Find Station

94-Year-Old Pays Back Organization Through Charity Work for the Homeless

St. Paul Boys Club created a safe haven for young Les Heggernes. Now, 80 years later, he's returning the favor.

The organization, now-called Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities, was where Les would ran away to from his chaotic home at 14-years-old. He shared with StarTribune memories of going there to be with other kids, play basketball and talk to counselors about his issues. No matter how many years passed, the retreat spot always kept a "soft spot" in his heart.

Being such a prominate positive influence in his life as a teen inspired Heggernes to do the same in return. The 94-year-old retiree started Boutwells Bountiful Bath Baskets, a project named after his senior community, Boutwells Landing. He, neighbors and others outside of the development band together to collect towels and toiletries for 400 of the homeless people living in Union Gospel.

"There are a lot of organizations — a lot of good organizations — that are collecting food and clothing, and I didn't want to compete with them. Sure, if someone drops clothing or canned food into the (donation) baskets, we'll take it. But I wanted to focus on a specific area of need.
"There are ideas I want to promote. Boutwells has 641 residents and 411 staff; what if everyone gave just one bar of soap a month? Think of the difference that would make."

The generous venture wasn't a surprise to Les' son, Mike, who became his dad's partner-in-crime.

"Dad has always tried to find somebody or some place to help. And that's how he raised his five boys."

Having those five boys, 15 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren came in handy for the "bountiful" mission. The tribe coming together for the first basket drive is what kicked off the extraordinary movement. Though it may seem like strenuous work, Les assured he "wouldn't be doing this" if he wasn't "having fun."

Photo: Jeff Strickler/ Minneapolis Star Tribune