Mr. B, as he is known, sat in his wheelchair at the front of the lunch hall while a winding line of children came up to him one by one, handing him roses and wishing him happy birthday.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Gene Beckstein,” Thomas Ramirez said.
The shelter director came to Good News at Noon 20 years ago homeless, living out of his car.
“This is the man that when everybody turned their back on me, my so-called friends, even some of my own family — they said I was through — he picked me up almost from the trash can,” Ramirez said. “He saw something I did not see in myself.”
Beckstein and his wife, Margie, started serving in 1987 out of their home, after he retired from years of teaching. Over the years, that grew into a homeless shelter providing meals and health care, offering summer school programs for children and ministering to locals.
“I see people changing their lives right here,” Beckstein said. “This is not church, but we lift Jesus up all the time.”
Mike Robinson had his life changed 13 years ago, he said.
“I came in out from under a bridge off the streets, no education, no family that I knew about, no kind of qualifications for a job,” Robinson said. “I was a drunk bum who lived under a bridge.”
Now Robinson is the shelter’s operations coordinator. Beckstein said he doesn’t think for too long about the lives he’s touched over the past 27 years.
“For some reason they love me,” he said. “I don’t know why and don’t think about it. It’s bad for the ego.”
Beckstein calls many of the shelter members his children. Before cake and ice cream, one of his sons, Russell Clemmons, gave a speech that brought tears to Beckstein’s eyes.
“I look at his age and if it weren’t for God, he wouldn’t be here,” Clemmons said. “I thank God for him. He started all of this. People who have a place to stay, food to eat — it’s because of him.”