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A Helping Hand in a Stunning Setting

Author(s): Jane Gargas Date: July 15, 2004
Section: Main/Home Front
By JANE GARGAS YAKIMA HERALD-REPUBLIC

It's a cathedral, really - with lofty ceilings, wooden beams, stained glass windows and the ambiance of refuge.

A sense of purpose permeates it.

"This will be a place to set a person in the sunshine and help them in good ways," explains Louise Worden, putting the finishing touches on her new cliffside home in Nile.

Officially known as the Agape Mountain Sunshine Bed and Breakfast Retreat, the home is ready for guests, says Worden. "Agape," she explains, is a Greek word meaning unconditional love. As the name suggests, this bed and breakfast is different from most commercial establishments; it's not entirely a money-making prospect.

Worden intends to reserve one of its four bedrooms for a person struggling with a difficult circumstance.

It might be someone newly widowed, recovering from substance addiction or escaping from an abusive relationship, according to Worden.

"It's for someone going through a life-changing experience," she explains.

She's been mulling the idea of providing a retreat for someone in need for the past 30 years. But the plan may never have reached fruition if it hadn't been for a candle in her former home in the same location five years ago.

Moments after lighting the candle and walking into another room, she realized something was very wrong.

The flames had leapt to nearby curtains; the home was quickly engulfed in smoke.

Worden escaped with her macaw, dogs, cats and little else. The home, built in 1975, was destroyed.

But her loss has transformed to gain - physically and spiritually.

"The Lord has opened doors every place I've needed to go," she says.

She began rebuilding on the same spot in March 2000. From the start, she had a vision.

She served as architect, construction consultant, interior designer, wood finisher and landscaper.

"Everything, all the plans and ideas, came out of Louise's head," says her husband, Bob Sepolen, a respiratory therapist at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital.

And it's a stunning achievement. Centered on a bed of solid basalt high above the Chinook Pass highway, the home offers sweeping views of the Naches River and Rattlesnake Canyon.

Three towering stories of concrete, painted in tan and seafoam hues, rise upon the hill like a modern talus tower.

Surrounded by a two-story wooden deck, the striking home overlooks tamarack, elderberry, maple, aspen, cottonwoods, pine, fir and rocky cliffs, creating a tranquil retreat from the world, both indoors and out.

It's all beautiful, Sepolen and Worden say, from winter snowstorms and colored leaves in the fall to the first buds of spring and the spectacular sunsets.

Inside are expansive glass windows, stained-glass fixtures, granite counters and slate accents to the oak floors.

"I never expected to have anything like this in my life," Worden admits. An upstairs recreation room, for guests to share, has a communal kitchen, exercise equipment, entertainment center, oversized couches and chairs, a large table for quilting or sewing and a plethora of musical opportunities (three pianos, two organs, a guitar and a harp - all to share, says Sepolen).

"The first thing I bought after the fire was a grand piano," Worden recalls. A giant stone fireplace, built from Northwest river rock, provides warmth in the living room and a focal point for the home.

Since warmth of scene is important to the couple, they scattered three woodstoves and two fireplaces throughout the home.

They make for cozy winter days: "I love it when the snow is blowing so hard you can't go anywhere," says Worden.

For the summer, there's air conditioning, if needed, plus gentle breezes blowing up the Nile Valley.

Upstairs, the bed and breakfast bedrooms all have decks. Facing west, the largest, Sunset Suite, contains a kitchen and living-room area.

The Rock Garden Room enjoys filtered morning light, while the Sunrise Room, facing east, is the place to be at dawn.

Two rooms contain antique, wind-up record players for an extensive collection of jazz, bluegrass, country and swing records from the 1940s.

The Rock Garden Room is the one designed for someone needing refuge, explains Worden. She wishes there had been a similar retreat for her years ago after a divorce.

A part owner of Yakima Bait Co. in Granger, the 62-year-old Worden grew up in the Lower Valley and is the mother of three and grandmother of five.

She's worked with battered women and helped people with addictions; she credits an old friend, John Jones, who has battled cocaine addiction, with being the inspiration for her to open her home to those in need.

"One of the things we're going to be held accountable for on Judgment Day is what we did to help anyone else in a significant way," she explains.

"God puts people in poor circumstances along our path, and what we do determines if we pass or fail the test," she adds.

Worden is expecting that local churches and agencies will refer people they feel would be eligible, and she'll work out a payment agreement on a sliding-fee scale.

Brushing off the idea that housing strangers could be risky, she notes, "Occasionally I've let people in that I've had to buy a bus ticket for to get them out of here, but I've never been scared by anyone I've helped."

Of course she does have a fiercely loyal Rottweiler, Sheba. But even he isn't the boss; that honor goes to Charlie, the macaw, who rules over the humans in the house as well as the poodle, Teddy, and cat, Oreo.

Worden admits it's been an arduous process getting the home built to her specifications. "It feels like I've been pregnant for five years; I'll never build anything again in this lifetime," she vows.

Declining to say how much money the house cost, Worden notes that she used insurance money from the fire as well as profits from real-estate sales.

She reasons that the dual purpose of her home, a bed and breakfast for guests and a refuge for a person in need, is a good direction for her energies. It's part of her commitment to making life a little better for others, she explains.

"I'm not going to be off sailing to the South Pacific for six months. I can get more joy out of interacting with people, helping them help themselves," she says.

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