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updated: 5/29/2013 6:34 PM

Renz Center's founder remembered for helping others

Memorial service is Sunday

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  • James "Jim" E. Renz, pictured here with his wife Lois Ruth, died May 19 in Mt. Morris, Ill. The former Elgin resident established in 1961 what later was renamed Renz Addiction Counseling Center in Elgin.

      James "Jim" E. Renz, pictured here with his wife Lois Ruth, died May 19 in Mt. Morris, Ill. The former Elgin resident established in 1961 what later was renamed Renz Addiction Counseling Center in Elgin.
    COURTESY OF MYRALEE THOMPSON

 
 

Renz Addiction Counseling Center in Elgin serves thousands of people through treatment and prevention programs. When it started 52 years ago, it was a one-man operation in a small office on the second floor of a downtown building.

It was the hard work and dedication of James "Jim" E. Renz, a pastor with a lifelong commitment to service, that propelled the center to become one of the largest nonprofits that serve northern Kane and western Cook counties.

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Renz was 94 when he died May 19 at the Pinecrest Manor nursing home in Mt. Morris, Ill. He and his wife of 70 years, Lois Ruth, moved to the Pinecrest Community in 2007 after living in Elgin for 55 years, said their daughter, Myralee Thompson, of South Elgin.

Renz's physical health had declined but he remained his outgoing, sharp self, playing nightly games of Yahtzee with his wife until the end, Thompson said.

"He could do any kind of math you could name, almost quicker than the calculator," she said.

Renz, who officiated weddings for most of his children and grandchildren, was a pastor for Church of the Brethren in Ohio, Indiana and Naperville before he moved to Elgin in 1952 to serve as director of social welfare for Church of the Brethren.

At the time, there were only a handful of publicly funded addiction treatment centers in Illinois, Renz Executive Director Jerry Skogmo said.

"He really was a pioneer, " Skogmo said. "I think he really had a tremendous impact on alcohol and drug treatment programming in Illinois."

Renz started the center with a group of local people -- including another pastor, a judge and a businessman -- who were concerned about alcohol abuse in the workplace, Skogmo said.

The center's original name was "Community Concern for Alcoholism," to which was added "and Drug Abuse" in the early 1970s. It was renamed after Renz in 1985, one year before Renz retired as its director.

Renz was a member of the Kiwanis Club of Elgin and was active in United Way of Elgin, Elgin Babe Ruth Baseball, Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, Central Baptist Family Services and other programs.

"He was always involved in anything that was a service to somebody else," Thompson said. "And he had an absolute passion in helping the addicted."

Renz liked to fish and hunt, and enjoyed spending time at the family's home on Lake Wisconsin, she said.

He was also a meticulous planner, and wrote his own obituary with instructions that his memorial service focus on the theme of service to others, she said.

"Service was always his passion in life," Thompson said. "Even in last few months, he would ask to have a meeting with the (retirement community's) administrator and ask about things that could be done from the residents' perspective."

A memorial service to celebrate Renz's life will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, 783 W. Highland Ave., Elgin.

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