In 1899, city leaders in Grand Rapids discovered an influx of homelessness and addiction. They called the Pacific Garden Rescue Mission in Chicago for help and Melvin E. Trotter, a former homeless and hopeless alcoholic, was tapped to start the Grand Rapids City Rescue Mission in 1900. In his forty years of running the Mission, he tapped many others to help start 68 other Rescue Missions across the country.
Melvin Trotter's Transformation
1870-1900: Melvin Trotter's Transformation
Born in 1870 in Orangeville, IL to an alcoholic-bartending father and a Christian mother, Melvin E. Trotter had little schooling. By age 19, he was drinking and gambling heavily. In 1891, he met and married Lottie Fisher. Sadly, Mel continued to drink and gamble, causing his family to lack necessities. Following ten days of a drinking binge, Mel went home and found that his two year old son had died. He promised his wife he'd never drink again, but in just two hours he broke his vow. Abandoning his family, Mel ended up homeless and suicidal in Chicago. On his way to drown himself, Mel was pulled inside the Pacific Garden Rescue Mission. There he heard of God's redemption of another alcoholic and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord.
Through Christ, Mel conquered his addiction and claimed 2 Corinthians 5:17 as his favorite verse: "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." Mel quickly found a job, was reunited with his wife, and became very active at the Mission. In January of 1900, he went with the Mission’s superintendent to Grand Rapids, MI. There, Mel became the superintendent of a new Mission. On February 24, 1900, it opened at 95 Canal Street.
Mel's lifetime of service
1901-1940: Mel's lifetime of Service
Soon the Grand Rapids Mission moved to a new building on Market Street, which seated 750, the largest Mission auditorium in the country. In 1906 the Mission purchased the old Smith Opera House, which could seat more than 1,300. The old opera house was the home of the Mission until 1956.
Trotter, along with his brothers George and Will, helped to open 67 Missions across the country. In April 1940, he was stricken while doing Mission work in North Carolina, and never fully recovered. He died on September 11, 1940. Trotter's body is entombed in the Graceland Mausoleum in Grand Rapids Township.
The war and social upheaval
1941-1968: The war and social upheaval
Between the time of Mel Trotter’s passing and the start of WWII, John Shy became the MTM leader. During the hardships of the home front, we cared for the hungry and hurting of our community, did our part for the war effort, and offered support and prayers to servicemen.
By 1951, Rev. John W. Kershaw became our interim superintendent, and his ministry changed with the community. During the 1960s, our community’s needs changed even more dramatically, and we turned our focus to young people, children, and families. A great achievement of this time was the founding of Camp Mel Trotter, a free camp created to protect children from the daily problems of inner city life.
An Era of Growth
1960-1999: An Era of Growth
As always, MTM continued to update its services to meet the community’s needs. In 1970s, we saw increasing numbers of men in their late teens and early twenties with substance abuse problems. To help them, we opened the first licensed Center for Substance Abuse Services (CSAS) in the Heartside District.
As more disadvantaged families struggled to meet their own basic needs, we started our Annual Back-to-School Day to distribute school supplies, and our Christmas Adopt-a-Family program. We also purchased the neighboring four-story John K. Burch building, which gave us the room to open our Women and Children’s Shelter, the largest facility of its kind in West Michigan.
In 1999, MTM started a vehicle donation and auto sales program, which enabled us to offer vocational training to our residents. The vehicles our residents reconditioned were sold to raise revenue for our ministry.
A New Century with New Approaches
2000-today: A New Century with New Approaches
Finding new and better ways to meet the needs of the Grand Rapids Community has always been the goal of MTM. Doing this requires revenue. To this end we opened five retail locations that directly support the work of the ministry.
We also found a new way to assist publicly intoxicated people by taking a leading role in the Grand Rapids Public Inebriates Task Force. Thanks to the program, intoxicated people are no longer brought to expensive hospital emergency rooms. They’re brought to specially equipped facilities at our shelter, where trained staff can monitor and assist them.
To help live-in recovery program residents, we offer free or greatly reduced dental, vision, and chiropractic services from local medical professionals. This strengthens their ability to become healthy, self-sufficient and productive. Moving forward, we’ll continue to find effective new ways to help the hurting and homeless of our community.
1897 - Mel Trotter finds Christ
On January 19, Melvin E. Trotter drunkenly stumbles into the Pacific Garden Rescue Mission in Chicago and accepts Christ as his Savior.
1900 - 1910
1900 - Called to Grand Rapids
In February, three years after his transformed life, city leaders from Grand Rapids call the Pacific Garden Rescue Mission for help. Mel Trotter, a leader at the Mission at that time was sent to start a rescue mission in Grand Rapids.
1905 - Ordained
Mel Trotter is ordained as a minister.
1906 - Smith Opera House
City Rescue Mission moves to the old Smith Opera House.
1911 - 1920
1917 - Ministry
Mel Trotter begins a ministry to solders in World War 1.
1921 - 1930
1924 - Billy Sunday
In May, Mel Trotter fills in for Billy Sunday in Memphis, TN.
1931 - 1940
1937 - Morning Mission
The Mission initiates its Morning Mission radio program.
1940 - Mel Trotter goes home
On September 11, Mel Trotter passes into the presence of his Lord.
City Rescue Mission becomes the Mel Trotter Mission.
John Shy becomes interim superintendent.
1941 - 1950
1942 - Wartime outreach
Mel Trotter Mission initiates wartime outreach.
1944 - Superintendent named
Rev. Fred C. Zarfas is appointed as superintendent of the Mel Trotter Mission.
1945 - Branch Mission
Branch Mission is established to care for transient men.
1946 - Headquarters remodeled
The Mission headquarters are remodeled and repaired.
