Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2012, 10:01 pm

Churches United's chief 'uniter' dies shortly before retiring

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By Leon Lagerstam,

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Photo: Paul Colletti
Rev. Ron Quay, the retired Executive Director of Churches United of the Quad Cities, passed away Thursday Dec. 27, 2012.
ROCK ISLAND -- No one deserved the title "hero" more than the Rev. Ron Quay, according to friend and colleague Rabbi Henry Karp of Davenport's Temple Emanuel.

"I don't think anyone in the Quad-Cities has done more to make this community more compassionate and understanding than Ron did," Rabbi Karp said. "He was tireless in his efforts to make this community a better place to live for all people, regardless of faith, race, gender, or sexual orientation. He was not interested in the things by which people choose to divide us, instead choosing to find ways to unite us, for the betterment of all.''

Rev. Quay, 68, of Moline, the executive director of Churches United of Quad-City Area, died Thursday at Trinity Rock Island, surrounded by family and friends, according to Anne Wachal, the organization's acting director. He was set to retire at the end of the month for health reasons, according to an earlier news release.

Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Wheelan-Pressly Funeral Home in Rock Island.

Rev. Quay was diagnosed earlier this month with a rare form of leukemia, according to family friend and colleague Chaplain Cathy Bolkcom.

He was studying treatment options when he was struck with pneumonia, she said.

"It all happened very quickly," Chaplain Bolkcom said. "It was a shocking end, but very peaceful, and there's some relief that he won't have to suffer through an awful treatment for a cancer he might not have been able to overcome."

It's been surreal for Churches United staff members, Ms. Wachal said. "It wasn't long ago that we were all sitting around together in a staff meeting."

She called Rev. Quay a ''particularly good boss to work for," she said. "He always respected and backed the staff."

"Ron's greatest legacy -- what he was most proud of -- was the interfaith connections he built here in this community," Chaplain Bolkcom said.

"Ron always made sure that the interfaith community was included in everything he did and everything Churches United did," saidDr. Lisa Zaynab Killinger, Muslim Community of the Quad Cities spokeswoman. "We can't begin to explain how meaningful his actions were to the Muslim community.

Local members of Jewish, Hindu and other Christian denominations and non-denominational churches would concur, said the Rev. Mike Schaab, of St. Pius X Catholic Church, in Rock Island.

"It's sad for the entire community, which has lost a true champion of the disadvantaged," he said. "Our condolences certainly go out to his wife and family. To lose someone so dear so quickly and during the holiday season is so difficult."

One of the highlights of Rev. Quay's 10-year Churches United career was opening the Winnie's Place shelter for women in 2006, Ms. Wachal said. "Ron and I also co-hosted a radio show named 'Faith Talks,' that was aired by St. Ambrose. We covered a lot of different topics, which opened many doors to develop the relationships we have in the larger interfaith community, which he also was quite proud of,'' she said.

Churches United has long been called a well-hidden secret, Ms. Wachal said. "We do a lot of programs, but people largely didn't know it was us doing them."

In addition to the shelter assisting women, with or without children, who are homeless or victims of violence, Churches United also oversees 24 area food pantries that provide food to 118,000 people, according to its website. It also coordinates meal sites serving about 100 local congregations.

Churches United has 136 partnering churches and has sponsored local events such as annual Crop Walks for World Hunger, Souper Bowls of Caring, week of prayer for Christian Unity, Church Secretary Day, Put a Smile on a Child, and Thanksgiving festivals.

Communities rarely pay much attention to its faith leaders, Rabbi Karp said. ''As people think of significant individuals who have worked hard to mold the life of the Quad-Cities, rarely will you hear the name of a faith leader get mentioned.

Rabbi Karp and Ms. Bolkcom hope people will remember Rev. Quay's name and honor him for what he has done.

"What I'll always remember is that he had the voice of a Baptist preacher," Dr. Killinger said. "His voice was large, and I will always remember hearing it; and the nice thing about it were his words were always sweet and encouraging."

"Ron was driven by a faith that had to be expressed in a public square, not in terms of proselytizing or preaching, but in a way to serve as an example of how to live," Chaplain Bolkcom said. When first meeting Rev. Quay, Chaplain Bolkcom said, she wondered "who is that old white guy," she said. "But as it turned out, he was one of the most progressive people I've ever met.
"Because of his wisdom and maturity, he just had a 'groundedness' that gave legitimacy to the efforts of so many people," she said. "I'm pretty sure he was at every peace march and brought a legitimacy to every one that made it hard for people to just dismiss. He was a leader at a time when we don't have enough leaders. He was a 'uniter' and a bridge builder."

"The entire community has absorbed a great loss this day," Rabbi Karp said.

"Now we, as Churches United, need to regroup and move forward and continue to serve the community as best we can, and as we have for the last 51 years," Ms. Wachal said. "It's what Ron would have wanted."

The Rev. Ron Quay

-- Born Dec. 9, 1944, in Toledo, Ohio.
-- Enrolled in Judson College, Elgin, Ill., in 1964; majored in psychology; earned a bachelor of arts degree; later earning a master's degree.
-- Married Marcy Doyle Nov. 27, 1977.
--Enrolled at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pa., but transferred a  year later to Princeton, N.J. Seminary.
-- Worked 15 years in a consulting firm that  trained managers in communication skills and human relations,
-- Previously served as pastor at First Baptist Church in Morristown, N.J., before moving to the Quad-Cities.
-- Succeeded the Rev. Chuck Landon as Churches United executive director. Both men served Churches United for 10 years.

--Source: File stories