KANKAKEE — Pastor Ed Kannapel, the man who spearheaded the creation and operation of Gift of God Street Church and men’s homeless shelter in Kankakee since 2008, has died.
Kannapel, who had been battling cancer, died Saturday at the age of 73.
“He would still go out with his van seeking the homeless,” his wife, Linda, said on Monday. “Someone is going to have awful big shoes to fill to replace what he did.”
Linda Kannapel said the church and shelter, at 660 N. Fifth Ave., Kankakee, will remain in operation. She also noted a celebration of life service will be planned for later this year.
The shelter and church have been North Fifth Avenue fixtures since 2008, shortly after Kannapel arrived in Kankakee from Chicago’s southside with a vision to help those in need.
Kannapel was so committed to those in need because he had been one himself for so long.
He had explained he had been homeless for 17 years. He returned to the Chicago region from serving two years in the Vietnam War, dealing with his own drinking problem. He soon found himself living on the street.
He labeled himself as a streetwise person, “but other than that, I’m no one special,” he had said.
Others certainly would not agree with that statement.
“I was always amazed with his ability,” said Rich Allers, of Bourbonnais, a Gift of God board member. “His heart and his goal was to help get the people saved. They were so beat down that they didn’t believe they had any hope. But he told them they had just as much opportunity for a better life as anyone else.”
While he lent help to countless men through his 13 years in Kankakee, he had in years prior worked in a mission in Chicago. He also worked with inmates as a chaplain in the Cook County Jail for many years.
“His only desire was for people to change their lives,” Linda said.
He was known for running a disciplined program along North Fifth. Anyone intoxicated was not allowed at the shelter, Linda noted.
“He touched so many lives,” she said.
Pastor Ed came to Kankakee in 2007 and simply began ministering and helping those on the street by offering food, some supplies and most often, prayers. About a year after he arrived here, he found the property on Fifth Avenue and began a shelter and church.
“He believed he was called to go to a place that needed him. He wound up in Kankakee,” Linda said.
Like with any addiction program, the failures, more than likely, outnumber the successes. There were times Pastor Ed did not feel he was making an impact. Linda, however, noted that in his final weeks many of the men who were able to turn their lives around in part through the prayers and compassion of Pastor Ed returned to the shelter to visit and pray with the man they now called a friend.
Another Gift of God board member, Chuck Carnes of Bradley, noted people who came to Gift of God did so because there was simply nowhere else.
The shelter became known as the “Last Door Mission,” meaning this was the last door they had an opportunity to walk through.
“He wanted to feed people’s souls. He wanted to give them dignity,” Carnes said.
He was always willing to use “tough love” to help make it happen. If a man was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, he wasn’t allowed at the shelter. It was his shelter and people had to abide by his rules.
“He tried to instill in them a belief they had the capacity to change. He would kick them out one day and welcome them back the next. He wanted them to succeed.”
The goal will be to have his mission live on even though its heart and soul has departed.
“What we want to see is his legacy continue. His legacy of bringing people to Christ. He wants us to continue. We are still serving meals and giving people shelter,” Carnes said. “This remains a viable place.”
Allers said Pastor Ed lived by one simple rule: A man has to want to help himself before he will accept help.
“He was a great man. He touched a lot of lives.”
Linda noted during those days of visits, Ed came to realize he did touch hearts and lives.
“He told me ‘I guess I wasn’t a failure after all,’” she said. “He touched a lot of lives.”