Do you think of homeless people as worthless empty shells of humanity and beyond help? If so, I’d like to tell you a remarkable story of redemption and accomplishment.
This story is about Clancy Imislund who fell as far into the gutter as a person can and still survive. For years a forsaken drunk, he rose from the filth of the urine and vomit stained back alleys and from behind jail walls to become a business executive and to regain his family.
Then for 25 years, Clancy as everybody calls him led The Midnight Mission, a city block sized facility on skid row in downtown Los Angeles that has helped thousands of homeless and drug addicted men and women redeem their lives to become productive members of society.
To understand what happened to Clancy, let’s take a brief look at his life. Born in 1927 in Eau Claire, Wis., he grew up a troubled, lonely kid.
At 15, Clancy quit school, hitch-hiked to San Francisco, lied about his age and shipped out with the Merchant Marine during World War 2. One night during his first voyage, the rowdy sailors were drinking and loudly telling tall tales when one of them shouted to him, “Are you man enough for a little snort?”
Sure he was! Clancy downed his first drink and when he threw-up, the men laughed uproariously. At first, he “kept throwing-up” when he drank, but determined to win their respect and “become a man,” he kept drinking until he could hold it down.
After the War, he returned to Wisconsin and at 21 met the love of his life, Charlotte Koehler and married her. A year later they had their first of six children. He also got arrested for the first time for public drunkenness but he assured Charlotte that he could “control” his problem.
When he was sober, Clancy was a gifted advertising copywriter and made a very good living. But on drunken binges, he’d disappear for days or weeks and remember little about where he’d been or what he’d done.
Over the next several years, this pattern continued and sometimes Clancy wound up in jail. They and their children moved often as he went from job to job. Finally, after a binge in Dallas that cost him an executive position, he came home to find his wife and kids gone and no address for him to contact them.
Blaming his troubles on others who didn’t “understand” him, Clancy borrowed a car and drove to El Paso, where he went on a drunken binge. Then he drove to Tucson and after another drunken binge, lost the car and his I.D.
Then in a Phoenix drunk tank, Clancy threw-up on a man’s bunk and that man kicked Clancy’s front teeth out. After that, Clancy drifted to Los Angeles and lived on skid row, “a falling down drunk.”
But in the wee hours one rainy morning, after having been thrown out of The Midnight Mission for a drunken fight, Clancy looked around and saw himself with the other forsaken among the stench of rotting garbage and urine. And he realized that nobody cared if he lived or died.
It was October 31, 1958 and “I had to just get out of the rain and find a little rest,” Clancy said. “Somebody told me about a place drunks could go,” and he walked 72 blocks to a small alcohol rehabilitation center. There he met a man who would help him change his life.
That man was a movie actor named “Bob,” who became his sponsor as he grudgingly began rehab. Clancy was angry and he was skeptical of everything Bob told him but with time, he saw that Bob understood what he was going through.
“I was just surviving and this guy was giving me some hope,” Clancy said. “He gave me little things to do and I did them. (He wanted me to) change my actions. If you change your actions long enough, your attitude catches up. He insisted I get a job.”
At first, Clancy refused, hollering at Bob that the only thing he could get was a “crummy job.” Bob hollered right back at him “you-ooo take that crummy job!” Bitterly Clancy got jobs he at first didn’t hold for long, often as a dishwasher or as a janitor.
Clancy said, “I used to be a big boss with secretaries. Now I’m stuffing envelopes at 91 cents an hour.”
Once Clancy began to hold onto a job, Bob demanded that he send money to his family. Clancy said he couldn’t locate them. Then at Christmas, Clancy got a card from one of his daughters. It had a return address of a Dallas post office box.
This card gave Clancy the hope he might have another chance with his family and he became determined to send them money. To save enough to do this, Clancy lived in an abandoned car in the rehab center parking lot for two months until some members took pity on him and invited him to stay in their homes.
His family had been badly burned by his promises in the past and kept their distance. But it was a start. Clancy began the long process of building his credibility and a loving relationship with them.
“When I was two years sober, I got a job as a writer in a medical corporation,” Clancy said. “That job I held. When I was five years sober I was promoted to director of advertising.” It was at this point, his family relocated to Los Angeles to reunite with him.
After their arrival, Clancy had successful stints working in Hollywood in radio and television plus he did work for local advertising agencies. Then Clancy faced another life changing experience.
At the end of 1973, the manager of The Midnight Mission suddenly died and a search began for his successor. Clancy was a highly paid executive with a Beverly Hills publishing company but he believed this Midnight Mission job was his destiny. With Charlotte’s concurrence, he interviewed for the job and got it. He willingly took a huge pay cut.
Today, he’s well known world wide for his knowledge of alcoholism and alcoholic recovery and he has worked extensively with homeless men and women to help them redeem their lives. Clancy is a warm, outgoing man who conducts his duties with understanding and caring for he knows what it’s like to be a lost soul, forsaken and living in the gutter.
Clancy said, “The truth is this. My name is Clancy Imislund and I’m an alcoholic.” But the truth is also this: that in 2005 Clancy and Charlotte celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary and he attained his 47th year of sobriety, as a man loved and respected by many thousands of people.
Success Tip of the Week: As Clancy Imislund demonstrated, there is hope for each person who is determined to resurrect or make something of his or her life, however bad the circumstances.
In the next KazanToday, If your government told you do something that violated your principles, would you have the courage to say no? This is the story of a man who said no and the price he paid.