Hispanic ministry to become part of Keller's Resort

Monday, June 28, 2004
Richard and Wilma Keller, left, posed with new owners Lili and Victor Michel at the Country Dorm on U.S. Highway 62, east of Eureka Springs.

Keller's Country Dorm Resort, a lodging facility for 33 years and located on U.S. Highway 62 between Berryville and Eureka Springs, is under new ownership, according to Richard Keller, who originated the resort in the early 1970s.

New owners are Victor and Lili Michel, former pastors of Iglesia Cristiana, a bilingual ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Oklahoma City, which they pastored for more than nine years.

The Michels are currently on a learning curve in operating the dorm, but hope to eventually develop a full-scale Hispanic ministry based at the campground.

"We primarily came here because of the dorm," said Victor, who estimates that it will be two years before they will be comfortable enough with the regular campground operations to take on development of a new ministry.

Of course, he added, the timing is God's.

A native of Baja, Calif., Victor is a graduate of Southern Nazarene University, and since 1972 he has pioneered a ministry among the Hispanic community in Oklahoma City. He was with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services as a Medicaid social worker for 14 years.

Lili holds a masters degree in social work from Oklahoma University, as well as bachelor degrees in Spanish and math education. Her experience includes working as a school social worker, teaching second grade in a bilingual program, and high school English as a Second Language in Putnam City and Oklahoma City school districts.

The couple has been bringing their church group to the dorm for eight years, and felt such an attraction for the area that they were married in the outdoor chapel at the resort seven years ago.

They plan to continue offering the affordable lodging packages developed by Keller, along with friendly services that thousands of church groups coming for The Great Passion Play have experienced at the facility.

The Michels hope to reach out to all denominations.

Keller said that the couple has "many ideas to expand a truly Christian family outreach ministry here, and since they are bilingual, they hope to encourage many more Hispanic and churches of all cultures to come to the Passion Play."

According to a marketing spokesperson with the Great Passion Play, the staff is in the research stages of developing a Spanish-language offering.

The Michels also hope to share the recreational facilities of the resort with local churches and groups on Sunday afternoons through the summer, when there are few or no guests, and invite area pastors, youth and club group leaders to call and come by to get acquainted and schedule a splash party and pot-luck picnic for their church or group.

Richard Keller purchased the 33-acre property from Andy Brewner, known as Andy the Candy Man, in 1971. Brewner had moved here from Illinois in 1952 and built a roadside shop that became widely known for its roadside candies.

Richard and Wilma Keller moved in in April 1972 and, not sure what to do with the property. To get to know the area, Richard worked in property sales at Holiday Island, developed a new map of Eureka Springs for the Chamber of Commerce, joined the cast at the Passion Play, and became known for his singing and harmonica playing.

At the time The Passion Play, founded in the late 1960s, was fast becoming the largest outdoor drama in America, and Keller realized there was a need for low-cost lodging for many church groups who could not afford the motel and hotel prices. He drew up plans to convert two large 100-foot-long buildings into carpeted dormitories to offer church-camp-type facilities for groups, and spent the following winter rebuilding the two buildings and leveling roads and parking areas for busses and vans.

He developed an affordable package that included lodging, meals and a $3 ticket to the play for $10. Thirty-three years later, inflation brings the cost of the package to $41, still a bargain.

A third dorm was added, making a total of 160 beds, divided into sections with two double-deck bunks for four people each, a 20-space RV park, a swimming pool, basketball and volleyball courts, hiking trails, picnic areas with campfire circles, karaoke sing-along equipment, and both an indoor and an outdoor chapel.

In recent years the Kellers have done a great deal of redecorating and opened two family-getaway homes, one sleeping nine and another sleeping from 16 to 20 persons.

They also have a Web site for on-line reservations and with photos and other information, at www.kellersresort.com. For more information, persons may call the Michels at (479) 253-8418.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: