Herbert and Lillie Jane Mott were a pioneer couple who had a love for God and a passion for Friends (Quaker) mission work. They spent 25 years of their youth in home mission work in Nebraska. By moving frequently and developing a circuit-rider type of ministry, this pioneer couple established 25 Monthly Meetings (local Friends churches) under the care of the Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends. Since these new Friends members had no Quaker background, there was a serious need for trained Christian leadership. But the Friends Church in the 1890s had not developed much experience in pastoral ministry. Thus was born the Motts’ dream of Christian training for Friends leaders who could carry out home mission and church extension work.
Establishing Friends Training
Part of their dream was realized when, in cooperation with several able leaders from Iowa and Ohio, Herbert Mott helped to develop a Friends Academy. It grew into Nebraska Central College at Central City, Nebraska. During 55 years of Christian education, that small Friends school graduated many recruits to strengthen and influence the work of American Friends. Unfortunately, very few went on to train for pastoral leadership among Friends so the Motts’ efforts to realize their dream continued.
Relocation to Colorado Springs
During the drought years in Nebraska, many families moved away, hoping that better climate might give them more security. Herbert and Lillie Jane, with their kids Horace, June (Webb), AraBelle (Patrick) and Evelynn (Schutz), resettled in western Kansas. Through real estate exchanges, extensive irrigation development, early types of mechanized farming, stock feeding and even a small concrete brick factory, profits were accumulated for an establishment of a home mission fund. These monies were not to be used for their family but were dedicated to the growth of the “Building Fund.” This fund was invested under the corporation title of “The American Friends Home Missionary Association.” But when grasshoppers destroyed crops in several successive years, the Association fund stopped growing.
Therefore, the Motts looked to Colorado Springs, Colo., to keep their dream alive. In the economic depression of the 1920s, valuable city properties could be purchased at a fraction of their real worth. There was reason to expect that rental incomes from business buildings and residential units, with some real estate exchanges, would multiply the funds thus invested. In 1924, the Motts decided to transfer the equity in Kansas property to Colorado Springs, Colorado. With optimism, the Mott family relocated their geographic base to the foothills of Colorado’s mountains.
During the next 10 years, property values in Colorado Springs did not improve and the rental income was needed to maintain the buildings. The “Building Fund” did not grow, but still the Motts’ dream of helping to train Christian leaders did not die.
Mountain Retreat Center
In time, a new idea evolved: Could these dedicated resources be used to establish a retreat center in the mountains, where Christian leadership could be nurtured and strengthened? The possibilities seemed to grow and gave evidence of God’s approval and leading. A family-centered Chautauqua idea emerged. It seemed to be so reasonable and possible that locations were sought and property purchased.
Death of Lillie Mott
When Lillie Mott died, along with her died much of the support and strength of the Motts’ efforts. The corporation of The American Friends Home Mission Association was maintained in legal but skeletal form and the market value of their older Colorado Springs buildings continued to decrease. Horace and Lillie’s children now became more involved in the decision making for the Association.
Herbert Mott continued to draw plans and outline programs for a summer Chautauqua. There would be weeklong or even two-week schedules of lectures, study, discussions and seminars led by able Friends. The teaching materials and plans would be set up for various ages but would include family involvement. Evenings would be left open for group fellowship, music and fun. Free hours must be protected for outdoor and mountaintop experiences. There would be no charge for the use of the Chautauqua grounds, and expenses were to be kept as low as possible so that no family need ever miss coming just because the cost was beyond their reach. “Always there must be time for quiet and rest when each could drink deep of the grandeur of the mountains,” Herbert Mott said.
Death of Herbert Mott
When Herbert Mott died in 1956, his son Horace was asked to serve as president of the corporation. Sadly, the Association directors realized that the original purpose for building the Fund was now impractical because of the reduced total and the vastly increased costs of all new ventures. They sought ways to redirect the use of the “Building Fund” resources. They were deeply concerned to use the assets in ways to incorporate the Christian ideals and values of their parents and they agreed that no part of that dedicated fund would ever be used to benefit any member of the family.
