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DUBUQUE RESCUE MISSION
It was during the time of the Great Depression in the early 1930s that the idea for the Dubuque Rescue Mission began. Dubuque businessman Edward Beach along with a group of men, presumably, members of the Protestant Ministerial Association, explored the possibility of opening a facility for transient men. This group approached Reverend Williams Masters to help develop this dream into a reality. Reverend Masters was the pastor of the FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH of Dubuque at that time.
The organization was incorporated in 1931. However, the City Mission of Dubuque did not officially open its doors until February 14, 1932. Its first location was in a small white frame building located at 551 Iowa Street. The primary goal of the Mission was to care for the physical and spiritual needs of homeless men who were coming through Dubuque. Likewise it also provided food and used clothing, to people in the community who had a need.
At this time, the Dubuque Rescue Mission did not receive much financial support from individual donors or churches. It did receive support from what was known as the Community Chest and from in-house cottage industries such as the restoration and resale of used furniture in a small thrift store. Daily life at the Mission consisted of the men working various jobs both at the Mission and in the community. There were meals served to both the transient men and to the hungry individuals in town. Each day concluded with on-site worship services led by various Protestant clergy leaders in the area. These services were open to the public and mandatory for the residents living at the Mission.
By 1938, the needs in the area forced the Mission to move to a larger facility on the corner of 5th and Iowa STREETS. This building was able to house more transient men and provide storage for food and goods given to the public. One drawback, however, was the lack of a furnace. To keep the building and men warm at night, the Mission kept their cooking stoves constantly running.
Reverend Masters had a great concern for the physical and spiritual well being of transient men. Each man who came to the Mission had to shower and go through a fumigation of clothing and possessions. This fumigation was aimed at eliminating potential problems with bed bugs and lice. Transient guests were then treated to a hearty meal personally prepared by Reverend Masters. It has been said that Reverend Masters was an excellent cook. He spent countless hours preparing nourishing soups to feed the men and the hungry in the community. After a long day in the kitchen, Reverend Masters would preach the good news of hope through faith in Christ. Reverend Masters continued in this outreach until he suffered a heart attack in 1941 and died September 2, 1942.
During the 1940s little changed in the daily life and outreach of the Mission which was now under the leadership of Reverend Joseph Wells. Financially, the Mission was primarily supported through the Community Chest and from money generated from the sale of used furniture and room rents. In 1946, the Mission purchased and moved to its current location on the corner of 4th and Main Streets. At that time the building housed the old Armstrong Bowling Alley. The Mission then began a massive remodeling effort that would last close to three years.
It was during this time that Reverend Wells and members of the Board of Directors appealed to churches and to the community for financial help. They initiated a program called the "Dollar a Week" campaign through the newspaper, radio, and movie trailers to get the word out to the public. The effort generated $4,000. In addition, the Mission began to get into the business of the industrial sales of recycling papers and metals. Recycling became the major source of income and support for Mission outreaches for the next two decades.
The 1950s and the 1960s featured an expansion of industrial sales and activities. A fleet of trucks and a warehouse (the O’Meara building at 144 Locust Street) were purchased. Transient men who came to the Mission were hired as employees to help with the handling and moving of goods. Under the leadership of Reverend Charles Pierce and then Mr. Leonard Roussell the Mission became almost totally self-supporting through a combination of industrial sales, room rents, and Thrift Store sales.
Times were challenging. Recycling prices jumped up and down. The Mission struggled with trying to find financing to fix and maintain a fire hazard warehouse and its aging downtown building. Fund-raising efforts were only marginally successful. At times, the Mission fell behind in its abilities to pay both creditors and taxes. Loans from local financial institutions helped the Mission get through some rough spots, yet the debt remained. Unfortunately, there was criticism that financial woes were causing the spiritual care of individuals and humanitarian outreach to suffer neglect. The debt woes come to head in 1976 when the Mission sold the warehouse, the recycling equipment, and most of its fleet of trucks. In March, the Telegraph-Herald reported in a story that the Dubuque City Mission called it quits. However, the Mission did not close.
During the remainder of the 1970s the emphasis switched toward gaining support from area congregations. The Board of Directors, in 1978, moved to allow the Mission to join what is known today as the DUBUQUE AREA CONGREGATIONS UNITED (DACU). This caused a rift between some members of the board and the executive director that triggered a series of mass resignations.
After joining DACU, the direction of the Mission began to change more toward humanitarian outreach. Under the leadership of Jack Harley and later Reverend Robert Burns and Reverend Robert Williams, there was a move toward more active participation by the community in the life of the Dubuque Rescue Mission. For the first time, women and later Roman Catholics were allowed to serve on the Mission’s Board of Directors. In addition, there was recruitment of volunteers to help serve the daily public meal. Churches and civic organizations were recruited to help serve a dinner on Sundays. Likewise, the Mission opened an emergency shelter for women and families as well as started the community food bank. This agency became the St. Stephen’s Food Bank.
The financial situation of the organization improved. However, the building that housed the Mission was in need of urgent repair. It was during this period that Reverend Donald Booher helped spearhead an ambitious drive to totally overhaul the entire building. Through the generosity of the citizens of the city, this project was a success. Of particular note was the effort of Mr. Eldon HERRIG who help raise funds for the renovation of the guest dormitory and the public dining facility. Herrig's challenge to the community to raise $50,000 was met within a week. He then used a $10,000 donation from the WAHLERT FOUNDATION to issue another challenge. (1)
However, fund raising was not the only emphasis during Reverend Booher’s time. Along with the DUBUQUE VISITING NURSE ASSOCIATION, a medical clinic for the uninsured began in 1992. This clinic started as a monthly outreach. The clinic was providing weekly out-patient services until 2006 when the new Crescent Community Health Care facility opened and residents and guests were referred there. Reverend Booher cared deeply about the needs of the poor in the community. He continually searched for additional outreaches to serve those in need. Reverend Booher died, November 1999 from a long struggle with cancer.
It was during this time, that a theology student from the University of Dubuque Theological Center, Murray Phillips, took over as Executive Director. The following year, Murray was ordained into the ministry and continued his role as Executive Director of the Dubuque Rescue Mission. Murray moved the mission forward in the next four years until he was commissioned by the United States Army to provide spiritual guidance to soldiers during the Iraq conflict. In his absence, Fr. Andrew Eagan, a priest of the Anglican Church, took over as interim director of the mission in 2004. Fr. Andrew continued service until the spring of 2007 when he moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. On October 1, 2007 the Reverend Rick Mihm became the current executive director.
As the Mission began its 78th year of service to the community, there was no let up of need. The outreaches included housing transient men (8,160 bed nights were provided in 2008). It also included the serving of 43,476 meals to the public in 2008. The Mission provided material and monetary assistance to 600 area residents who needed everything from children’s clothing to gasoline. In addition, opportunities were provided for service from volunteers ranging from elementary school students to senior citizens. Volunteers freely gave of their time and made a difference in the lives of others. Volunteers served in the Thrift Store, prepared and served meals during the day, provided opportunities for spiritual worship and pastoral care, and served on the Board of Directors.
1999-2004 Murray E. Phillips
2004-2007 Fr. Andrew Eagan
2007- current Rev. Rick Mihm
1. Information provided by Rev. Rick Mihm
2. Nevans-Pederson, Mary. "Herrig on a Mission: A Challenge Met; 1 to Go," Telegraph Herald, May 15, 1998, p. 3A. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19980515&printsec=frontpage&hl=en