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Mark Struckhoff: Ministering to the Poor in Southwest Missouri

In this segment of KSMU's Sense of Community Series, we feature Mark Struckhoff, executive director of Council of Churches of the Ozarks.

The executive Director of Council of Churches of the Ozarks, Mark Struckhoff, grew up in a Roman Catholic home in Florissant, MO, just outside of St. Louis, with his four brothers and sisters. His father died when he was four, leaving his mom Shirley to raise five kids on her own for several years…

"Her faith and her drive, I think, her love for family and her commitment--all those had to shape me in some good ways."

His mom eventually married a man with two daughters and Struckhoff’s mom and stepdad had twin boys, so the family grew to nine kids.He and his wife Katie have been married nearly 30 years, and she asked him recently what stands out most in his Christmas memories…

"I think I must have been about five or six--my mom took us kids to a special program, a Christmas program, and I remember coming home with a gift, and that's really all I remember about that. Looking back, knowing what I know now about how the church reaches out to help people in need, we were a family in need."

And Struckhoff has come full circle—today he heads an organization that provides help for thousands of people in need each year...

"To be sure, growing up in that environment shaped a good part of why I am who I am today."

Struckhoff served four years in the Navy before enrolling in (then) Southwest Missouri State University in 1980. He earned his degree in Communications and was hired in 1983 as one of the 1st annual fund directors for the SMSU Foundation.After four years, he took the position of scholarship coordinator for MSU and stayed there another four years before feeling a pull to go into the ministry.Struckhoff served United Methodist churches in Texas while attending seminary at Southern Methodist University.He eventually came back to Springfield and headed Rainbow Network, a non-profit organization that serves the rural poor in Nicaragua.In 2007 he became the director of advancement for the Council of Churches of the Ozarks.When Dave Hockensmith retired as executive director of Council of Churches, Struckhoff served as interim executive director, and about 4 months later he was offered the job on a permanent basis. He’s been in that position about 9 months.He says Council of Churches makes a difference in ways almost too numerous to count…

"We are serving the most vulnerable people in our community, and that primarily focuses on children, on seniors and on people with disabilities, and we serve annually about 100,000 people."

They work through 9 different service agencies—each focusing on a particular group and service area. One of the most recognizable, according to Struckhoff, is Crosslines...

"Crosslines is, in some ways, the flagship agency of the Council of Churches. It was the first agency to be born through the Council of Churches, and everyday--Crosslines today serves about 50 families who are in need of food assistance."

Crosslines also provides things like clothing, diapers, pre-natal vitamins and bus passes, gas vouchers and voice mail for those looking for work.Struckhoff says the culture of poverty is growing in our community, and combating it is probably the greatest task before us. He serves on the Homeless Task Force, led by Annie Busch and Doug Pitt…

"That task force was really put together in response to the real hard news that families, and especially children, are becoming homeless at a greater rate in our community."

Struckhoff also serves on the board of the Community Partnership of the Ozarks and is on the boards of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Mystic Trace Retreat Center near Pleasant Hope.He says he’s most passionate about helping those who are struggling…

"I think God's given me a real heart for the poor. My own sense of calling has to do with raising money to really bring the kingdom of God into people's lives, and what I mean by the kingdom of God, of course, is not so much about Heaven later, but that in the Lord's Prayer we really are praying and asking, if you will, for Heaven to come to Earth, that justice would be done for people who are oppressed, that the weak are cared for by the strong and that we would find a way to create a better future, if you will, for our children. Raising money for those causes, whether it's for people in Nicaragua or for people right here in the Ozarks, that's a passion of mine."

He shares what legacy he would like to leave one day…

"If a legacy is simply what you want to be remembered for, I hope that I'm remembered for grace--being a person who not only received it but knew the importance of giving it, and, if I could do that, I'll be a happy man."

This story and the others in our SOC series are on our website—ksmu.org.For KSMU, I’m Michele Skalicky.