Bill Rowe, Founder of Open Arms, Passes Away


Bill RoweFriends,

I am sad to announce that Bill Rowe, founding father of Open Arms, passed away last week at the age of 89 from natural causes. A man who lived his life fighting injustice and making the world a better place, we are honored that his legacy continues in the work we do here every day.

After losing a dear friend to AIDS in 1986, Bill channeled his grief into helping others, by cooking meals in his apartment and bringing them to people living with HIV each week. Bill’s acts of kindness grew into what is now Open Arms.

In addition to his job as Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, Bill did anything and everything needed to keep Open Arms running. Over the years, Bill recruited hundreds of volunteers to prepare meals for more and more people, cooking in church basements around the city. However, on days when volunteers did not show up, he planned, shopped, cooked and delivered meals by himself.

Bill really got to know clients at Open Arms, and he found out about their individual needs whenever possible. As a result of this care, Open Arms continues to provide special meals to those with dietary restrictions and food allergies. Friends remember Bill as someone who would do anything to get clients the food that they desperately needed.

Bill Rowe at 1414 Franklin Ribbon CuttingBecause of Bill’s efforts, holidays became a special time at Open Arms. Bill would work to obtain special foods, and he inspired many volunteers to prepare fantastic traditional meals with lots of extras. Flowers, special cakes and gifts often accompanied the holiday meals. This tradition continues in Open Arms’ celebration of client birthdays and Thanksgiving feasts.

After Bill retired from the University, he continued to teach one class a year on “The Anthropology of AIDS” while increasing his commitment to Open Arms. By his own example, Bill inspired many volunteers to make an extra effort to do their very best. Volunteers tell stories about how Bill reached into his own pocket for grocery money when there wasn’t any other source of funds, about how hard it was to say no to a request from him, and about how very much they respected and admired his selfless dedication and hard work. Bill’s work with Open Arms was recognized in 1995 with the Virginia McKnight Binger Award in Human Service.

Bill Rowe Red Ribbon RideBill Rowe retired in 1998 after more than 12 years of planning, cooking and delivering meals to people living with AIDS and HIV. He is remembered with love and respect by his family and friends. In their words, he was “a deeply loving father and grandfather, a lifelong warrior for social equality, a fierce opponent of injustice, a voracious reader and social analyst, a public intellectual, a lover of film and literature, an extraordinary chef, a gifted storyteller, and a deeply generous soul.”

We are incredibly grateful to Bill for his devotion to service and social justice, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.

Join us in July for a memorial service at Open Arms. In the meantime, hear people who knew Bill talk about his journey of starting Open Arms>>

In memory and admiration,

Leah Hébert Welles
Executive Director
Open Arms of Minnesota

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