On behalf of the Spirit in the Desert Board of Directors, I am pleased to announce that Eric Simonson has been unanimously appointed at our April 25, 2020 board meeting to serve as our Executive Director.
Eric has been engaged in several capacities at Spirit in the Desert over the past few years. Encouraged by his ongoing friendship with our Faith Mentor, Jim Hanson, Eric and his wife, Michelle, met Richard Andersen and were introduced to the mission and vision of this ministry. Their lifetime connections and engagement in Lutheran congregational service sensitized them to discover the impact and value of Spirit in the Desert. From that point forward, they faithfully attended the weekly Wednesday afternoon Touchpoint Communion services, and they volunteered in our food service program as needed.
During this time, Eric entered into the sale of his company, Sundrella Patio Furniture, with a deep-seated openness to his next calling in life. After Richard’s sudden death, Eric was hired to manage our food service, kitchen and dining room, and, six months later was invited to serve as Operations and Finance Manager. During these roles, he has shown his unique ability to bring into alignment his 35 years of business management experience with his passion for integrating Christian faith with the rest of life.
As you know, we are moving through our “hiatus” at the Center through July, with the hope of welcoming our guests at the earliest appropriate time. We are very happy that Eric has focused his commitment as our Executive Director at this unprecedented and challenging time in our society and in our church. In the words of Dennis Dahlen, “Congratulations on your appointment as our new Executive Director. I have high hopes and high confidence that under your leadership, we will be able to turn the page on Spirit’s circumstances and exit this hiatus with strong momentum.”
In this capacity, we look forward to Eric’s leadership in support of the Mission of Spirit in the Desert, working collaboratively with our Board members, our Staff, and our wonderful Stakeholders and Friends.
As we welcome Eric, we want to express our highest gratitude to Jennifer Braaten, interim Executive Director, for her irreplaceable guidance in bringing us to this place in our turbulent year. Jennifer has enabled us to refocus our plans, resources, staffing organization and vision as we move forward.
We cherish your ongoing prayers and support in our mutual commitment to being a ministry where people experience hospitality, and find healing and renewal for body, soul and mind.
With deep gratitude,
Paul Evenson, Board Chair
Solveig Muus worked for a decade at Augsburg Fortress Publishers (Minneapolis) in marketing services before joining Christian Brands, a.k.a. Autom, a.k.a. CBC Group (Phoenix) where she was Director of Marketing, Director of Product Development, Creative Director and for the last 10 years, Brand Manager of the company’s Catholic wholesale division. Solveig also is principal of Silk Road Asian Sourcing, a consulting firm that advises clients on marketing strategy, catalog design, and product development and sourcing.
“I am thrilled to be part of the team,” Solveig wrote, “and I know I have much to learn. Spirit in the Desert is a marvelous, spirit-led place with a rich tradition; visitors and guests are passionate about this place and this ministry. It is my hope that we can preserve all that is beloved and beautiful about this sacred space while also developing new programs and partnerships that are consistent with the mission of Spirit in the Desert and take us boldly into the future.”
Solveig is a graduate of Saint Olaf College (Northfield, MN) and has an MBA from Metropolitan State University (Saint Paul, MN). She is a member of Grace Lutheran Church (Phoenix) where for 12 years she has served as Grace’s Outreach Director, working with volunteers and ministry partners to serve the Grace community through its Heat Respite Program, Pancake Breakfast and Grace Room for Clothing and Hygiene Supplies. She sings in Valley Chamber Chorale, is an Airbnb host, loves to hike and camp with her dog, Happy.
For many of Spirit in the Desert’s guests, the Retreat Center’s well-known welcoming hospitality begins on the phone or in person with Denise Berberich, Guest Services Director.
“My job starts with identifying what people need for a successful retreat, whether that is a group of 50 people, or an individual, couple, or family wanting a renewal experience. I gather their information and put together a package with all of the details for guest rooms, meals and snacks, meeting rooms, equipment, and special requests. There are many details, and when the guests arrive, the entire staff mobilizes to provide a transforming retreat experience.”
Denise said, “I grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota where I learned a strong work ethic and the importance of working together. Denise describes her employment at Spirit in the Desert as a family where everyone pitches in for the common purpose of serving retreat guests. “At the end of the day, I go home feeling that we have made an important difference for our guests. It is ministry for people from many states and countries.”
The family experience extends to guests. When people inquire about bringing a group of people for a retreat, Denise invites them to take a tour of the campus. She said, “During the tour the guests are introduced to the beautiful campus and stunning desert scenery. It is exciting to welcome them to their retreat and when they return a year or so later, it is like a family reunion.”