70 years of R&R on the river: Bunker Hill from the pages of School & Community
Over the years, Bunker Hill has had six managers. Current managers Greg and Mary Howell have an extra connection to the scenic spot. They were married at the Council Ring when relatives Paul and Violet Martin managed the retreat. Longest-serving managers were Jack and Betty Clark, who lived at and managed the retreat for 22 years before retiring in 1991. The two-level Clark Lodge was dedicated to them.
From S&C 1997, written by Sarah Arnold
When doctors told E.T. Behrens in 1929 that he would die within six months, he packed his bags and headed for a place he had always wanted to live.
That place was Shannon County in the Missouri Ozarks, where the 63-year-old Sedalia philanthropist, who made his fortune making ETB cigars and publishing labor newspapers, purchased 2,080 acres of wilderness.
In 1930 he wrote to a friend, “I am now happily located in the wilds of Shannon where I can commune with nature and study the habits of wildlife instead of the masses…”
Against all doctors’ expectations, Behrens spent the next 18 years enjoying the brilliant red oak, shortleaf pine and golden hickory that blanketed the steep hills; fishing in the spring-fed Jacks Fork; and meeting the guests of the resort he created and managed on the property, Bunker Hill Ranch Resort.
In 1947, when MSTA took possession of the property, the resort included seven cabins, a dining hall with a wood-burning stove, a hand-operated pump, four outhouses and a nearly impassable road. Today, thanks to members’ donations, there are 19 modern cabins (with air-conditioning) with private baths, a dining hall, recreation hall, chapel and one-room school. The journey from rustic to restful began because of one man’s respect for educators.
Behrens became friends with George Wattles, former school superintendent and editor of the local newspaper, the Mountain View Standard. The two men’s friendly discussions about education and labor first sparked the idea in Behren’s mind to give Bunker Hill to the teachers of Missouri through the Missouri State Teachers Association.
On July 23, 1947, Behrens signed a will that deeded Bunker Hill to MSTA upon his death. MSTA Executive Secretary Everett Keith, School & Community editor Inks Franklin and Director of Field Services Gordon R. Renfrow were among those who witnessed the signing. One month later, at age 81, Behrens died.
Bunker Hill is a protected part of the 65,000 acres surrounding Ozarks National Scenic Riverways, which includes the 64-mile Jacks Fork. The river system was the first in America to be preserved under federal law.
S&C February 1948
Plans are being pushed ahead for the continued development of the Bunker Hill Ranch Resort. A master plan for the improvement of the resort has been drafted.
The Rural Electrification Administration of Howell and Oregon counties has promised to extend the electrical lines to the ranch by March or April of this year.
Road improvements are fast developing through cooperation with the Shannon Co. Highway Commission and the State Highway Department. Citizens living in the community near Bunker Hill have kindly consented to donate their labor toward the improvement of the road leading to the ranch from Highway No. 17. Donations of money have also been received.
The Mary B. Womack Lodge, donated by the St. Louis elementary school teachers, will soon be under construction.
Blue prints have been completed for the construction of a central dining hall and conference room.
Jacks Fork River,
Bunker Hill Retreat
By Walter Bargen
I might have spent six or sixteen,
maybe twenty-six, certainly not sixty minutes,
sitting on a chain-sawed log bench in a small valley,
maybe small enough to be called a hollow,
where water gushes, but that’s too extravagant
and flow suggests a flat anonymity,
but it was a steady stream out of a labyrinth
of limestone and the deeper darkness
of this oak and hickory-covered hillside,
as it continuously combed long strands
of moss over shelves of stone with the clear
untethered music of spring water, backed by warm
fall winds rustling dry leaves with a muted cymbal’s
susurration, that I turned from observer to listener,
then no listener at all, timeless until time
returned with the couple who walked up behind me
having made their own trilogy of creek crossings
to ascend here, and I offer them a story of stalking cougars,
before I offer them the bench to sit and listen,
to be immersed in their own wet visions, as I return down
the valley uncrossing my crossings.
Walter Bargen, Missouri’s first poet laureate, led a session at MSTA’s 2016 Creative Retreat at Bunker Hill.