Tribute to Joy True Harshberger

Joy True Harshberger passed from this life on April 22, 2018.  Joy was a member of the team that imagined Serenity Inn into existence and served as its first Executive Director.  Pr. Rick Deines wrote this tribute to Joy shortly after she passed.


On a June evening in 2001, I gave Joy a ride home from the airport.  Five of us had just returned from several days of experiencing Samaritan Inns in Washington, D.C.  Joy had worked along with me for a few years in the Milwaukee Lutheran Coalition, the ELCA and Greater Milwaukee Synod’s ‘urban ministry strategy.’  That group planted the seed that became ‘Serenity Inns.’  As we rode toward her home, I asked her about how she thought a Samaritan Inn approach would work in Milwaukee. She immediately and ‘joy’-fully said, ‘Of course. Do you think we can get support?’  I said, ‘Yes, if you would accept being the Executive Director?’ After she took a couple of deep breaths, she bubbled  ‘yes, of course.’ That ‘Yes’ became the heart of SI’s mission. 

When folks ask how does a dream like Serenity get actualized, I point to that ‘Joy’ moment.  When she said ‘yes,’ I knew Serenity was going to happen, someway, somehow.  The internal life of the early years (2000-2010) was always a commitment bolstered by ‘hand to mouth’ sustenance.  Joy’s work with Ron Jones at The Siebert Lutheran Foundation, her staffing beginning with Ellen Blathers and her faithfully establishing the core program of Samaritan Inns as the Serenity approach are a few ways she made it work.

Along with Ellen, Joy owned on a daily basis the nitty-gritty, thankless details that come with working with men in recovery with few resources.  She and Ellen knew commitment.  That ‘team’ always showed up.  When the life of the program was in doubt, she used her own financial resources to fill SI’s economic gaps that appeared between funding cycles. She was all in, all the time.   Serenity was her vocation, her ‘call from God.’  That I do not want to forget.  That I want you to know because it is a special quality.

We all know the reality of loss.  At the same time we know of the kind of acceptance that is possible when we don’t control things.  We rejoice in lifting up her gifts, recognizing their importance in our ongoing quest to be a loving, caring mission of recovery.  We claim for her, her family, Serenity Inn, and ourselves the Spirit of life that lives on. I trust we will be faithful to that memory and continue her work. 

I conclude with both sadness and a renewed sense of what a compassion centered life-fulfilled can bring to a community.  We continue to be gifted by Joy’s life.

Thank you, Joy, and the peace that passes all human understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus, who you know as your saving presence.