Beechtree Circle was owned by the Berg family, members of Circle Church. They bought it when the husband received a large retroactive bonus for good performance on the job. They bought it in 1978 with the intention of sharing it with others, and over the years it has blessed many.
I firmly believe that Circle Urban Ministries would not exist in its current form if there had been no Beech Tree Circle.
You had to reserve your time in advance–stays were three or four days and you had to clean the house before you left (and you had to take your garbage with you). There were four bedrooms and two bathrooms in the original house. There were extra mattresses so groups could do retreats there (and many did).
They initially limited the people who could use it to members of Circle Church and employees of Circle Urban Ministries. Later it was opened up to Austin Community Fellowship and Rock Church. There was no fee for using it, although they usually had a list of chores that could be done to show your appreciation.
It was 12 miles or so from South Haven, Michigan. You could really get away from it all. There was a long, winding driveway with lots of trees along it. The Austin Community Fellowship men had to shovel it out after the big snowstorms in 1979. Their retreat was several days longer than expected because they couldn’t go back to Chicago until the driveway was usable and the roads were cleared.
For many years there was no TV. It was a place to relax amidst the beauty of God’s creation. It encouraged reflection. One could forget, when there, about all the complications and ugliness in Chicago. After a few years, they added a sun porch to the lake side of the house. It was wonderful to sit there and just look at the lake.
There was always wood for the fire place, books, jigsaw puzzles, and games. There was a hot tub, which caused them much grief, but it was an essential part of the Beech Tree experience. Both of the Bergs had grown up in Japan, so they were familiar with the concept. Some people really enjoyed getting out of the hot tub and running down to jump in the lake or the snow.
It was on a small lake that could be swum in, fished in, and canoed on. In early spring there were many tiny frogs around. Outdoor games could be played down by the lake. You could pick blueberries or apples nearby and there were real farm stands where one could get pumpkins for much less money than in the city. It was a wonderful place to visit, although some from the West Side were uncomfortable because it was so different.
It was a special blessing to Austin Community Fellowship and the people who worked at Circle Urban Ministries–no one was getting rich working there so vacations were not taken often because of the expense. Individuals or families could go for several days, taking food with, so the only expense was the gas to get there.
The owners purchased an adjacent property and built a more modern house, which is very nice, but doesn’t contain the memories of the first house. The owners are working in Japan now and have found the upkeep of the property to be a drain on their finances. As a result, they have begun charging a fee to stay there. Hopefully it can continue to bless many in the future.