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Faith, hope and love: Ministry provides all three

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Catherine W. Idzerda
August 31, 2009

In 1944, nobody had heard of “mainstreaming” or “inclusion.”


The notion of disability rights was more than three decades away.


But in 1944, the Rev. Charles Pedersen realized people with disabilities needed homes of their own, work of their own and the opportunity to develop their abilities.


It was pure craziness, a radical idea in a world where many people with disabilities ended up in institutions.


Now, more than five decades later, Inspiration Ministries stands as a tribute to Charles and Mary Pedersen’s commitment to that radical idea—and to their faith in God.


Located on County F between Williams Bay and Fontana, Inspiration Ministries is a community made up of apartments, an assisted living apartment and a community-based residential facility for people who need a little more help with daily living chores. It has a separate work center, a gift shop, a pool and plenty of nature trails.


But it’s not a nursing home or a rehab center or an institution. It’s a community of people.


That’s the way Charles Pedersen envisioned it.


“He really looked to the whole person: body, mind, soul and spirit,” said Betty Mulloy, vice president of marketing for Inspiration. “When he spoke to someone, that person was the only person in his view-finder.”


To put it in contemporary parlance, Pedersen wanted to serve individuals with disabilities, not a generic group called “the disabled.”


The spiritual aspect of work was always at his forefront.


“His focus was on God’s call in his life,” said Ferra Bawden, his daughter.


Bawden tells the story of that call:


As a young pastor, he went to visit a man in the community who was bedridden.


“Every time he went to see him, my father would ask him how he was, and the man would always say, ‘Oh just fine pastor, the Lord is good,’” Bawden said.


On one visit, it was clear that the man had had a bad night, but still he replied, “The Lord is good.”


“When my father questioned him, the man said, ‘It’s not always going to be like this—some day I’ll be walking and running in the streets of heaven,’” Bawden said.


That bedridden man believed, and his faith and energy inspired Pedersen.


Inspiration Ministries started as “The Christian League for the Handicapped.” The first tangible part of that ministry was Camp Hope on Geneva Lake.


That was 1950. A few years later, Pedersen created an accessible residence for people with disabilities in Walworth.


In 1959, the board of the Christian League bought the current property at the corner of Highway 67 and County F. The first building they built was a workshop so people with disabilities could earn their living.


Living facilities soon were built, along with a retail shop and a recreation area that includes a pool.


The original summer camp now is located on land closer to the main complex.


More recently, Inspiration Ministries decided to create a community-based residential facility for people who might need a little bit more help with daily living.


“People are living much longer now,” Mulloy said.


For some people, Inspiration Ministries has been their home for more than three decades.


Judy Gager came to Inspiration Ministries as a new bride in 1974.


She had met her husband, Gene, at an Easter Seals camp in Pennsylvania when she was 19, and they dated for almost 15 years.


The Gagers had their pick of the newly built Meadows Apartments on the grounds.


As she tells her story, Judy runs the cash register in the gift shop, a job she’s had for more than 13 years.


“All my skills are up here,” Gager said, tapping her head.


She has cerebral palsy, which makes it difficult for her to pick up coins, but she always works with her friend who takes care of putting the change in the cash drawer.


Gager is good with math and the other details.


“We make a good team,” Gager said.


Her husband died in 1987, but Gager still calls Inspiration Ministries her home.


“I would not want to live any place else but here,” Gager said.


Beatrix Terpstra moved to Inspiration Ministries about four years ago. She makes greeting cards with her own stamps and cutout designs. She estimated that she has more than 100 stamps.


She likes her apartment and the Inspiration community.


“I like to be here with people I know,” she said.


Carol Couture has lived at Inspiration Ministries since Sept. 5, 1970.


In a little pamphlet featuring her story, Couture wrote, “I have cerebral palsy and since coming to the League I have found many friends. I go to Bible story every other Wednesday with Judy Gager. I have been able to work and make money so I can feel independent.”


What else does she like?


“I like the activities,” Couture says, a little shyly.


When prodded a little, she confessed that one of her favorites is when volunteer Phyllis Jensen comes and reads aloud.


What have they read recently? Well, it’s been a mixed bag of books including a funny one called, “Life’s too Short to Fold My Underwear.”


She also likes audio books of all kinds.


She, too, loves her life at Inspiration Ministries.


In a pamphlet featuring her story, Couture lists Jeremiah 29:11 as one of her favorite Bible verses: “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil to give you a future and a hope.”


That’s just what Charlie Pedersen had in mind.



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