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New Ebenezer Family Life Centre named for Kessler
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Randy Shearouse, the chairman of the New Ebenezer Retreat Center board, pulls away the covering Monday to reveal the new name of the Family Life Centre for Richard Kessler, who watches. Kessler, an Effingham County native and renowned hotelier, was surprised at the honor. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

It took some planning and legerdemain to get Richard Kessler and his family on the New Ebenezer Retreat Center grounds Monday morning.

The hotelier and longtime supporter of the New Ebenezer Retreat Center had the Family Life Center named in his honor Monday morning. Kessler, who acknowledged he doesn’t like naming things after himself, said he was overwhelmed at the honor.

“I’d rather name things for someone else. But I will have to admit this is the probably, in my life, the most significant thing I have ever done,” Kessler said. “And I have done a few things. But I think it is the most significant thing I have ever done.”

Randy Shearouse, the New Ebenezer Retreat Center board chairman, said the board is thankful for Kessler’s vision, persistence and financial support.

“The retreat center has become and is a very special place for our community,” he said. “It is such a sacred, inspiring place and it has touched the lives of many children through Ebenezer Alive and church groups.”

Kessler first has the idea for the retreat center in 1972. Five years later, ground was broken, and the first two cottages were dedicated in November 1977. The Family Life Center was built in 1983 and dedicated in 1984.

He visited the Christ Church on St. Simons Island, and he told architect John Lebay he wanted to use the same kinds of beams he saw there in the Family Life Center. There also was an oak tree, more than 200 years old, not far from where the Family Life Center is now that was dying. Kessler said he asked if that tree could be used in some way. The tree was so big, Kessler said, only one sawmill in the area that could cut it.

Eventually, the beams in the great hall of the Family Life Center were taken from that tree.

“I felt like it was needed in this area, and I felt like it was needed for groups and families, given how things were changing in the world,” Kessler said of the New Ebenezer Retreat Center, “and I think that has certainly proven to be the case, a place where people can relax and come together and communicate.”

The Retreat Center has hosted thousands of school kids through the Ebenezer Alive! program and churches, non-profit groups and even businesses and governments have used its facilities. Kessler paid tribute to the volunteers and staff who have worked at the New Ebenezer Retreat Center since its beginning.

“One of the miracles is the activity and participation of hundreds and hundreds helped make this what it is,” he said. “It continued to build and build as people crafted the vision and got the opportunity to see the place it could be.”

Kessler also noted the center can grow, with 100 acres available for expansion and future programs.

“The future depends on the blessings of this place and the leadership as to where we go next,” he said. “You can’t ever quit growing. We have room here to grow. We have potential to grow. I would hope whoever comes along continues to add to the rich tradition and makes it a place of real value.”