A Brief History of a Growing Ministry
Serving the homeless and the hurting since 1950.
(The following History is an abbreviated recap of the evolution of the Union Rescue Mission in Wichita.)
In the late 1940’s, a woman known only as Miss Ledoux, working with merchants on East Douglas in Wichita, Kansas, saw a great need for a mission to aid the homeless. She approached the Christian Business Mens Committee in the summer of 1950, and the members, feeling a burden for the destitute men living on Wichita streets, agreed to establish a shelter. There were skeptics, however, within the CMBC membership.
From modest beginnings and through a lot of hard work, the Gospel Service Center opened on Sept. 6, 1950 at 603 East Douglas in downtown Wichita. Martin Moody, one of the founders, observed what was apparent to so many of the supporters that first night. “We all knew that God had raised up this mission. There wasn’t (even) standing room.” Moody served as the first President of the Board. Services were held each night with local churches providing the food. The first superintendent was John F. Parkes, hired from Montreal, Canada.
In the early stages, the Mission formed a ladies auxiliary, aired a daily radio program and conducted bible studies. The men who utilized the Mission’s nine beds first showered and then received a change of clothes. That year, the name was changed to the Union Rescue Mission, Inc.
Yielding to pressure from local business owners, the Mission’s landlord decided not to renew the lease. The search for a new location was frequently met with objection from operators of neighboring businesses to each potential site. Opposition was so strong, the matter eventually was brought before civil court. The objecting business owners could not prove their case and the suit was dismissed. A new search was launched which ultimately led to the Mission moving to 130-132 North St. Francis, where it would remain for 50 years.
From 1953 to 1955, the Mission had several superintendents. It was a time of considerable instability. But the Lord saw them through this period.
In 1956, Frank Classen, a board member, became the Mission’s leader, marking the beginning of tremendous growth. The Mission became debt-free, a status the Mission enjoys to this day.
A medical and dental clinic was opened at the Mission in 1964. It operated one day each week. A year later, a thrift store was added inside the facility, which enabled the Mission to give out free clothing to needy people.
Glenn Thomi accepted the superintendent’s position in 1966. Conditions necessitate the closing of many of the Mission’s programs, including the medical clinic, but Thomi faithfully provided leadership for the next twenty years, leading many men to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
In late 1987, Gene Price was named the new Director, and the Mission once again flourished. Funding for the ministry increased over 400% in the first six years under his leadership. Expansion of the ministry began in earnest in 1989, with the purchase of an adjoining building. Renovations were begun to expand the thrift store, laundry facility, and office space. Public awareness of the Mission’s activities grew rapidly, as did the ministry itself.
In May of 1992, the Mission introduced a “New Life Program” for men who wanted to change their lives. Many broken and destitute men found help through the Lord in gaining victory over their addictive behaviors.
In the early 1990’s, the board of the Union Rescue Mission began contemplating a departure from its mission to men only. When an abandoned nursing home at 2800 North Hillside became available, the board purchased the facility to provide shelter and host programs for women and children. The remodeling went slowly as the leadership was intent on remain debt free.
Haven of Hope, as the North Hillside facility was christened, opened in 1998. It became a life-changing catalyst for single women and women with children who wanted to get their life back in order.
Following the retirement of Gene Price in 1999, the Mission was held together for two years through the efforts of board president and interim director Gilbert Loewen. In the summer of 2001, the Board hired Marsha Stanyer as the first female director of the Union Rescue Mission. Marsha previously had served five years on the Mission’s Board of Directors.
In the next two and a half years, the ministry continued to grow and remained active serving the needy in Wichita from two facilities. The original downtown shelter on North St. Francis housed 38 homeless men every night, while the newer North Hillside facility accommodated 20 women with children.
After attempting for nearly five years to establish a viable Women’s Life-Change Program, the Board made the decision in the Fall of 2003 to discontinue the Women’s Program. A shortage of women participants, coupled with significantly higher per capita costs compared to the men’s shelter, led to the decision. In September 2003 when Haven of Hope closed, the shelter was home to only 10 women and 8 children.
At the same time, the men’s program at the Union Rescue Mission was experiencing significant growth. A New Beginnings Program was launched with an initial class of 14 former homeless men. They began a six-month residency at the Mission during which they were enrolled in rehabilitative and recovery classes and biblical studies with an emphasis on discipleship.
The Mission continued to operate its Thrift Store at the original location downtown. Free food boxes and free clothing vouchers were also distributed to those in need as part of an expanded Community Outreach Program at the downtown location.
Two months prior to the start of 2004 and after renovating the former women’s facility to fit the needs of a male population, the men’s overnight shelter was re-located to the North Hillside building. Within two weeks of opening, the men’s shelter was averaging 75 overnight guests, a two-fold increase from the 38-man capacity at the downtown shelter.
Men were transported twice daily from the downtown area, a practice that continues today. By the end of 2004, the expanded men’s ministry was housing 126 homeless men each night.
In 2005, the Union Rescue Mission marked another milestone. That year, 527 homeless men accepted Christ as their Savior during the nightly Chapel Services, an average of 44 declarations per month!
At the same time that many other ministries were seeing a decline in giving, donations to the Union Rescue Mission were actually increasing, finishing the year an amazing 16 percent higher than 2004.
The Union Rescue Mission continued as the only social service agency in Wichita providing a Christian Chapel Service nightly while also hosting a life-change Discipleship Program for men with a home or hope. In 2005, New Beginnings Program graduated 13 men who successfully completed the nine-month program of recovery and re-birth.
The Year 2006 was another period of great accomplishments for the Mission under the Lordship of Christ. The Mission averaged 49 Salvations per month and an all-time high in financial support from the Wichita community.
At the same time, the Mission reached an all-time high in serving the community — averaging 152 homeless men staying at the URM every night, with a few nights in the winter actually topping 210!
That year, the URM was selected as the Grand Prize Winner of the “Excellence in Service” Award, by the Servant Christian Community Foundation (now the National Christian Foundation).
During the year, the Union Rescue Mission served an average of 156 homeless men nightly, as well as 380 hot meals seven days a week. Enrollment in the New Beginnings Life-Change Program reached a new high of 30 students.
The year was the sixth consecutive with an increase in the number of lives touched by and changed through the Mission. Throughout it, the Union Rescue Mission remained steadfast in proclaiming the Gospel message of salvation and hope through Jesus Christ.
The Mission became a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), an accreditation agency for Christ-centered organizations that faithfully demonstrate and maintain the highest level of business and financial integrity. Also in 2009, the Mission served an average of 368 meals a day and distributed 160 food boxes every month.
The mission’s partnership with the Wichita Police Department continued to grow as officers paired with URM staff and volunteers to deliver holiday food boxes to needy families. It marked the 7th consecutive year of the “Hope for the Holidays” project. The mission also got a big boost from “Love Wichita” which sent more than 70 church volunteers to the mission campus for painting, clean-up and special projects.
For the first time in mission history, a waiting list had to be established for the New Beginnings life change program, as applications exceeded available rooms. Most other mission services increased, too. The 2011 report card was truly impressive: 55,418 bed nights, 107,561 meals, $41,425 in free Food Boxes and 403 salvations.
Thus far in 2012, a beginning of a different kind is underway. After nearly 12-years of faithful service, Marsha Stanyer stepped down as the mission’s Executive Director. Whether directing the overnight program, encouraging the men of the New Beginnings program, or overseeing food box distribution, Marsha was singularly focused on sharing God’s love with those in need.