Acquiring Rockcleft Property
In 1958, a property settlement was completed by which most of the assets of The Association were exchanged for 40 acres of land about 18 miles northwest of Colorado Springs. This property was clear of indebtedness, ideally situated at the head of a canyon and nearly surrounded by National Forest land. This land was to become Rockcleft.
The Area Council of the Girl Scouts of America had previously owned this acreage and had built on it a large lodge (Mountain Lodge) and dormitory (Black Squirrel) to house 24 scouts. A recreation field had been leveled for group sports. The Association directors hoped to keep this “wonderland” as clean and natural as God had made it. They committed to keep it rustic.
Horace and Pauline Mott were hosts and caretakers for several summers. They accomplished much in furnishing the lodge, the dormitory and the large kitchen with equipment to accommodate 50 conference attendees. Some time later, a second dormitory (Bluejay) and a residence for staff (the caretaker’s home) were added.
June and Weston Webb laid pipes from springs higher up on forest land and domestic water was installed in the lodge and the dormitory. A simple sewer system was connected, and electricity was brought up the canyon to the buildings.
Naming of Rockcleft
Pauline Mott suggested that the venture be called Rockcleft, for the land formation gave such an appearance. Biblical references were recalled, and the song “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me,” one of Herbert Mott’s favorite Gospel hymns, came to mind. It seemed fitting that the name Rockcleft could echo the unquenchable optimism of Herbert Mott’s dedication.
Rockcleft Retreats and Seminars
The Association’s board of directors hosted several retreats and conferences during the first summers. Beginning in 1958, the Young Friends of Central City Meeting traveled each year to Rockcleft for their summer retreat. For two summers an effort was made, in cooperation with Friends University of Wichita, Kansas, to offer extension courses in geology and teacher education. However, the education courses weren’t promoted well and the student response was very small. So the project was discontinued. A large group of Friends leaders used the quietness of the canyon for a doctrinal conference and a number of International Affairs Youth Conferences were held, sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee. The administrative staffs of two Friends schools came for two summers each, with need for quiet and planning together. One small church group from Colorado Springs came “for silence and worship.”
In 1965, AraBelle Mott-Patrick assumed the responsibilities of serving as the board’s representative in residence. Truly a pioneer woman herself, AraBelle constructed and lived in the Lookout A-Frame for many years. Numerous campers have been privileged to visit with AraBelle and listen to her delightful stories. AraBelle retired from Rockcleft when she was well into her 80s and moved to a somewhat easier lifestyle in a retirement home. However, she continued to make extended visits to Rockcleft and built her little one-room cabin retreat on two-and-a-half acres of the adjacent land (an 80-acre parcel) donated to Rockcleft in 1985 by Stan and Eloise Brown and Connie and Elaine Brown. AraBelle died in 1995 at age 95.
No funds were used for salaries, and only occasional hired labor and maintenance costs needed to be met. There was no charge asked or accepted for the use of the facilities, but groups were asked to give two hours per day of shared labor to rebuild or repair trails, clear brush from the brook, cut and bring in firewood, repair screens, paint walls, replace roofing shingles, and such upkeep needs. Most groups left some money to help pay for the electricity used. Each conference group supplied their own programs, staff and food.
Other policies and plans for the use of the retreat developed as experience indicated. Program development became more important as requests for reservations increased. By 1976, the total use for the three summer months had reached nearly 1,000 camper days.
Transfer of Rockcleft to Friends University
The directors of The Association decided to close out the corporation and transferred the title of the property and programming to Friends University of Wichita, Kansas, although the gift also stipulated that other Quaker colleges – William Penn in Iowa, Earlham School of Religion in Indiana and George Fox College in Oregon – could use the property and were to benefit if the property is ever sold. This arrangement was completed in 1976.
Rockcleft Advisory Board
Although Friends University presently owns and operates the camp, an advisory board of directors helps plan capital improvements, oversees camp reservations and donates hours of labor each year to the camp upkeep.
The advisory board is committed to remaining true to the Mott dream of providing a rustic setting for church groups, families and classes to learn, fellowship, have fun and rejuvenate their souls in the majestic grandeur of God’s Rocky Mountains.
Rockcleft is owned and operated by Friends University, Wichita, Kans.