Rowan Helping Ministries to name building after Ketner

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 17, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Rowan Helping Ministries will name its original building for Ralph Ketner, the man who made the city’s first homeless shelter possible 25 years ago.
“What an influence he has been for Rowan Helping Ministries,” said Kyna Foster, RHM executive director. “Mr. Ketner has had compassion for people in need in the community for a very, very long time. We would not have this building if not for him.”
The existing shelter and soup kitchen at 226 N. Long St. will become the Ralph W. Ketner Crisis Assistance Center once renovations are complete and the new RHM facility opens across the street.
The Ketner building will house the food pantry, clothing closet, Crisis Assistance Network, educational opportunities and more.
When Foster approached Ketner, 91, about accepting the honor, “I was extremely proud,” he said.
“I was so pleased, as was my family,” said Ketner, Food Lion co-founder and chairman emeritus. “My children were tickled, and it brought tears to Anne’s eyes.”
Before the shelter was built in 1989, Anne Ketner nominated her husband to serve as president of the RHM board. He was elected, and when he learned the group had tried for years to raise money for a building, he made the first gift.
He pledged to pay for half the cost of construction and raise the rest in three days.
“So go ahead and get an architect,” Ketner said he told the board.
Ketner said he asked 12 of the original Food Lion investors. All but two said yes.
Ketner had been interested in sheltering people since a homeless man froze to death on the streets of Salisbury. He said he tried to rent a building downtown and set up 40 cots but learned he would need permits and handicapped-accessible bathrooms and a 24-hour staff.
“It’s alright for someone to freeze on the street, but no one can show compassion?” Ketner said he remembered thinking in frustration.
Ketner is one of 10 local philanthropists RHM leaders have depended upon for years for guidance. Foster calls them the “council of wise men.”
When RHM outgrew its current facility, Foster turned to the council. The group helped come up with the vision and financing for the new 20,000-square-foot shelter and soup kitchen, which will feature solar panels and energy-saving design.
When Foster announced the $5.5 million project, 96 percent of the funds were already raised.
The response was similar 25 years ago when Ketner asked for help to pay for a homeless shelter.
“At the time it needed to be done,” he said. “I was in a position, along with friends, to do it.”
Once ground breaks for the new shelter, construction will take 18 to 20 months. Foster said she would like to be in the new building within two years.
After the shelter and soup kitchen move, renovations will begin on the existing building. Ketner will be honored during a dedication ceremony.
Foster said she has a special appreciation for Ketner’s contributions to Salisbury. She graduated from the Ralph Ketner School of Business at Catawba College and went to work for Food Lion.
Then, she became director of the ministry housed in the building he helped construct.
“What would life in Salisbury be like without him?” Foster said. “It’s hard to put into words how much he has done for the community.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.