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Founder of mission group dies of malaria
0816OBIT Kawalske
Richard Kowalske

A longtime Gainesville chiropractor who, along with his wife, sold their possessions to become “missionaries to the missionaries” in founding Helping Hands Foreign Missions, died Saturday of malaria. He was 58.

Richard Kowalske had just returned from a trip to Uganda, where Helping Hands sponsors a project, “Village of Eden,” said Stan Bell, the organization’s secretary-treasurer.

Helping Hands plans to build an orphanage that will house and educate 2,000 children left homeless by the AIDS epidemic.
His wife, Brenda, had gotten sick while they were in Uganda and she tested negative for malaria.

“She had something like the flu. Richard told me he was feeling really bad and thought he had picked up the bug that Brenda had ... and that’s why he delayed going to the doctor,” Bell said Sunday afternoon. “He really just didn’t suspect malaria.”

The diagnosis, when it came, was “shocking, because malaria is curable if you catch it in time and Dr. Richard was a very healthy, very strong, very determined man,” Bell said. “... Unfortunately, when he got to the doctor, the malaria had gotten too advanced.”

Funeral Services are set for 11 a.m. Tuesday at Riverbend Baptist Church in Gainesville.

Kowalske had worked as a chiropractor for some 25 years. He and his wife, an internal medicine physician, set up Helping Hands in 2003.

The Kowalskes began mission work through their church in 1999, traveling to Guatemala, Peru, Venezuela, Bolivia and Uganda.

“We found that our medical skills were wonderful avenues for opening doors for spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ,” Richard Kowalske said on the organization’s website.

On Aug. 16, 2002, during a medical mission trip to Bolivia, “we had made the commitment to sell everything and follow Jesus,” he wrote. “We knew God would lead us where he wanted us. Our part would be to step out in faith.”

Kowalske, who is also survived by nine children, “spent the last six or eight years of his life totally sharing the love of Christ, and his family and our ministry’s board of directors are saddened by his loss,” Bell said.

“We’ll miss him greatly, but we are excited to know that he is home with Jesus. We want to thank the community for their overwhelming outpouring of love and support,” he added.

Helping Hands, meanwhile, “is going ahead with all our projects with more determination and resolve to carry on the legacy (Kowalske) laid out,” Bell said.

The organization had already planned the Legacy Banquet, a fundraiser Saturday at the Gainesville Civic Center.

“We want that to be a huge event in his honor,” Bell said.

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