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Man's passion for outreach is contagious

Bob Runkle

Bob Runkle

By Derinda Moerer

Bob Runkle infects people with his contagious passion for hands-on ministry, which has created a pandemic at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Coeur d’Alene.

He and fellow parishioner Bob Peterson have expanded their zeal to more than 30 regular volunteers, who reach out to their local community and beyond—including hosting the Bishop’s All-Star Youth at the church this summer.  The youth volunteered 300 hours at St. Vincent de Paul one weekend—cleaning the playground, repairing housing and painting the store.

In addition to work at St. Vincent de Paul’s transitional housing center and other local outreach ministries, the group sent two teams to an adopted Mississippi church that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.  They also have sent care packages to enlisted men and women stationed overseas.

Bob (Runkle), who was appointed in August as coordinator for outreach and social ministry for the Diocese of Spokane, has reached out since college when he worked with civil rights groups.  Since he moved to Idaho and joined St. Luke’s outreach ministry team in 2004, his heart for people has stimulated the parish to reach out and make a difference in people’s lives.

On Monday nights, he joins three to five other church volunteers to minister to a specific group—young children at St. Vincent de Paul’s transitional housing facility.

The group interacts with 10 to 25 children under the age of eight while their parents attend life-skills classes.  During the children’s play time, Bob and the others strive to instill respect, manners and other common courtesies.

A year ago, he stretched his arms to a crying toddler, new to the facility, but to no avail.  The child was not familiar with social interactions after living in a tent for six months with her twin and four other siblings, which included another set of twins under 3-years-old, plus her parents. 

Bob was not discouraged.  He continued befriending the six children every Monday night until, six months later, the toddler sought him out and slipped her hand into his.  That’s the reward he seeks with each new child he meets.

“To see families be successful and to know we’ve had a part, that’s success for us,” Bob said.  “One Monday night, the children’s activity was to learn how to do place settings.”

At the end of the parents’ class, the children taught their parents how to set the table.

It’s a family effort. Families without jobs, housing or food to eat often come to St. Vincent’s.

The transitional housing allows people to rebuild their lives, gain education, establish credit and do other activities necessary for achieving a reasonable standard of living,” said Garry Loeffler, St. Vincent’s board member, in a recent public statement.

Helping rebuild lives is Bob’s passion.   He sees people come off the streets and enter St. Vincent’s with no hope.  Then he watches them leave with a sense of pride and confidence, knowing they can contribute to society.

Members of St. Luke’s Episcopal back him with volunteers and with monetary donations.  Those gifts, added to a $2,000 grant from Kootenai Electric and donations from local businesses, allowed St. Luke’s workers to build a metal shed to store outside play equipment for the children—such as basketball hoops and balls, soccer equipment and tricycles.

Bob Runkle

Children work on project at St. Vincent de Paul's transitional housing program.

They also purchased more than 1,000 library books for the children.  When children leave, each may choose two or three favorite books to take, because the books are constantly being replenished.

A women’s group, who can’t come on Monday nights, makes blankets for children in the transitional housing.  Other volunteers regularly transport adults to appointments, give job counseling and prepare the monthly meal for older children at St. Luke’s.

Volunteers give more than 1,200 hours a month to help St. Vincent’s transitional housing.

Often they take families on picnics or excursions, such as a cruise on Lake Coeur d’Alene.

“Volunteers also take their own children,” Bob said.  “In the summer, we have more fun activities that create camaraderie among staff, volunteers and families.”

Bob’s work in North Idaho is just a piece of his lifelong pursuit of helping others.

My passion developed during college in Atlanta,” said Bob, who graduated from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1960 with a bachelor’s degree in building construction.  “I was involved in Canterbury, an Episcopal college organization.  That experience and civil rights activities started my passion, which keeps growing.”

He moved to Baltimore after graduating and was founding president of the board of directors for Transitional Services, Inc., a non-profit corporation providing transitional living for abused women and their children.

In the Chicago area, where he lived from 1992 to 2003, he taught English as a second language and helped lead a refugee ministry for people from Cuba, Somalia, Bosnia and Ukraine. 

“My faith drives me. The baptismal covenant tells us that’s what we should do,” Bob said.  “I’m recharged, rechallenged and reinvigorated when I receive communion on Sundays.  That gives me the power.”

His power to ignite people into action pushed people beyond Coeur d’Alene last year when, two weeks after Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi, St. Luke’s was selected by the Diocese of Mississippi as one of 17 Adopting Parishes to assist Trinity Episcopal Church, Pass Christian, Miss., in their reconstruction efforts.

A team of three men left immediately to purchase and erect a storage building, meet the people and evaluate how they could best help.  Two months later, after the parish raised $12,000, another team of five left to help and encourage the 50 members still living in Pass Christian.  The rest of the 170 attendees left the community after their homes were destroyed and have not rebuilt.

In addition to supplying building needs, “we gave scholarships to two children at a summer camp in Mississippi,” Bob said. “The camp is geared to give children a safe place and counseling after the hurricanes.”

Another team returned to Pass Christian in February. They continue to assist Trinity through contributions and prayer.

Bob and his wife moved to the Coeur d’Alene area when he retired in 2003, but neither really retired.   His wife, Mary Beth Jorgensen, is communications officer and assistant to the bishop at the Episcopal Diocese in Spokane.

Meanwhile, Bob has his antennae up for worthy projects, while still maintaining the St. Vincent and Hurricane Katrina projects.

Other projects include roadside cleanup four times a year, a Support Our Troops campaign to send packages to men and women in combat zones, and projects to support senior citizens through Coeur d’Alene Homes—nonprofit housing for seniors—and through St. Vincent de Paul’s Senior Housing Facility in Post Falls, Idaho.

In addition, St. Luke’s hosts about 17 weekly meetings for individuals suffering from addictions. These meetings cater to some 400-plus men and women.

St. Luke’s outreach ministry offers caring to church members that has impact on the community.

Bob said blessings come to the community and the parish.

“We don’t do this to find new Episcopalians,” Bob said.  “We do it because Christ wants us to be out in our community, helping those less fortunate.  We receive so many blessings.”

So Bob continues to spread his passion to help others in his church, community and the world as Christ commanded his followers to do.

For information, call 208-691-2499.