2024 Marks 60 Years of Serving the Rockford Area

Rockford was thriving in 1964, with its 130,000 population second in Illinois only to Chicago. It was widely known as the machine-tool capital of the United States. Machines, parts and especially fasteners made here – screws, nuts and bolts – kept American industry humming.

As Rockford grew, so did social problems. Homeless men – and almost all were men – were often war veterans struggling with alcoholism brought on by what we now know as PTSD, post traumatic stress syndrome. Our community didn’t ignore homelessness, then or now. In 1963, the Register Republic newspaper published a series of stories and photos about the problem.

One of the people who read those stories with interest was my mother in-law, Nadine Pitney. She and my father-in-law, Rev. Gerald O. Pitney, had moved here from Missouri four years earlier for G.O. to pastor the First Baptist Church in North Park (now Machesney Park). Nadine thought about city rescue ministries she had visited, like Chicago’s famed Pacific Garden Mission. That, she thought, is what a city like Rockford really needs.

Nadine and a few others from their church began praying that God would send someone to Rockford to start a rescue mission. Her prayer would be answered in the form of recovering alcoholic Ray Stewart, who opened Rockford Rescue Mission on May 1, 1964 at 116 Kishwaukee St. (You can read all the details in our 2004 book, Rescuing the Raggedy Man.) From then until now, Rockford Rescue Mission has served our community every single day, with an astounding amount of food and shelter … and thousands of changed lives.

A Crossroads of Serving

It’s hard to read the gospels without clearly seeing that Jesus made a high priority of serving poor and hopeless people within His reach. The Mission has never hidden the fact that we are a Christian ministry, motivated by sharing the love of Christ with anyone within our reach. We know not everyone in our community believes exactly as we do, but the beautiful thing about Rockford Rescue Mission is that we can all meet needs together anyway. We are a crossroads—a place where churches, businesses, civic organizations and caring individuals can lock arms and serve people who are homeless, hurting and in need of hope.

We also greatly appreciate the support of our city and area leaders. The Mission does not receive direct government aid, but we do partner with governmental, healthcare and educational agencies in areas like finding housing, care and employment for our residents and guests. We participate in the Rock River Homeless Coalition — a network that includes governmental agencies, ministries, healthcare providers, veterans facilities and more — because none of us can solve homelessness alone. Our community needs our collaborative thinking and working.

The Mission does not seek public funding, but we have received numerous private grants from local foundations and other philanthropic-minded organizations. We cherish these relationships and the partnerships that have grown over the years. One thing underlining it all is that, almost universally in our community, the Mission is viewed with favor — by civic leaders, businesses, clubs, schools and, of course, churches. That sort of uncommon network has been 60 years in the making. We so appreciate those friendships and partnerships.

They make Rockford better.

Partners in Hope,