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Trustees plan to start rebuilding Gulfside center

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Nov. 10, 2005

Hurricane Katrina washed away the United Methodist Church's historic Gulfside Assembly retreat center Aug. 29, but plans are in the works to bring the center back to life.

"We will rebuild," said Mollie M. Stewart, president of the Gulfside Board of Trustees. A committee headed by the Rev. Earl Bledsoe will look at rebuilding and determining what programs are needed now and for the future.

"Previously we were always challenged to build around how a new structure would look in relation to the other buildings," Stewart said. "We don't have that challenge now. We can determine for the future what Gulfside needs to look like."

Gulfside Director Marian Martin, who lost everything in the storm, has relocated to an office in Atlanta. The office is on the campus of Gammon Theological Seminary.

The board of trustees, meeting Oct. 13-14 in Atlanta, also voted to pay down the center's debt and work to establish a relationship with Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The board wants to strike a relationship with FEMA to have proceeds coming in but also to act as a missional agency in the community for people to live, Stewart said.

The board voted to pay three months' salary to the 10 employees who were at Gulfside before the storm hit.

The hurricane's financial impact on Gulfside is not known yet. "We're still working with the insurance companies," Stewart said. All of the assembly's 14 buildings were lost. One of them, a residential building that was left standing, will have to be demolished because of damage from water and two trees that fell through the ceiling, she said.

A lot of clearing is needed, but all the staff and board members came through the storm all right. "Everyone had some damage, but no one was lost," Stewart said. "Everyone is in the recovery stage."

A Gulfside Recovery Fund has been set up, and all the board members are looking for fund-raising opportunities, she said.

"Insurance won't replace Gulfside in total."

Bishop Robert E. Jones founded Gulfside in 1923 as a residential school for African-American boys living in rural areas of the United States. The center became a popular vacation and meeting spot during racial segregation in the South. When the United Methodist Church integrated in the late 1960s, the retreat center declined in usage but still hosted meetings and conferences.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or