a couple of weeks. He missed several days of work. There was a heavy rain the night before the day he returned to work. The rain damaged the beach area and we had to clean it up.
On June 25, 2015, I remember seeing Isaac sweeping the water out of the bathroom at the beach. I asked him how he was feeling and he said his stomach was still bothering him but he was feeling a little better. I told him that I was glad he was starting to feel better and we went about our work. The next thing I know Isaac is going home because he's not feeling good. I never saw him to say good bye before I left for vacation.
On Friday June 26, 2015 my family & I left for Gatlinburg Tennessee. We rented a cabin, visited museums, & did a lot of sightseeing. It was a lot of fun. I remember walking through downtown Gatlinburg on Saturday and my daughter telling me that she saw a post on social media that Isaac was missing. I just blew it off and told her that he was probably just out running around and lost track of time. He's young and just graduated high school so he should be out having fun. A few hours later, I received a phone call from Lori Smolira. She informed me that Isaac was found in his car with a gunshot wound. He had died by suicide.
I could not believe what I had just been told. I worked with Isaac two days prior. We talked and had a few laughs but he never seemed sad. Isaac always had a smile on his face. He had just graduated high school. He was talking about going to a local college but he wasn't really sure what he wanted to do with his life. He had so much to look forward to. I just could not believe that he was dead.
When I returned home from vacation, the grief at Zion was heavy and rumors were everywhere. What happened? Why? I didn't care about the rumors. I just wanted to talk to Isaac and ask him how he was doing. I wanted an honest answer from him not just the usual, "I'm fine."
I attended Isaac's visitation on July 5, 2015, my birthday. I stood over his casket in disbelief. Wondering what could I have done or said to help him. What signs did I miss? What was so bad in his life that he wanted to leave?
Isaac was buried on July 6, 2015.
Construction of the luxury cabins began in the fall of 2014. This is when Heather Stitt & I started working at the Zion office. Heather is our IT/Programming Coordinator/Bookkeeping guru. I take care of reservations/guest relations/marketing. However, we all wear many hats at Zion. You never know from one day to the next what you will be doing when you arrive at work. For example, this morning I am writing this blog, answering phones, & processing a few reservations. This afternoon, I will be painting walls at our soon to be office. Ya just never know lol!
We all work very well together at Zion and for that I am truly grateful. Of course, not every day is perfect and sometimes stress takes over but the good outweighs the bad.
In late spring of 2015, construction began on the aqua-zip line. This is a zipline that goes into the water. How cool is that?!! Heather, Lori, & I along with Tank & Isaac (the maintenance guys) had to be trained on operating the zip line. Wow, did we have some fun times during that training. We learned about carabiners, lanyards, harnesses, zipping safety and tying knots.
The hardest part for me was the tying of knots. I remember that I could not tie a bowline on a bight knot. Of course, everyone else could so Isaac started making fun of me. I threw the rope across the room at him in frustration. Eventually (after alot of good natured teasing) everyone sat and helped me. LOL, we all had lots of laughs that day.
The following day we had to put our training to the test. Isaac was the first to use the zip line. I bravely stood on the hillside and took photos. See the photos below of Isaac enjoying the "maiden voyage" of the Zion Aqua-Zip. It was another fun day with lots of laughs.
So as you can see because of all of our "many hats" we all pull together to help each other out (along with good natured teasing). We truly are like a family here!
It was the summer of 2015 when the aqua zip finally opened. Our luxury cabins had renters every weekend. Life at Zion was getting pretty crazy. We were overwhelmed but very happy to be so busy. Everyday was a learning curve as to how to do things. Isaac, Heather, Lori Smo, Tank, & I eventually figured out the best schedule for working the zipline. Somedays were more frustating than others but we learned that working together always made things a little easier.
We were all busy working. We were all busy with our own families, planning vacations and sometimes enjoying a weekend off. However, our lives at Zion were about to change forever in a way that we never thought imaginable. We often wonder if we could turn back time, what could we have done to change future events.
As you gather this weekend for Christmas with your family or as you are having your annual Christmas party with your "work family", I encourage you to appreciate everyone that is with you at the time. Tell someone sitting next to you that you are glad they are here today. Don't take anything for granted!
Merry Christmas from The Zion family to you and yours.
Peace be with you.
Following Warren's death, there were several changes in staff. Maintenance crews & volunteers have come and gone. In 2013 Lori Smolira, current Zion director, began working at the Zion office. She began a Faith, Family, & Friends 5k at Zion in 2012. Lori continued that race for 4 years, along with many office duties. Today, the race is known as the Connect, Communicate, Care 5K, which will be discussed in a later blog.
It was time for more changes at Zion. The first was to enclose the pavilion so that it could be rented year round. Zion pavilion (then) is on the left. Zion pavilion (now) is on the right. The pavilion now has heat & A/C. However, all the doors slide open if you want to experience nature at it's finest during your event.
Next would come the development of our small beach. The beach is included, 24/7, with your stay at Zion. The Noah's Landing beach opened in June of 2014. For two summers, the beach was available to the public 7 days a week. However, in 2016 it was decided that the beach only be open to the public on the weekends. This was done so that our weekday overnight guests could enjoy the beach area to themselves. Our overnight guests just LOVE this concept!
(middle photo provided by Shontell from Indiana)
While the beach was being used more & more, the fishing on Zion Lake was still good!
(photos provided by Travis Palmer)
Next would come the development of our luxury cabins. Check back next week for more photos!
Keep warm and have a great week!
I have come across a few of Warren's programming ideas. In August of 2005 he made plans for a Harvest Festival complete with square dancing, corn husk racing, pumpkin carving, a hay bale maze for kids, and hay rides. I think this sounds wonderful. I have not been able to find any photos or documentation as to whether or not this festival happened. Does anyone know? Is this an event that would be good for our community today? What are your thoughts?
