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The Lighthouse Keeper

Like his dad before him, David McCarrell ’57 spent many years caring for the homeless in Chicago through the Pacific Garden Mission, founded in 1877 and known as the “Old Lighthouse.” by Marisa Foxwell ’13


McCarrellAfter coming to Chicago to find cheap drugs to satisfy his intense addiction and staying up for four days straight, Carl sat on a street corner completely broken. For 20 years, he had been in and out of jail, psychiatric wards, and treatment centers. Then on a cool April morning, he decided to go to the Pacific Garden Mission (PGM), and to accept the food and rest they offered.

For David McCarrell, Sr. ’57, who retires this year after serving for 17 years as president of PGM, serving men and women like Carl has been the greatest joy in leading America’s largest continuously operating rescue mission.

“It was a job he loved and hated to give up,” says David’s wife of 58 years, Judy Gedde McCarrell ’55.

Before serving as PGM’s president, David worked as a member of the board for seventeen years, and spent nine of those years as chairman. He took on the role of president only after he retired from his first career—teaching high school physical education and coaching football.

Under his leadership, PGM introduced a career development program, a Polish ministry, and GED classes, and expanded the women’s and children’s classes and the men’s Bible study. He instituted the Bread of Life Ministry in 2001, which organizes the sharing of the gospel and donation of food to those in Chicago’s government-subsidized housing projects every Wednesday. With his vision, the medical/dental clinic and the Gospel League Home have also undergone renovations to better meet the physical needs of patients.

“It’s a busy place. We give out more than 3,000 meals a day and sleep nearly 1,000 people every night,” explains David. “And we don’t turn people away.”

David first encountered PGM through his father, Dr. William “Billy” McCarrell, Sr. D.D. ’41, who was heavily involved in the ministry for more than 50 years. Pastor of Cicero Bible Church and a Wheaton College trustee, Billy had a heart for the people of Chicago.

After serving in the military, David attended Wheaton, where he proposed to Judy, his high school sweetheart. While their four children were growing up, Judy stayed at home and later taught preschool for 20 years. The couple’s children include Caryn McCarrell Thornton ’82, David McCarrell Jr. ’84, Christine McCarrell Horner, and Cathryn McCarrell Kucera ’86. They also have two Wheaton grandchildren, Megan Thornton ’13 and Katelyn Thornton ’16.

David remembers his Wheaton time fondly. He was strongly influenced by the leadership of President Edman. He also remembers, “Whatever we studied, whatever we were doing, we wanted to share our faith in Christ.” It’s a principle that he has carried with him.

Philip Kwiatkowski, the new president of PGM, says of David, “He is approachable to everyone, whether you are homeless or executive staff. It is a blessing to be able to build on his great legacy.”

From the start, David and his team emphasized the promise of Proverbs 3:5-6. He says, “God directs our path and supplies for us in surprising ways. He still works in miracles.”

For his part, Carl couldn’t agree more. He gave his life over to God, and now works for the Greater Life Ministries, ministering to guests in situations similar to those of his past. “PGM allows people like me—who had no hope or faith—to become healed and achieve things for God’s glory,” he says.

Full Circle: Barbara Thomson Getz ’75 >

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