"SHSI Certificate of Recognition"
"Best on the Web"

Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
Jump to navigationJump to search

O'ROURKE, Karen. (Dubuque, IA- ). O'Rourke helped organize the Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, AFL-CIO toward the end of the 1970s. She also authored Nurse Power, a description of the profession of nursing within the field of health care. Considered a "how to" book of organizing, the book dealt with legislation, insurance, collective bargaining procedure, and labor law.

O'Rourke began nursing as an aide at the MOUNT CARMEL MOTHERHOUSE. She graduated from WAHLERT CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL and received her bachelor's degree in sociology from the UNIVERSITY OF DUBUQUE while being employed at MERCY HEALTH CENTER.

In 1993 O'Rourke was the executive director of the Center for Public Ministry which had offices at 1069 Main. In March after an incident outside OLD SHANG (THE), black youth and the DUBUQUE POLICE DEPARTMENT were involved in charges and counter-charges that led to involvement of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE (N.A.A.C.P.), CURE, and the United States Department of Justice. O'Rourke offered to be a "bridge builder" in the situation. (1) However, she also called for Ernestine MOSS to step down from the presidency of the local branch of the N.A.A.C.P. (2)

Recognizing that most problems between police and young people occurred between 9:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m., she proposed that midnight basketball might give the youth a positive activity and therefore avoid confrontation. She maintained her solution was "colorblind." Several endorsements were quickly offered from the community. (3) The idea developed into the CHURCH MINISTRY LEAGUE.

The first basketball game was scheduled for June 1, 1993. A thirteen-member task force was formed to meet periodically to organize the league for people ages 16-28 and decide where games were to be played. The task force was also to look at an educational program that would focus on determining literary skills and leadership development. O'Rourke stressed that what needed to be addressed was the "underlying economic structures that result in this kind of chronic unemployment/underemployment of our young people." (4)

The Center's interest in affordable housing for the city's poor was featured in an article in the Telegraph Herald, on July 27, 1993. The Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO) was established to give exclusively low-income residents an opportunity of sharing up to 15% of the Housing and Urban Development funds given to the states. In Iowa that was equal to approximately $1.8 million. The Center found competition for the money to be slight and planned three housing projects in the downtown area. O'Rourke was aided in the project by Jon Linfield who was employed with the Housing Assistance Council Inc, a national non-profit. Linfield stated the vacancy rate in Dubuque was "as close to zero as you can get." O'Rourke claimed landlords were "gouging" renters. The city council's stand in opposition to public housing posed no problem to O'Rourke who claimed the Center did not need the council support in applying for the money. David Harris, the city's housing services manager, disagreed. (5)

In August, 1993 the Center approached the city council with the offer of working together to obtain $500,000 in federal money to provide affordable housing for the poor. The Center was interested in applying for the federal assistance through a yet to be organized group of low-income residents, clergy and public housing officials. The money would be used to purchase and renovate apartments, duplexes and home for the poor who would not pay more than 30% of their income for housing.

The reception was cool with council members saying they did not trust the Center. The Center's Metropolitan Organizing Projects, a group established by O'Rourke, had protested the city budget to the state appeals board resulting in a $408,000 cut order. The council reminded Center representatives of the organization's "confrontational" reputation and refused to support one councilman's gesture to "keep the lines of communication open." (6)

The confrontation continued. In April, 1994 the Center for Public Ministry and its director, O'Rourke sued the city for misusing grant money and claimed that the city falsified compliance reports it had sent to the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (7) The suit had challenged whether the city's use of money given to DUBUQUE IN FUTURO had served its required purpose of creating jobs for the poor. The federal government in 1995 sued the city and In Futuro alleging misuse of $20 million in federal money. (8) In 1998 a federal district judge dismissed the lawsuit. (9)

In April 1999 O'Rourke plead guilty to four misdemeanor charges of fraudulent practice in the third degree. She was given a suspended sentence and placed on probation. In 2002 she received two years in prison for violating her probation. (10)





1. Glindinning, Mary. "Complainers Need Not Apply, Telegraph Herald, March 7, 1993, p. 1

2. Bagsarian, Tom. "Mixed Reviews for NAACP, Police Memorandum," Telegraph Herald, March 16, 1993, p. 3A

3. Bagsarian, Tom. "O'Rourke's Plan for Race Relations: Midnight Basketball," Telegraph Herald, March 9, 1993.

4. Bagsarian, Tom. "Panel Determines Deadline for Basketball Game," Telegraph Herald, March 13, 1993, p. 3A

5. "Community Panel Eyes Affordable Housing Ticket," Telegraph Herald, July 27, 1993, p. 3A

6. Eiler, Donnelle. "Uneasy Truce off Between Group, Council," Telegraph Herald, August 3, 1993, p. 3A

7. Greene, Kylie, "Ex-Dubuquer Sentenced For Probation Violation," Telegraph Herald, April 10, 2002, p. 6

8. Editorial, Telegraph Herald, June 16, 1995, p. 4

9. Green

10. Ibid.