Gene Bicknell talks about divine guidance, his faith and the Holy Spirit.

21 Sep

I laugh when I think about the first time I met Gene Bicknell.

I suspect he doesn’t remember it. Why would he?

I was covering a Christmas parade on The Branson Landing two years ago, when suddenly, I found myself being introduced to two people at the same time. I was shaking hands with Gene on one side and had Andy Williams in my grasp on the other.

For a small town boy from Oklahoma, It was a lot to process. Both wealthy and important guys. I froze. I wasn’t sure whose hand to shake or ass to kiss first.

Since that cold and tongue-tied day, I’ve interview both Gene and Andy a couple of times.

I’ve talked with Gene about, “Celebrate America,” the theatrical tribute to 9/11 he penned while setting in an airport watching the Sept., 11, 2001 attacks on America unfold on television.

We’ve talked about, “Country Tonight,” his musical celebration of Americana staged nightly at one of his two Branson theatres. We’ve talked about “Peter Pan” and bringing Broadway to Branson. We’ve talked about growing up in small towns with large families and meager means. From what I know about Gene Bicknell, I like him.

Gene, a Picher, Okla., native who grew up in Baxter Springs, Kan., is often called a “self-made man.” Seems accurate.

He built a Pizza Hut restaurant empire and sold it for — what I suspect was — a boatload of bucks. He’s made television, movies and music. He was elected Pittsburg’s mayor and shut down in two races for Kansas governor. He’s a respected business leader, entrepreneur, philanthropist and educator and he founded the O. Gene Bicknell Center for Entrepreneurship at Pittsburg State University College of Business. He was a busy guy.
In semi-retirement, he’s just as busy. He still leads a powerhouse of financial and manufacturing interests. He owns The Mansion and Oak Ridge Boys’ Theatres in Branson, runs a multimedia production company and I hear he knows a thing or two about frying bacon in the nude — Just Google it.

The Shrine of the Holy Spirit in Branson, Mo.

His recent passion is the completion of the Shrine of the Holy Spirit, a nondenominational chapel and spiritual retreat he financed and built near The Mansion.

When I talked to Gene for PROFiLES about his life, his faith and the Shrine, I first asked how old he was. He laughingly joked, “I can’t remember.” I laughed and we continued  the conversation.

Where did the idea for the Shrine of the Holy Spirit start?
“It was a vision that was given too me. I feel that it was all divine guidance. When I had the vision I started looking for any other monument to the Holy Spirit and I couldn’t find anything worldwide that was directly related. There are churches named after the Holy Spirit,  but I couldn’t find anything relative to a monument. That’s what the mission was, and then, ironically, I’ve been told that the design will probably be displayed in architectural magazines. They say I’m going to get some credit for that, and I say I can’t take any credit for that because the design was given to me, also.”

How did the inspiration come to you?
“The vision was given to me more internally and, even when I was sleeping, I just kept seeing this. I can’t explain it. I don’t understand it myself. The vision was there. The way it was to look was there and I sort of felt that if you are told to do something that you better mind.”

What is your denomination?
“I go to the Baptist church, now. I’ve had several different church associations through the years, but my faith is basically in Christ and God and I believe that my faith has been rewarding. I’ve witnessed the Holy Spirit on several occasions and the momentum that it can cause and the energy it can promote. So, I’m committed to being as spiritual as I can possible be.”

Do you think the Shrine has an appeal to all faiths and denominations?
“That’s what its intention is. It’s not supposed to be a denominational thing at all. It wasn’t built with that in mind. It’s not specifically related to any denomination. It’s related to the Holy Spirit, which is one of the three persons of God.”

What has the public reaction been to the new shrine?

“It’s been wonderful people have just been in awe. I’ve know people who have stopped there told me there was a rainbow surrounding it. Then, there other people who come daily. I have full belief that it may even be a healing place, but well wait to see that. There are a lot of people who stop by there and say they feel the spirit. It’s a very solemn and spiritual place. When you walk around the courtyard and walk inside the chapel there’s a significant presence. “

What do you hope visitors to the Shrine will take away from their time there?
“I think that different people will take different things away from it. Some, who truly have the right heart and the right frame of mind, are going to feel it more significantly than others. I believe that it will be impressive to all who step on the grounds.”

The shine is set up for many purposes; weddings and anniversaries and celebrations of faith and patriotism. Do you welcome all of those things there?

“That’s exactly the intention. You hit it right on the head. It’s there for renewing of wedding vows and it’s for weddings and is for anniversaries and veteran memorial services and patriotic services. It’s there to be used and it’s strictly a non-profit thing. There are some fees involved with events, but it all goes to cover expenses. All funds go to the 501c3 foundation and are just meant to rejuvenate it. It’s definitely not for profit.

You want it to be self-supporting?
“I won’t be around forever and I’m hoping that the funds from souvenirs and books and different items you can buy there go to pay the people who run it for ever.”

How has your faith and spirituality affected the way lead your life and conduct your business?
“First of all, I’ve always been honest and I’ve never cheated anyone, to my knowledge. I’ve always tried to have integrity. My parents taught me that. A hard work ethic and integrity is part of the lessons they served us. I’ve not been a real good person. I’ve been sinful and done a lot of things that probably I wish I hadn’t, but never have I cheated anyone. I try to be fair and feel like I try to be humble and treat everyone the same regardless of what their materialistic value is or what their position in life is. Everyone is the same. I think my friends will tell you that’s the way I am. My spirituality has led me to always believe in God and that you should always try to help others and be charitable and be philanthropic. I try to do all of those things. I try to show my friends and family and, I think I have. Ultimately my faith has always guided me, and like everyone else, I haven’t always stayed on the right track. But, I try to get back on when I slip off. I always felt that if  I’m walking along, and I get off the track, and am not spiritual enough, that God will pick me up and put me back on track and point me in the right direction.”

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One Response to “Gene Bicknell talks about divine guidance, his faith and the Holy Spirit.”

  1. Bernadine Taylor November 2, 2010 at 2:44 pm #

    I spotted this and was in awe after seeing the wonderful Penny Gilley show . wE WENT BACK THE NEXT DAY and i got out of the truck to se it i was so inspired went in the chapel and just dropped to my knees i finaly found out about Gene Bicknell when we went to the Dixck Clark church service. Its needs to be more advertisements about it a lot of people may miss being blessed by going to see it. Thanks Bernadine TAYLOR conroe texas

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