Montreat lodge honors Sarah Belk Gambrell

From staff reports

The William Black Lodge and Retreat Center in Montreat celebrated its 100th anniversary recently by honoring Sarah Belk Gambrell with a portrait commissioned by the lodge in honor of her, and her family’s support, of the lodge.

In a ceremony at the lodge, trustee William G. Alexander reflected on Gambrell’s support of the retreat center and how the Belks and Gambrells became involved with the lodge.

In honoring her, Alexander said “she has rarely missed a board meeting since the 1950s and has actively but gently guided this board and ensured that our mission remained steady - to provide a needed mountain retreat to pastors and church workers at a minimum cost.”

Alexander reflected upon the lodge’s founding in 1915 and its beginnings as a seven-bedroom lodge that hosted week-long summer retreats for an average of 20 Christian workers. The lodge ( was renamed in 1928 to honor Dr. William Black, one of its earliest supporters. It became known as the William Black Home for Religious Workers.

In 1946, the primarily wooden structure was destroyed by fire. Plans were quickly made to replace the lodge with the William Black Memorial Home for Christian Workers. The new lodge was estimated to cost $80,000 to build.

In January 1949, W.H. Belk got the campaign off to a rock solid start by pledging $5,000, 10 percent of the campaign requirement for replacing the lodge. The new retreat center, built on the same location, opened June 21, 1951.

In 1973, the lodge was expanded to enable its current mission of providing year-round space for retreats, training events and conferences for both Christian groups and not-for-profit organizations.

The retreat center’s last addition was completed in 1982. The W. H. Belk Conference and Worship Center was built as a result of a successful $400,000 capital campaign. The lodge’s capacity was expanded to accommodate at least 64 overnight guests and 66 guests in the dining room.

Henry Belk joined the board of the lodge at its inception in 1915 and served on it throughout his lifetime. His daughter, Sarah Gambrell, joined the board and has taken over her father’s legacy.

Gambrell “has been guiding the board for over 60 years, with her grace and wisdom,” Alexander said prior to presenting her with a painting done by local artist William Harrison. “She took over her father’s legacy in actively participating and supporting the lodge, never yielding or giving up when others would have quit.”