Gordon “Gordy” Grimm loved alcoholics and drug addicts and spent his whole life fighting for their recovery and dignity.
The Rev. Grimm, a key figure in the development of what’s now known globally as the Minnesota Model of chemical dependency treatment pioneered by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, died of congestive heart failure on Jan. 5. He was 86.
Hired in 1965 by Hazelden’s first psychologist, Dan Anderson, as the center’s first full-time pastor, Grimm helped imbue the institution with a spiritual, whole-person approach to addiction treatment. At that time, alcoholics were often checked into psychiatric facilities or marginalized in other ways.
Born in Sac City, Iowa, in 1933 to Homer and Beulah Grimm, his life was shaped by the experience of seeing his father kicked out of their church because of alcoholism. While attending Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Grimm began reconciling his complicated feelings about religion caused by that experience. He went on to Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul and was ordained by the Lutheran church in 1960.
Grimm immediately entered chaplaincy ministry in the hospital setting. His first job was at Willmar State Hospital, where Anderson and psychiatrist Nelson Bradley were experimenting with new ways to treat alcoholism. It was there that Grimm developed an approach that encompassed the spiritual needs of all patients struggling with addiction, whether atheist, agnostic or believers.
He also met his wife, Esther, who was a nurse working with female alcoholics at the Willmar hospital. They had three children: John, Mary and Jim.
Meanwhile, Anderson had been hired at Hazelden to apply psychological principles to treatment. A few years later, Anderson hired Grimm at Hazelden to help him round out the whole-person approach that treats an addict physically, psychologically, socially and spiritually — and always with dignity and respect.
But Grimm was more than just a pastor. He was an advocate and educator who was committed to sharing with the world what they knew was working at Hazelden. Grimm was in charge of public policy at Hazelden in the 1970s and 1980s. He spent considerable time at the Minnesota Legislature, making sure public policy matched the need for access to quality treatment, said William Moyers, Hazelden’s vice president of public affairs.
“Whether you were in a detox center in downtown St. Paul or a rural facility … Gordy was all about access to treatment. He was always giving away in the public arena everything Hazelden knew,” Moyers said. “He was the driving force in making sure that the Minnesota Model, and everything at our heart and soul, was carried out into the world.”
His daughter, Mary Grimm, said the person she quotes most often in life is her father, who was always a gentle, guiding force in their family.
“He was very mission-driven and was just really kind, generous and supportive. He never said anything negative about anyone; he was just all-accepting of people,” Mary Grimm said.
“The one thing, time and time again that he would say and that I live by was, ‘Use your energy on positive things; don’t go to the dark place.’ ”
When he retired, Grimm turned his advocacy energy toward the disabled community, which included his youngest son, Jim, who had cerebral palsy and has died.
“He always advocated for the little guy, the people who didn’t have a voice,” said his other son, John Grimm.
In addition to his children John and Mary, survivors include his wife, Esther. Services have been held.
Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767