On the first day of the couple’s retreat this year, Gene and Ellen Seaman were in the library under the Great Hall looking at the original Laity Lodge brochures and schedules from 1962.
“They had to start someplace, right?” said Ellen. “And then they had to figure out is it even going to work? They were experimenting.”
Gene and Ellen should know. The couple has been coming to Laity Lodge every year since 1962.
“The announcement came at our church, and my buddies were all curious,” Gene recalled. “We wanted to see what it looked like.”
“It seemed like a good weekend,” Ellen said, laughing. “And it was.”
Gene remembers thinking of the Laity Lodge trip as a way to get to know the Butt family better. Maybe even sell some insurance.
But Gene’s life was something of a mess at the time. He was struggling with a gambling addiction, sometimes “gambling and drinking until seven or eight in the morning” at the Mustang Supper Club in Corpus Christi.
Although he was attending St. Luke’s Methodist with his wife, he said, “I had never experienced the salvation story. Maybe I was never desperate enough. But I never heard it.”
That would all change over Labor Day weekend in 1962, just a few months after the Lodge’s inaugural retreat.
“We came up here, a whole bunch of churchgoers,” Gene said. “But then we got saved.”
Toward the end of the retreat, Keith Miller, the original director of Laity Lodge, sat down with the excited group of businessmen. “You need to take this back with you,” he told them. “You need to meet and have Bible study time and prayer time. If you don’t stay together, you’re going to lose it.”
Back home in Corpus Christi, no one volunteered their home or office for a Bible study, so finally Gene said, “I’m a member of the Mustang Club. Why don’t we meet there?”
They did, once a week, gathering early in the morning before work to pray and read the Bible next to the bar. Laughing, Gene remembers the time old friends of his stumbled out of the back poker room after a night drinking and gambling and found six guys reading the Bible.
“They said, ‘What are you guys doing here?’ ‘We’re having Bible study!’ They could have dropped dead.”
The Mustang Club closed years ago, but the Bible studies and prayer groups continued and grew and gave birth to events like the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, which had its 26th gathering this year.
Thinking about the impact of that 1962 retreat, Gene paused, too overwhelmed to speak.
“That is very spiritually emotional to me,” he finally said, his voice breaking. “To know God’s work, what God does, how he can take a bunch of unsaved scrounges, take them to a retreat center and meet Jesus Christ, then go back to their community and change their community.”
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