Lighthouse Mission director retires, receives Key to the City

by Ashley Flynn

Claire Coyne, director of the Lighthouse Mission, was presented with a Key to the City by Mayor Bob Vanlandingham at last week’s City Council meeting.

“Claire Coyne will always be an honorary citizen of Wabash County,” Mayor Vanlandingham said.

He also announced that Dec. 15 would become Claire Coyne day in Wabash.

After receiving the key, Coyne said, “It’s been an honor.”

She was surprised by the accolade, as she came to the meeting upon her son’s request.

“I was coming to be Gregory’s mom. He said, ‘Mom, I’m doing a presentation for work, and I’d like if you’re there.”

Then Coyne went on to share a story.

“I was thinking yesterday that I should make a list of all those I remember helping and those that have passed away and those who kind of get lost in the cracks. Two ladies came into the store Friday and were sad to know that I was going. I hugged them, and it made me cry because we go a long way back. They’re very poor and have had some crazy struggles that most of you will never experience.

“I’d like to think I changed their lives some, but they’ll always be poor and they’ll always be disabled. And what I have done hasn’t gotten them out of their situation. And those were the kind of people I was concerned about when Grant County closed the store. My heart cried then like who’s going to take care of my people.

“Those are the folks that I’ll really miss. My hope is that someone will come along and take care of them. Some are very capable, but some just need somebody to love them and take care of them and that’s my concern in leaving. That whoever comes behind me can care for those people because the town is really full of them.”

“We don’t often see them, but I’ve known them over the years. And in the quiet moments, when all the work is done and the lights are off and I’m going home, I’m not really going home. I’m going to do something with them. That’s really been my heart over the years.”

After directing the Lighthouse Mission for 23 years, Coyne is retiring and moving to Montana to start and direct a children’s afterschool Bible study.

A few days after the council meeting, Coyne sat down to discuss her work.

Originally from the upper peninsula of Michigan, Claire came to Wabash in 1989. She began working as the store manager at the Wabash Rescue Ministries, a part of the Grant County Rescue Mission, in June of 1991. The building was located on Canal Street where The Access is now.

They moved to Wabash Street across from the courthouse in 1993. A new director came to the Grant County Rescue Mission and decided to close the Wabash store in 2004.

Coyne, the staff and a new board of directors reopened the thrift store as the Lighthouse Mission with Coyne as executive director.

They moved into their current location in March of 2005.

“I kind of fell into this accidently,” Coyne said of her position.

“I always, as a little kid and going into college, thought I was going to be a missionary teacher. Coming here, I heard of that opportunity. They needed somebody to run the store. I’d never done that before, but I thought I could do that and that would be cool. I like helping people, and I like helping poor people.”

Coyne learned the business side of thrift shops over the years by attending conferences and seminars. She also visited other thrift shops and learned along the way.

“And then the ministry part of it, helping people, I’ve always had a heart to help people and do what God wants. Jesus said you’re blessed if you reach out to the poor.”

She referred to a passage saying ‘we entertain angels unaware.’

“How do you know that fellow coming in the door isn’t really an angel? We help people and you don’t even realize you’re helping. You don’t know their story or how much it means to them. It’s always been my passion to serve God. Not always to run a thrift store, but that’s how its unfolded over the years. It’s been good.”

The thought of retirement has been on Coyne’s mind for a few years.

“I’ve been thinking how much longer should I do this. Maybe there’s something else God wants me to do. What other ministry could I do?”

Coyne has an aunt in Montana who planted a new idea in her mind.

“A missionary couple from Billings (Mont.), about five hours away, would come and do this after school Bible club. But for the last two years, the gentleman has been ill, and they haven’t been coming. My aunt and some other people involved in that have been praying that God would send someone to come direct that ministry,” Coyne said.

She visited the town, Scobey, Mont., in October.

“It just kind of connected in my soul, and so my vision and goal in going there is to put together a children’s after school Bible program.”

The position is unpaid, and Coyne has plans to work at a local grocery to assist with bills.

She plans to leave the Friday after Christmas.

“They said because of the weather and the dynamics of the town to come as soon as I could and start the class in mid-February. I wasn’t expecting to do that. But, it’s a ranching community. Once planting starts, the kids are all busy on the farms and they won’t come. If I wait until spring, they said it would be too late. I have to come now before the ice comes.”

In leaving Wabash, Coyne says she hopes her successor will care for the people as she has.

“The girls (her staff) do great, that’s not a problem. But that whoever comes behind me has a heart for the people too. The people come to expect that. God has blessed us because we really have a heart for the people. If you lose sight of that, then there’s really no reason to have a ministry.”

Posted on 2013 Dec 17