According to the Zion Newsletter dated 12/02/2006, the following events happened at Zion: guided youth turkey hunt, fishing event for youth, Flushing Alliance Church overnight experience and the 1st Annual Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk. I have found a few photos of the youth fishing & the cancer walk. Enjoy a blast from the past!
Over the next several years Warren continued to work on programming. However, the main attraction to Zion was the fishing! We have people today who come to Zion just to fish. I do not fish but I hear that the fishing is awesome on Zion Lake.
From 2006-2010 not much was going on at Zion. There were no new development projects in site and programming really wasn't bringing people to Zion. However, the fishing was still good!
Sadly in 2010 Warren passed away. I never met Warren but I am truly grateful to him for pursuing his vision with Jim Wagner. I believe he would be proud of all that Jim has accomplished at Zion today.
Of course not all the credit can go to Jim. In case you didn't know, Zion is run by a board. There were some changes needed at Zion for it to grow. Lots of decisions needed to be made by the board.
Check back next week to see what is next.
Below is a lovely picture of Warren & his wife Eleanor. Sadly Miss Eleanor passed away this fall. She served on the board until the day she passed away. She was an amazingly strong woman who I am glad to have known. Eleanor loved Zion as much as Warren. In the picture below she is on Zion Lake(the pavilion is in the background)
We miss her smiling face and her wise words dearly. She will forever be in our hearts!
Leap of faith, in its most commonly used meaning, is the act of believing in or accepting something intangible or unprovable, or without empirical evidence.
Programming was a vision of Warren's. He created several different events/programs to be held at Zion. Unfortunately, not many attended these events. Attendance for events & getting people to visit & stay at Zion is a problem still today!
Is there a need for programming? Should we just be a facility and have people do their programming on site? WHAT DO PEOPLE WANT!?
We are taking a leap of faith this week by attending the CCCA "All In" Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. We want to help Zion grow and be more recognized. This is a process that has been ongoing since Warren & Jim had their vision in 2005. This is a process that we struggle with on a daily basis in 2016.
Heather, Lori, & myself have left our families for 6 days. We believe in Zion that much!
We are attending several different seminars this week in hopes to continue Jim & Warren's mission but also to help Zion grow. We will bring all of this information back to Zion and "brainstorm" all winter on what Zion needs to do for YOU, the consumer. We will work hard for YOU!
I want to know what it is that YOU want from Zion. What do YOU want us to do for YOU?
Please reply to this blog and let us know what Zion can do for you.
A few sites from our conference. Enjoy!!
The pavilion was done and a dedication ceremony was scheduled.
On October 8, 2005 several community members gathered at the newly constructed pavilion for the grand opening/ribbon cutting. Looking through these photos, I can just see the happiness on Jim, Warren, & Eleanor's face.
Their first vision had come to fruition!
As I was going through piles of past Zion material, I found a newsletter written by Warren in November 2006. I will be quoting this newsletter over the next several blogs.
In Warren's words: "Zion is like a child. All the months leading up to the grand opening was like a pregnancy. There was lots of preparation to be done; from planning where everything would go to even choosing a name. The grand opening was the BIG announcement with balloons and lots of pictures."
Now the big question remained. How to get people to come to Zion?
Warren & Jim believed that everyone should learn about God's handiwork. "We can show how people can become self reliant & learn about how nature can help us, without harming the environment. We believe it is never too early to teach our children about the Lord; and it is never too early to teach them an appreciation for nature, the environment, & good stewardship"
They had an idea for mini-retreats, a youth & young adult Nature camp, as well as hunting & fishing. The pavilion was in place but if they wanted to do overnight retreats they would have to build cabins. So the cabin building began!
The picture on the left is the before photo with only the fishing shack. The middle & right picture are from today. You can see the completed road, the fishing shack & the rustic cabins directly behind the fishing shack.
Their second vision had come to fruition!
The next phase of Zion is a huge leap of faith. Check back next Thursday to find out what's next.
Jim Wagner, Warren & Eleanor Garretson are originally from Cape May, New Jersey. In the late 1990's they purchased 2000 acres of farmland in rural Belmont County, Ohio. Jim & Warren became partners in a cattle farm called Fox Country Farms.
They all have a strong Christian background. Their beliefs are that as Christians, "God expects us to take responsibility for the environment and the other creatures that share our planet. As followers of God's Law, we must follow his teachings in the Bible as to our environment. God was careful how he made this earth. We must not be careless and wasteful as we fulfill this charge." After several years together, Jim & Warren had a vision for their farmland that they had to share with everyone.
Jim & Warren started a non-profit organization named the Zion Foundation. They turned over 1,300 acres of the Fox Country Farms land to the Zion Foundation. The land consisted of a 27 acre lake "Zion Lake" plus 18 other ponds, and beautiful rolling hills. Their vision was to let people share in the good of their land; free from the world's evil temptations. "The foundation is to provide an outdoor place for people to enjoy God's world. When you can be alone with God & nature, away from the pressures of the world, you can think and make choices more carefully."
Jim & Warren believe that God sent them here to this land. "It is a great place to have people learn what God did for his people as well as how we should be good stewards of the land. When people put aside the everyday pressures and stress of the world, and come to Zion, they can learn to get in touch with their inner feelings and purpose."
Now that their vision was in writing, the real work began. They wanted to build and build they did!
In early 2005 construction began on a 4400 square foot pavilion.
What comes next?
Check back every Thursday to see the progression of Zion and the mission of Jim & Warren.
Hi, I'm Lori Kovacs. I work in the office at Zion. Please read my blog with an open mind to see the vision of Zion from beginning to today.