Dottie Persson

[ Visionary ] [ Motivator ] [ Librarian ]

Once a month, Dottie Persson and other members of the Shelter House Board of Directors served a meal for the homeless lodgers staying at the old Gilbert Street facility.

“It broke my heart to see the children come through the line,” Persson said. “It’s tough enough to see adults in homeless situations, but it’s absolutely heartbreaking to see children in that situation. I think that kept people pushing forward for the new building.”

That new building — a 70-bed, 15,000-square-foot facility — opened with a celebration in November at 429 Southgate Ave. after nearly six years of legal struggles, fundraising hurdles and crowding issues.

Persson, who has served on the board since 2001, was a tireless volunteer in making the new Shelter House a reality, said Crissy Canganelli, the organization’s executive director.

“She made sure we kept a clear vision for this organization and maintained sight of the big picture,” Canganelli said. “She never lost hope. She was the driving force behind the scenes that kept us all motivated.”

Persson began her work with Shelter House a decade ago after spotting an item in her church’s bulletin seeking a representative on the board, and she put her name forward. By 2002, she was the board’s president, a position she has held since then. Her grant writing expertise and organizational skills, a must for a University of Iowa academic librarian, as well as her knowledge of psychology and educational resources, made the post a perfect fit.

“I have viewed my role as creating an environment where other members of the board can use their talents to move the mission and goals of the shelter forward,” she said.

Persson has been involved with the drive for the new shelter since Day 1, and when residents opposing the project took the matter to court, Canganelli said Persson served as “a backbone” for the shelter.

“She’d never shied away from that,” Canganelli said. “I wouldn’t go as far as to say as she embraced controversy, but she did not run from conflict.”

For Persson, who plans to step down as board president in March but will stay on at the shelter in a different volunteer capacity, the celebration in November 2010 was the culmination of a decade of hard work.

“Those of us involved have been grateful for the community support and grateful to have the opportunity to see everyone at the shelter opening,” Persson said. “Many people came who had helped us through the overflow project or had contacted local officials to support us, or who appeared at the city council to support us. It was gratifying to have so many of those individuals together to celebrate the opening.”

— Josh O’Leary