DuPage addiction recovery center founder 'never stopped fighting'
Some told Henry Tews there were no alcoholics in DuPage County, no need for a halfway house or a place for alcohol and drug users to recover.
He proved them wrong with a never-give-up attitude and a drive to serve others who, like him, struggled with addiction.
Tews, the founder of Serenity House Counseling Services in Addison, died Saturday after nearly 52 years of sobriety and a battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 83.
It was 1965 when a dying alcoholic who Tews knew through the recovery community shared his last wish: that someone would create an addiction treatment facility in DuPage County.
It took 20 years, but Tews did it, opening Serenity House in 1985 on a former farm tucked behind an industrial area near Route 53 and North Avenue in Addison -- a site his son, David Tews, said was perfect because no neighbors objected to the new use of the land.
The facility now serves an average of 450 people a year in 90-day or extended-stay residential treatment programs that focus on abstinence-based recovery. Originally, most clients were alcoholics, but now, leaders say it's an even split between alcoholics and users of heroin, opioids and other drugs.
The ongoing opioid crisis was "heartbreaking" for Tews, who wanted to serve recovering users who needed help the most but could afford it the least, said Lisa Snipes, who worked with Tews at Serenity House from 2000 to 2015.
"I don't think he understood just how lifesaving Serenity House was for others," Snipes said.
But Snipes knew how much the facility was needed.
Maybe because of his upbringing -- raised by his grandfather in Wisconsin after his father died when he was young, schooled at a military academy, strengthened during a stint in the Army -- Tews didn't back down when he faced opposition.
"Once he believed in something," Snipes said, "he never stopped fighting for it."
When Tews found the former farm site in Addison, he and a group of volunteers worked to clean it up, demolishing or refurbishing dilapidated structures including a two-story house, a two-bedroom cottage, a horse barn and several sheds.
"He felt like he had to make it on his own," his son said. "He was very driven."
By 1985, the cottage was ready to open as a residential treatment center for four recovering men.
Jim Murphy, who helped with Serenity House site preparation in the early days of his sobriety in the mid-1980s, said he was impressed that Tews, a successful Glen Ellyn businessman known for starting his own printing company, rolled up his sleeves and worked alongside him.
As Serenity House grew to serve more people, offer services for women and host several recovery community meetings, Tews worked there in an administrative capacity. He eventually got a college degree and gained his certification as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor.
"He had a lot of wisdom to share," Snipes said. "His sharing with others also helped to keep him strong in his sobriety."
Outside of Serenity House, Tews' life included a 54-year marriage to his wife, Diane, who died two years ago. Together they raised four sons and a daughter.
Services for Tews include a wake from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Hultgren Funeral Home and Cremation Services, 304 N. Main St., Wheaton. He will be buried Wednesday at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood.