Families of prisoners find hope at Agape HouseHope Lindman, the owner of Duluth’s long-gone Highland Supper Club, was looking to sell her home on North Pike Lake Road during the 1980s when the house found another calling.
Hope Lindman, the owner of Duluth’s long-gone Highland Supper Club, was looking to sell her home on North Pike Lake Road during the 1980s when the house found another calling.
Unable to sell the property, she went to the men’s group at the Pike Lake Community Presbyterian Church with another idea. Lindman decided she was going to donate the home to the presbytery so that it could be used by families visiting prisoners at the nearby federal prison camp, which had opened a few years before.
“She came to us and said, “I’ll give you the house, providing you use
it as a mission for family members of prisoners,’” recalled 92-year-old Warren Lundeen, a member of the men’s group. “That’s how it all got kicked off. I think we were really the first in the state to have a functioning place like that.”
The home opened to families in 1986 and was renamed the Agape House of Hope. “Agape” is a Greek word meaning “God’s unconditional love” and “Hope” is a tribute to carry on the legacy of Hope Lindman, who died in 2006.
The house continues to operate today, and it has served several thousand families over the years, according to church members.
“It’s a do-good project,” said Lundeen, a member of the church since it opened in 1954. “Thousands of women and children have gone through there to get shelter and get support and have someone to talk to.”
The Agape House is open to wives, mothers, sisters and children of prisoners at the Duluth camp. No boys over the age of 12 are allowed to stay at the home.
Because the camp holds prisoners from around the country, families often travel long distances to visit. With many families struggling financially without support from the fathers, the Agape House eases the financial burden of visiting by providing free shelter. The cupboards are stocked with pots and pans along with canned soups and boxed foods like macaroni and cheese.
The house relies on donations of food and home products from individuals, churches and community members. The house also has numerous volunteers, and prisoners from the camp are brought in to perform maintenance work such as mowing the grass and washing windows.
Bobby Pederson volunteers as the housemother at the site. She is not paid, but is allowed to live in a basement apartment. Pederson said she often gets to know family members on a personal level.
“God sent me here and planted me here,” she said. “Some churches have turned their backs on the prisoners and families. ... Christ doesn’t turn his back on them.”
The Agape House has occasionally received criticism for helping the families of prisoners — rather than the victims of the crimes. However, Rev. Graden Grobe, the former Pike Lake pastor who helped establish the Agape House, said the families are victims, too.
“I feel as though helping families is a vital thing,” he said. “We see many divorces in these situations. I admire these wives for trying to make a go of it while their husbands are in prison for 8 to 10 years or something. That’s a long haul. These women, these families have difficult financial circumstances, and they’re trying to carry a heavy load.”
Additionally, numerous biblical verses relate to helping prisoners. The brochure for the Agape House includes Matthew 25:36, which states: “I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.”
The Duluth camp is a minimum-security facility and holds mostly white collar, non-violent criminals. Politicians, businessmen, bank presidents and even clergymen have often been among the population.
Grobe, 91, had been involved with the prison even before the Agape House was opened. When it first opened, he worked as a prison chaplain.
Now retired, Grobe has been volunteering at the camp for the past 15 years. He goes in every Friday afternoon and visits with any inmates who want to speak with him.
“Anybody that’s in prison has been told by society that they are not fit to live in the general public,” he said. “They have been removed from society and put into a place where they are constricted, confined and isolated. But I want to indicate to them that God has not rejected them.”
Grobe called the Agape House a “miracle” for the families of the prisoners. He said that remaining active with the prison and the home keeps him mentally and spiritually stimulated.
“We have the opportunity to offer these wives and children some love,” he said. “They put up with a lot to get here.”