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Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Tribute to Joe Hubbard

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2013-01-24

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    DURBIN. Mr. President, I want to take a moment to thank a man that some in my hometown of East St. Louis call a saint and others call ``Reverend Joe'' although he is not a minister.

    Joe Hubbard is the man you call in East St. Louis when you need help and have nowhere else to turn. When Joe was born his parents wanted to name him Raymond Lee. But the Irish priest who baptized him said he should have a good Irish name and so declared him Joseph Patrick, after St. Joseph the Worker. It turned out to be a fitting choice because Joe Hubbard has spent nearly his entire life doing the Lord's work.

    He started 50 years ago as a volunteer with the St. Vincent DePaul Society in East St. Louis. Joe was 20 years old back then. He was working as a bookkeeper for the East Side Levee and Sanitary District to help support his widowed mother, but his real joy was helping the poor. Every minute that Joe wasn't working, he was volunteering with St. Vincent DePaul.

    After a while Joe quit his job to volunteer full-time to help the people he calls ``God's broken people,'' the poor, the homeless and the friendless of East St. Louis. He did this for a decade.

    In 1972, about a dozen priests, nuns and lay leaders in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Belleville drafted a petition that was later signed by every priest then serving East St. Louis. The petition asked the bishop of the diocese to create a small salary for Joe so that he could continue his good works under the auspices of the Catholic Church. Thus was born in 1973 a new social service agency, Catholic Urban Programs or CUP, as it is sometimes called--with Joe Hubbard as coordinator and sole employee.

    CUP's purpose is to perform the works of mercy that Jesus asked of his followers when he told them, ``For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'' CUP helps ``the in-between people.'' It fills needs that other organizations, public and private, don't address. In the beginning CUP's services included emergency help, prison ministries and advocacy and guardianships for people who could not manage their own affairs.

    Over the decades its programs have grown to include shelters for homeless women, children and families in East St. Louis, a food pantry and a neighborhood law office to provide poor people with legal assistance. Another program, the Griffin Center, offers tutoring and afterschool programs for more than 450 children living in four housing projects in East St. Louis.

    On any given day, Joe might give someone money for bus tickets, visit a lonely person in a nursing home, tell stories to children at a day care center, find housing for a family that has been evicted, serve meals at a soup kitchen, attend a funeral and sit up all night at the bedside of someone who is dying and alone.

    Above all, what CUP and Joe Hubbard offer is unconditional love. Joe does not hesitate to do work that others might consider too menial or dirty. He will mop up after a sick alcoholic. Twenty years ago, Joe and his right-hand man at CUP, Gerry Hasenstab, found a man living in his car. He was in his 50s and dying. He had open sores and maggots in his arms. His only wish was not to die dirty, in a car. Joe and Gerry got him admitted to a hospital to spend his last hours in a clean bed.

    Support for the programs comes from churches and individuals, including many who have been helped by CUP agencies in the past. One woman gave part of her first paycheck to CUP after she got a job. A widow paid CUP back for the money it gave her to help with her husband's funeral.

    After the Mississippi River overflowed its banks in 1993, CUP gave a farmer $400 to buy seed and school supplies. That farmer has sent CUP $100 every quarter--$400 a year every year for the last 20 years.

    Joe's compassion for others is partly rooted in his own family's misfortune.

    Joe is the youngest of four children of Edward and Olga Hubbard. His dad was a steamfitter. When Joe was in grade school his father was badly injured on the job. He lived with constant wrenching pain for 8 years before dying of cancer.

    The loss of his father's income hit Joe's family hard. Men and women from the St. Vincent de Paul Society brought food and coal to help the Hubbards survive. Joe said those volunteers inspired him.

    He said, ``I remember the dedication they showed, the way they reached out and helped others in need through their love of Christ. And I appreciated that they did it in a quiet manner that enabled people to keep their dignity. Their love of God and love of people inspired me to want to do God's work, too.'' And that is what Joe Hubbard has done his entire life.

    In early November, after 40 years of selfless service, Joe Hubbard announced that he was stepping down as coordinator of CUP. At 70, Joe is starting to get a little tired. He's got diabetes, high blood pressure and bad feet, and the arthritis that has pained him his whole life is getting worse.

    On Jan. 1, Gerry Hasenstab, Joe's right hand man at CUP for the last 36 years ago, took over as the agency's new coordinator. But don't think for a minute that Joe Hubbard is finished helping people. Joe also still maintains the Belleville Diocese's two cemeteries. And he still volunteers regularly for the St. Vincent DePaul Society and has a small office in their building, which is right next door to CUP.

    When CUP started, they got about two dozen calls a day for help. Now they get about 60 calls a day. Last year, CUP programs helped more than 24,000 people in East St. Louis and St. Clair County.

    In a letter announcing his decision to step down, Joe wrote: ``As I sit here and realize how the times have changed over the past 40 years of Catholic Urban Programs' existence, I am both amazed and discouraged. Technology has made our lives so much easier and efficient in so many ways. High-efficiency furnaces lower our utility bills. But if a family can't pay for the gas or electric, they are useless.'' Technological advances are great for some, Joe added. But they've made life even harder for the needy because nonskilled jobs they used to count on to make a living have nearly disappeared.

    A couple years ago, Joe noticed violets blooming on a hill near a burned-out house. He thought it was a sign of hope.

    He said: ``You have to be a believer to be a survivor.'' Joe's belief is that God is in every person and that it is not just a responsibility but a privilege to help those he calls ``God's broken people.'' That belief has defined his life and it has made [[Page S276]] life kinder and better for countless others in East St. Louis and St. Clair County.

    Besides helping people, Joe's other great joy in life is eating good meals with good friends in small, locally owned restaurants. On Saturday, about 400 of Joe's friends will gather at one of Joe's favorites, Fischer's Restaurant in Belleville, to celebrate his retirement as head of CUP. More than that, they will celebrate Joe's unconditional love and unbreakable faith. I want to add my thanks to theirs.

    In closing, I would like to read a short editorial about Joe that ran in this past Sunday's Belleville News-Democrat.

    Martin Luther King Jr. would have considered Joe Hubbard a kindred spirit. King and Hubbard both spent their careers championing the cause of social justice. King focused on the spirit while Hubbard helped provide for people's physical needs in East St. Louis and throughout the metro-east. Hubbard is retiring after leading Catholic Urban Programs for 40 years.

    King considered service to others to be a measure of greatness: ``You don't have to have a college degree to serve. . . . You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.'' Hubbard has the sort of heart and soul that King envisioned. Even in retirement, we have no doubt that he will continue his life of service to the poor of our area.

    Thank you to Hubbard. May the rest of us learn from his example.


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