Remembering a giant of Grand Lake
July 22, 2014
When I asked people what kind of man Warren Rempel was, a few recurring themes were worthy of note.
Peacemaker, tenacious, dynamic, vital, remarkable, firebrand – these were just a few of the adjectives that adorn Rempel's memory in the minds of those whose lives he touched in some way.
Rempel, a stalwart in the Grand Lake community and a champion of humanity, died on Dec. 27, 2013. He was survived by his wife Patt, his daughter Sue and his son Peter.
Rempel left behind a legacy of charity and goodwill that exists not only in the minds of those who knew him, but tangibly throughout Grand Lake.
“He was dedicated to making life better for as many people as he could, and I think that was his mission all along.”
Former Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre Director
Perhaps Rempel's biggest contribution to the Grand Lake community can be found secretively perched on a ridge above the town.
The Shadowcliff mountain sanctuary sits unassumingly above the town of Grand Lake, offering accommodations and workshops for those seeking a more spiritually rich experience during their time in the area.
The campus has three cabins and two lodge buildings dispersed across a wooded hilltop that sports breathtaking views of Grand and Shadow Mountain lakes.
Warren and his wife Patt began construction on Shadowcliff in 1959.
Originally a faith-based retreat, today the sanctuary has a more secular character, but the inclusiveness that Rempel originally imbued in the place is still evident.
Perhaps the greatest testament to Rempel's humanity were the Shadowcliff workshops he established after the death of his son Scott in 1989.
Scott died of AIDS in a time when ignorance about the disease led to fear and discrimination against its victims throughout much of the world. In 1989, federal law prohibited travelers with AIDS from entering the country.
In 1991, Rempel began hosting HIV-AIDS camps at Shadowcliff. The sanctuary just finished its 22nd year hosting an HIV-AIDS workshop for those living with the disease.
Ultimately, Shadowcliff is a place where many different paths intertwine to form a cohesive narrative of the human condition, a place where people come to learn and share with each other their unique experiences.
"It started with Patt and Warren," said Karen Bigelow, who manages Shadowcilff with her husband. "They took the time to make sure that you understood that you're a piece of Shadowcliff. You're as important to this place as they are."
As Rempel wrote in a small booklet about Shadowcliff, "Every stroll through the woods, every moment spent on the deck overlooking the panoramic view, brings to mind other rich memories and human episodes that make up the many strands of the Shadowcliff story."
Leader in faith
Though many knew Rempel as the founder of Shadowcliff, many others knew him as the longtime minister of Grand Lake's Trinity Church in the Pines.
Mandy Hanifen first met Rempel in the early '90s, when he was doing his "night ministry rounds."
Hanifen was working as a bartender at the Corner Cupboard in Grand Lake. One night Rempel came in just before close and ordered a white Russian.
"I got off duty and sat down with him and just found him to be very intriguing," said Hanifen. "I didn't know he was a minister."
Before he left, Rempel remarked that perhaps he would see Hanifen the next day.
"I'm not working tomorrow," Hanifen said.
"Well, I'm working tomorrow," Rempel replied.
Rempel told her that he would be preaching at Trinity Church in the Pines.
"I went into the Trinity Church the very next day, and it was so warm," Hanifen said. "It just enveloped me with love and welcoming, and so it's because of Warren I started going to church again."
Hanifen would go on to be an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church. Rempel married Hanifen and her husband in 1999.
"He was just a pillar of the community," Hanifen said.
Patron of the arts
Rempel was also heavily involved in the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre, which started in Grand Lake in the late '60s.
Skelly Warren and his wife Judith took over the leadership of the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre in 1995.
"He was dedicated to making life better for as many people as he could, and I think that was his mission all along," said Warren. "He felt very strongly about helping people, and that's what he and Patt did all their lives."
Besides giving personal donations to the theater, Rempel also loaned rooms at Shadowcliff to the actors.
It was there that the theater would sometimes hold rehearsals for the groups that Rempel hosted.
"That was always a thrill for both of us because it was always nice to have an audience," Warren said.
Leading voice against gambling
Though Rempel was certainly a peacemaker to those who knew him, he didn't shy away from conflict.
During the push to bring gambling to Grand Lake in the early '90s, Rempel was a leading voice in the opposition.
"Warren was firm in his opposition to bringing legalized gambling to the town because he thought that it was indulging a vice, but he also felt it would ruin the community's scenic and friendly nature," said Patrick Brower, former publisher of the Sky-Hi News. "But he did so in a way that was non-confrontational."
Rempel stood out as an unwavering but peaceful voice in a contentious debate, Brower said.
"Not everybody agreed with him, but they still couldn't question his wise and fair approach toward stating his point of view," Brower said.
Shadowcliff Chapel will host a celebration of Rempel's life from 1 to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 2 at 405 Summerland Park Road, followed by a reception from 2 to 3:30 p.m.
Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.