Mary Jo Robinson lived a tumultuous life working to help others.

After retiring from a nursing career, Robinson, who was also a recovering alcoholic who had been dependent on tranquilizers, founded the Union Gospel Mission's Christ Recovery Center in St. Paul with her husband.

She died June 18 in St. Paul of complications from surgery. She was 78.

A South St. Paul resident, she began her career as a nurse at St. Joseph's Hospital in St. Paul and later was a counselor to people who were chemically dependent.

Robinson and her second husband, George Robinson, had been retired for a year when they decided to become lay ministers.

They started with 12 beds at the mission in 1980.

"What made our center grow was that we offered something different for people who had been through treatment many times," she told the Star Tribune in 1993. "We offered Christian aspects."

They provided a recovery program based on the Bible and on Alcoholics Anonymous' 12-step program, said Randy Young, the current director of the Gospel Mission's Recovery Center.

The duo designed the program "to help those that could not get help anywhere else," said Young.

When Robinson was a child, her mother was not able to raise her. A caring foster mother encouraged her to become a nurse after she had graduated from the old St. Joseph's Academy in St. Paul in the late 1940s.

In the early 1950s, she graduated from the St. Joseph's Hospital school of nursing,.

Her son Paul Hinderscheid of Stanchfield, Minn., who works in the chemical dependence field and is recovering himself, said, "She had pulled herself up through the depths of hell," and wound up helping a lot of people, including him.

Son Mark Hinderscheid died in 1989 when a drunk driver hit his vehicle.

In the courtroom, after the young man's trial, Robinson "hugged him and forgave him," said Paul Hinderscheid. "She asked the judge to be lenient on this young man."

For seven years, until 2006, Robinson and her son together spoke at Hazelden, and she was a regular speaker for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

In 2006, she was an Eleven Who Care honoree.

Mark Olson, a chemical dependency counselor whom she helped in his recovery, said she befriended and helped her patients long after they left treatment.

"She could be tough," said Olson. "She told you honestly what you needed to do."

With the help of volunteers, the Robinsons ran the center until 1985, when they retired again, moving to Pine City, Minn.

She returned to the Twin Cities about 10 years ago, after George died in 1993.

In addition to her son Paul, she is survived by sons Patrick Hinderscheid of Mendota Heights, Mike Hinderscheid of Roseville and John Hinderscheid of Hastings; daughters Cathi Lingle of Cottage Grove, and Mary Kay Borgstrom of Pine City; a former husband, Jack Hinderscheid of West St. Paul; 23 grandchildren, and 12 great grandchildren.

Services have been held.