Joe Hubbard, director of Catholic Urban Programs in East St. Louis, has announced that he will retire in January after heading up the charity for nearly 40 years.
"I'm hitting 70 years old soon and my body is getting tired," Hubbard said of the reason he'll step back. "It's getting harder to deal with the death and shootings and the homeless going on around us. I want to move aside while I still have my health and strength to help them do some stuff and get settled."
But Hubbard said he doubts he would ever step away completely from the organization he founded in 1973.
"I love people," Hubbard said. "People have been my life. So it's hard to not be involved in helping them one way or another. And I think if I ever stopped completely, you'd know where I would be: I would be in the cemetery."
Hubbard said he will be replaced by Gerry Hasenstab, who has worked with Catholic Urban Programs for 35 years.
He is often called "Reverend Joe" by the people he helps, even though he isn't a minister. His career in charity work actually began more than 50 years ago with the St. Vincent DePaul Society. Hubbard said times are a lot different now than they were when he started his work.
Pat Hogrebe, executive director of the St. Vincent DePaul Society, where Hubbard serves as president of the board of directors, said it's impossible to calculate how many people Hubbard has helped over the years or how much he has helped them.
"Joe embraces people at all levels," Hogrebe said. "He has a special love for those in need, for the poor. He has spent his whole life trying to make things better for people. His heart is with people. We're grateful he'll still be around, hopefully, to continue as a volunteer."
Catholic Urban Programs provides food pantry services, runs a homeless shelter in East St. Louis and helps needy people out in other ways including giving them clothes, bus tickets, money for gas and other services. When families can't afford to pay their utility bills, the organization tries to help them out. As bad as things seemed when the organization was founded, Hubbard said it is needed now more than ever.
"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," Hubbard wrote in a letter that announced his decision to step down. "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. In the old days a person could go down to the railroad tracks and pick up loose coal or find wood to burn in their furnace."
Hubbard said the technological advances are great for some. But they've made life even harder for the needy because non-skilled jobs they used to count on to make a living have nearly disappeared from the landscape.
Hubbard said he expects his last day on the job to be Jan. 1.
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at email@example.com or call 239-2626.