Mary Jo Copeland recalls that her husband, Dick, was a little dubious when she first raised the idea of starting a storefront center to help the poor in Minneapolis in the mid-1980s.
He told her that "it's going to be an albatross around your neck; you'll never be able to leave it," she recalled. But she told him God was calling her to do it.
"I'll help you find a storefront," he told her.
Copeland, who had been head buyer for the Rainbow Foods grocery chain, played a supportive role for decades as his wife launched the project in the city's Warehouse District. Today it includes a meal program where Sharing & Caring Hands, near Target Field, feeds 700 to 800 people a day and operates Mary's Place, a 100-unit family shelter for 600 to 700 parents and children.
Dick Copeland died Thursday at St. Therese nursing home in New Hope. He was 78 and had suffered from dementia and heart failure, his wife said.
Their daughter Barbara Copeland said her father would do anything to support his wife's work. "He looked back in awe at what she was doing, what she accomplished," she said. "He was always there with support and a little side joke. It was one beautiful love story."
Dick Copeland's father, John, had been a Star Tribune executive. Mary Jo Copeland said she met her future husband at a "sock hop" after a basketball game at De LaSalle High School in Minneapolis. They were married in 1959.
The couple had 12 children. Beginning in 1982, she volunteered at Catholic Charities and started a soup kitchen.
Later, with $2,400 from an award she received plus a church donation, she opened her own storefront charity, which gave out clothes and food.
Her husband drove her to churches and clubs all over the region, where she gave speeches to raise funds. He'd sit patiently, she recalled, and afterward tell her, "Boy, you did good," or "Mary, you left that out."
She adds, "He was so good to me. He was my whole life."
Later, after leaving Rainbow Foods, Dick Copeland worked at Sharing & Caring Hands. The Rev. Cory Rohlfing, a priest at Divine Mercy Catholic Church in Faribault, Minn., and a family friend, said he brought "business acumen" to his wife's project. "You could see the transformation in his life," Rohlfing said. "He loved the work that he did."
In addition to his wife, he is survived by six daughters, Therese Copeland, Mary Copeland, Cathy LaMere, Jennifer Walner, Barbara Copeland and Molly Copeland; six sons, Michael, Mark, Stephen, James, Jeff and Matthew; and 15 grandchildren. He also leaves Jeremy Barthel, whom the family considers a son.
Because of the limitations on large gatherings due to the coronavirus, the funeral service will be small and private, Mary Jo Copeland said.