1951 - 1960
1951 - Superintendent named
In September, Rev. Claude J. Moore is appointed as superintendent of Mel Trotter Mission.
1953 - Superintendent named
George Bontekoe is appointed superintendent of Mel Trotter Mission.
1956 - Headquarters location changes
Old Mission headquarters are sold.
Mission leases the Heyman Building on Monroe Avenue as the temporary quarters.
Mission purchases Kent Theater and Oaks hotel properties for new permanent headquarters.
The dedication ceremonies for the new permanent headquarters are held between October 18-21.
1959 - Tribute to women
The Mel Trotter Missions newsletter pays tribute to the women who have worked at the Mission.
1961 - 1970
1963 - Building donated to Mission
On April 6, Mr. and Mrs. Hale McKay donate a building to Mel Trotter Mission.
1966 - Mission is displaced
Mel Trotter Mission is displaced by urban renewal.
1968 - Commerce Avenue location opens
The new Mission headquarters opens at 225 Commerce Avenue.
1971 - 1980
1973 - Children's Bible day camp
Mel Trotter Mission acquires land for a children's Bible day camp.
1974 - Camp Mel-Tro-Mi
Camp Mel-Tro-Mi holds its first activities as a children's Bible day camp.
1976 - Superintendent named
In May, Rev. Henry Hoekstra is appointed as superintendent of Mel Trotter Mission.
1981 - 1990
1984 - Executive director named
Jim Lenters is appointed as the new executive director (formerly superintendent) of Mel Trotter Mission.
1988 - Executive director named
Harold Koning is appointed as the executive director of Mel Trotter Mission.
1989 - Executive director named
Richard Roberds is appointed as the new executive director of Mel Trotter Ministries.
1991 - 2000
1992 - Executive director named
In October, John Willock is appointed as the new executive director of Mel Trotter.
1993 - Interim director named
Rev. Donn Rainbolt is appointed as the interim director of Mel Trotter Ministries.
1994 - Outreach programs
The following new outreach programs are initiated, State of Michigan's Center for Substance Abuse Services treatment (CSAS), "Biggest Bar-B-Q in Town" for the heartside district, and the children's Back-to-School program.
In May, Rev. Thomas J. Laymon is appointed as the new executive director of Mel Trotter Ministries.
1995 - Women and Children's Shelter
Mel Trotter Ministries purchases the John K. Burch Building for the new Women and Children's Shelter.
1996 - Thanksgiving banquet
The First Annual Thanksgiving Banquet is held.
1997 - Golf event
The first annual golf event is held to benefit the Women and Children's shelter.
1998 - International Union of Gospel Missions
In June, Mel Trotter Ministries hosts the International Union of Gospel Missions conference.
The new Women and Children's Shelter opening dedication ceremonies are held.
2001 - 2010
2001 - Clinics
The Vision and Dental clinics open.
2002 - Publicly Intoxicated Shelter opens
The City Wide Center for Publicly Intoxicated Shelter opens and nurses are hired to manage and provide ministry and medical care.
2003 - CEO named
Tom Meyers becomes the CEO after serving as interim CEO.
2005 - Grand Rapids retail store
Mel Trotter opens its first Grand Rapids retail store on 29th Street.
2006 - Sparta retail store
Mel Trotter opens its Sparta retail store.
2007 - CEO named
Rev. Chico Daniels becomes the CEO.
The Belding retail store opens.
2008 - Retail store closes
The Grand Rapids retail store on 29th Street closes.
The Auto Training and Sales Center opens.
The Middleville retail store opens.
2009 - Clinics and summer camp close
The Mel Trotter Summer Camp closes as well as the Dental and Vision Clinics.
2011 - present
2011 - Clinics open
The Chiropractic and Legal clinics open.
A fifth retail store opens in Jension.
2012 - Big changes at Mel Trotter Ministries
The Mission board affirms the mission and vision statements and approves the new strategic plan.
In February, the renovated Food Pantry and new Day Center open. The Day Center provides a safe space and resources from Mel Trotter Ministries and other ministries and agencies.
The Chapel is renovated and renamed the Bob and Betty Kregel Chapel.
2013 - Mel Trotter Ministries purchases property
Mel Trotter Ministries purchases the property on the SW corner of Commerce and Williams with funds from a generous bequest.
2014 - Interim CEO is announced
Gordon Oosting becomes the interim CEO.
2015 - CEO is announced, new programs are provided
Dennis Van Kampen becomes the CEO. He served as the Vice President of Mission programs from 2012-2015.
Step Up, the revamped substance abuse recovery program for men and women, opens at Mel Trotter Ministries which addiction services provided by Arbor Circle.
Pathway Home, a collaboration established by Family Promise Ministries, to work with and secure permanent housing for homeless families opens at Mel Trotter Ministries.
Pilgrimage Program opens targeting ministry, services, and housing for men who are chronically homeless, mentally ill, and physically disabled. In the first year, 39 men were helped in permanent supportive housing.
In September, the First Annual Season of Hope fundraising event is held at Frederik Meijer Gardens. The Keynote Speaker is author Liz Murray.
2016 - Retail stores close, Youth Emergency Shelter opens
The retail store and Auto Repair Center at 555 28th Street closes. Donated automobiles are still accepted.
Y.E.S. (Youth Emergency Shelter) opens, providing separate space for unaccompanied homeless male youth ages 18-24. The pilot opened with 6 beds and was expanded to 10 beds.
The Mission board approves a new strategic plan: "Vision 20/20".
2017 - Filling more gaps for vulnerable populations
MTM opens an off-site transitional Youth House for men ages 18-24.
An outreach advocate is hired to help families experiencing homelessness in rural, northern Kent County.
The R&R Space is opened; a shelter space for individuals who identify as transgender. This is the first shelter space of its kind at a Christian organization in Michigan.