Social worker Harvey Hamilton Glommen dedicated his life to helping society’s most vulnerable members.
He developed innovative and lifesaving programs for seniors, including a meal delivery plan that in part prompted the federal government to invest in Meals on Wheels. He advocated for orphans and people with developmental disabilities in an era when their dignity was not always respected. His influence stretched from Minnesota to Washington, D.C., where he worked in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare during President Lyndon Johnson’s administration in the 1960s.
Glommen, 88, died on Jan. 23 at the Minnesota Veterans Home in Minneapolis. He had struggled with memory issues.
Glommen was a devout Lutheran, and his unwavering faith was the compass that steered his life personally and professionally, said his son, Brent, of Roseville. “He had a passion to want to do good,” he said.
Glommen was born in Suttons Bay, Mich., one of eight children of first-generation Norwegian-Americans. He served in the U.S. Army from 1946 to 1950 as a guided missile officer in Germany and graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead with the help of the G.I. Bill in 1953. He met Ina Mae Wollertson at school, and they married in 1951.
He took a job as a social worker in Anoka and Hennepin counties in the mid-1950s, but he first drew attention as welfare director in Aitkin County in the early 1960s when he started a senior activity center and noticed many seniors were being hospitalized for malnutrition.
Glommen recruited healthy seniors to help make meals and deliver them to those who were sick or homebound. The deliveries provided an opportunity to chat with them and see if they needed a visit from the public health nurse. Though motivated by concern for the seniors’ welfare, he sold the project to the County Board as a cost-savings measure that reduced subsidized hospitalizations.
“One hospitalization would pay for the program for a year,” Brent Glommen said. Federal officials were so impressed with the program that they included funding for meal delivery programs in federal legislation, he said.
Glommen earned his master’s degree in social work in 1964 from the University of Michigan, and returned to Minnesota where he was a supervisor of adoptions. He encouraged white families to adopt children of color, including Korean tots who had been orphaned during the war. He later explained that the agency reduced the number of children waiting for adoption by 75 percent by asking prospective parents “What kind of child can you love?” rather than “What kind of child do you want?”
In 1966, he moved to Washington to direct the Johnson administration’s new Foster Grandparent program. The program paid seniors to work with needy children with developmental disabilities and long-term health issues.
Glommen returned to Minnesota in the late 1960s and became executive director of ARC, formerly the Association of Retarded Children, with the aim of increasing funding for state hospitals that housed people with developmental disabilities. He was also a key author of the state’s plan to deinstitutionalize people with developmental disabilities and move them into community-based programs.
For 20 years, Glommen and his wife served as foster parents for adults with mental health issues. His nephew, former Lutheran Social Service CEO Mark Peterson, said at his funeral that the couple “showed us how community home-based support for persons with mental illness can achieve real results at a low financial cost.”
Besides his wife, of Blaine, and his son, Glommen is survived by daughters Barbara, of St. Paul; Beth, of Golden Valley; and Brenda McCloskey, of Coon Rapids; six grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren.