Harvey, Isabelle, and Mary Rickert grew up on the family farm of Henry and Maggie(Tebben) Rickert located south of Bellevue on top of the bluff that overlooks Christian Valley. It was in Christian Valley that the first settlers to the Bellevue area made their home.
All three of the Rickert children had a love of God's creation and a concern for the development of the youth in this community. Isabelle and Mary pursued teaching as a life long vocation while Harvey continued to farm the land. Together they offered summer camping opportunities for the youth in the Bellevue area on the very site of the Rickert Lodge. With this deep love for the land and God's creation, the Rickert children had a vision and decided that they would give the family farm to Saint John Lutheran Church of Bellevue.
In honor of their brother's dream, who died in March 1993, Isabelle and Mary began the process of preserving the land so that the future generations might be able to enjoy the beauty of God's creation. In August 1998 Isabelle and Mary in consultation with Saint John Lutheran congregational council, placed the family farm into a Conservation Easement under Iowa Heritage Foundation. This easement was to ensure that the vision of the Rickert family for preservation of the land would continue into the future under the direction of members of Saint John. The Iowa Heritage Foundation is responsible for overseeing that the agreed upon easement is honored and followed regardless of ownership.
In January 2000, the ownership of Rickert farm was officially deeded over to Saint John Lutheran Church by Isabelle and Mary in the presence of Debra Sieverding (the council president) and Pastor Paul Gammelin.
In The summer of 1999, the Lutheran Men in Mission undertook the pouring of a cement slab that was 30' x 60' on the northern point of the property. The initial vision was to have an open shelter for church picnics and outdoor worship. By the summer of 2000, the vision of a shelter had grown into the construction of a multi-purpose lodge to better serve the ministries of Saint John.
Aaron Roseth (an architectural graduate and friend of Pastor Paul) was asked to meet with several people in regard to developing a conceptual design for a lodge. His original design and model was presented to the council in October 2000. During the 2001 annual meeting of the congregation, the members of Saint John approved the construction of a lodge with an estimated cost of $170,000. It was decided that fifty percent (50%) of the cost should be raised from individual gifts with the balance coming from the Investment Fund.
A Construction Design Team was appointed by the council with Gary Penniston as chair. This team worked with and modified the original design and finalized the plans. They met with several interested contractors and reviewed the submitted bids. Based on the bids, Brinker Home Improvement of Bellevue was selected to be the general contractor.
On June 3, 2001 the Lodge Fund Raising Team, chaired by Jan and Chuck Schroeder kicked off the campaign by inviting individuals to support this vision through their gifts. By September 16, 2001 the goal of $85,000 in individual gifts and pledges was surpassed and the council approved the beginning of the construction.
A ground breaking service was held on Sunday afternoon September 23, 2001 with Mary Wiegert turning over the first shovel of ground. The general contractor began working in late October and with a mild winter the construction continued on schedule. With the project all but completed, Saint John held the Easter Sunrise (March 31, 2002) service at the lodge with 77 people worshiping. On May 1st the confirmation banquet was held at the lodge for the eight students and their parents. This was followed by an Ascension Day potluck and worship.
On May 21, 2002 the council voted to name the Lodge the Rickert Lodge in grateful recognition of the gift entrusted to Saint John by the Rickert family. On June 9. 2002 the community gathered for the dedication of the Rickert Lodge and the land currently known as the Saint John Retreat Center.
The future vision for the Rickert Lodge and the retreat center is still unfolding. We envision the lodge and its surroundings to provide a welcoming and comfortable sanctuary for group retreats, worship, and educational opportunities: such as confirmation, VBS and bible studies, It will also be a place for family members of Saint John to gather for celebrations and fellowship.
The very essence of our unfolding vision is to provide a ministry and a sanctuary (safe place) for all people of all ages to grow in their faith as they dwell amongst God's awesome creation and with God's people.