|By Carlton Fletcher, The Albany Herald, Ga.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Beset by financial woes that ran into the millions of dollars, Seasons Christian was part of a bankruptcy auction sought by Lamad Ministries, the controlling arm of the retirement neighborhood, and its principles,
Now the residents, many of them in their 80s and 90s and out tens of thousands of dollars in loans and ministry deposits made with the promise of timely repayment, await word of their future at Seasons Christian. Entrepreneur
"It's really sad how this turned out for some of our most vulnerable citizens. It doesn't take a law degree to know people were done wrong here."
BUILDING A DREAM
Eidenire left his position as an assistant pastor at
"I participated in a lot in senior activities (at Sherwood), and they kept telling me they needed a place to go," Eidenire said in a 2007 interview with
So, Eidenire pitched his idea of a senior Christian retirement village to a group of investors and board members who facilitated the purchase of property on which to build the pastor's dream. Construction started on the first phase of what would become Seasons Christian on
"The business plan (Eidenire) put in place worked for about 20 years,"
The business model Kelley spoke of initially called for residents to pay "ministry deposits" equal to half the value of the housing units. Six hundred-square-foot single bedroom units were valued at
The agreement signed by residents, though, stipulated that fees were 100 percent refundable in the event that residents moved or to their estate if they died.
During discovery meetings with Eidenire, Kelley said the man affectionately known by Seasons Christian residents as "Brother Bill" told him Lamad had returned more than
SIGN OF TROUBLE
But around 2006, just before the worldwide recession came crashing down, residents started to complain about rising costs and shoddy maintenance. Led by World War II veteran
"I only know what (Eidenire) told me, and he said he sold the land for the strip mall for
Starting in 2007, Spivey and other residents filed complaints with the
Later that year, Spivey was arrested for trespassing, and by the end of the year dispossessory action was taken against the then-82-year-old for some
Not all residents supported Spivey's and others' efforts to discredit the Eidenires.
"My mother actually liked living there; she was convinced that it was one of the best options for her,"
"I pointed out to her that her contract called for 85 percent of the money she'd paid in deposits (which in total surpassed
But Clark said his opinion changed when he sought repayment of a
"That was written up as a two-year loan that came due in 2007,"
While the accepted version of the Lamad Ministries/Seasons Christian decline is built around catastrophic financial factors and possible management issues, there are those who say
One former employee, who asked that his name not be used in this article, said Eidenire had "delusions of grandeur" when it came to his plans for his ministry.
"Brother Bill talked with me about a 'media empire' he planned to build around his ministry," the former employee said. "He said he planned to have two TV stations, two or three radio stations, to publish a magazine and a weekly newspaper, and he planned to build a huge prayer chapel.
"I thought all that was well beyond his reach, but he spoke with all the confidence of a man who planned to pull it off. If you talked with him long enough, it was easy to believe that he could make it happen. In reality, though, it was nothing but delusions of grandeur. He thought he was going to be the next
"I understand that the residents see this from their personal perspective, but multiple things brought this on," Johnson said of Seasons Christian's downfall. "It's not entirely management's fault. The actions of some of the residents played a big part in this.
"It's a sad thing for everyone involved. What's really sad is that Seasons Christian will not continue to be a Christian ministry. That doesn't mean, though, that it can't still be a Christian community. I believe I'm still here because God has a purpose for me here."
What that purpose might be will depend on the new owner. Certainly the element of determining pro rata shares of unsecured claims against Seasons Christian will be an important part of the community's business future. After a little more than
Kelley said residents can expect from 4 percent to 8 percent of the amounts of the roughly 160 claims made against the ministry seeking repayment of deposits and loans, many of which surpassed
"Some of them will, I believe, be denied," Kelley said. "It's not my decision to make, but I can't imagine that
Among the claims is one for
While many among the current Seasons Christian residents await court action and news from the community's new owner to determine their future, more than a few are angry. One said at a recent meeting, "The Eidenires -- or at least Brother Bill -- used to care for us. Then it started being about the money."
Clark laments his lost inheritance, but he is more angry over an assessment shared by family members of many other residents: that his mother was taken advantage of.
"These people hurt my mother," the psychologist said. "They betrayed her. The religious part of this whole thing was, I believe, a farce. There wasn't a ...damned thing religious about that place. It was an apartment complex."
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