The Definition of Love

When Goodwill Rescue Mission (now Mission Services of London) opened in 1951, the founding Executive Director, Alvin Roth, lived with his family in the same house that operated an emergency shelter for men.

A strange living situation for some, but the Roth children did not mind the arrangement. In fact, they found it to be beneficial for the men in need. “It was important for them to have a connection with children and family,” said Gloria, Alvin’s eldest daughter, reflecting on her childhood at the Mission. “They felt like they were part of the family,” added Brian, one of Gloria’s three brothers.

While their family lived at the Mission, Alvin and his wife Madeline paid for the shelter operations out of their own pocket and submitted their expenses to the Western Ontario Mennonite Conference. After five years, the family relocated and were allotted about $100 a month to support their family. While it was not much, the Roth’s were determined to make it work.

“For years, we were on the edge of severe poverty. I didn’t know it, but dad would buy the bruised fruit and vegetables [that the market] would throw out and day-old bread to feed us and the men,” said Paul, the eldest Roth sibling.

“Our parents were very frugal,” agreed Keith, Paul’s brother. “Everything was canned. Mom made all of our clothing. That was the way we grew up,” he explained. “I remember going to high school in the 60’s and it was the norm that my clothes were made by my mother”.

Roth family at Alvin and Madeline’s 50th Wedding Anniversary

The need for frugality never stood in the way of Alvin and Madeline’s ability and determination to ensure that their family and the men in shelter were well cared for. “Mom and dad were both extremely resourceful people and they weren’t scared to work really hard,” said Joyce, the youngest Roth sibling. “We didn’t have a lot of things, but we had a lot of family,” Keith professed.

The Roth siblings often compare their father to a bumblebee. Many people believe that a bumblebee defies the laws of physics with its body too big, and wings too small, to take flight. “He was like a bumblebee. He didn’t know he couldn’t fly, so he just flew,” Paul said poetically. “It is only by God’s grace and will that both the bumblebee and our parents were able to accomplish what they did,” explained Brian. “It all stems back to his faith. He knew if he was walking the walk, God would be there for him”.

From building the beginnings of Goodwill Rescue Mission, to initiating further ventures like Quintin Warner House (addiction treatment) and programs for women and teenaged girls (which would later evolve into Rotholme Family Shelter), Alvin took every step from a place of love. In fact, love was so important to Alvin that his son, Keith, recalls his father attempting to define its true meaning. “He eventually defined it as being an intelligent concern for another person’s welfare”.

“He cared a lot about understanding why things worked a certain way or didn’t, and what he believed: how love could heal. He wanted to understand it, he didn’t just want to see it happen, he wanted to be able to explain it,” Joyce remembers fondly about her father.

Alvin and Madeline Roth

While Alvin took the lead in initiating and developing several community programs for people in need, Madeline maintained a steady foundation for the family. “Looking back, I see that dad was the front man; he was out there doing God’s work, but there was no way he could come close to doing what he did without mom in the background. She did the laundry, housekeeping, supplied all the meals, took care of a family of five kids, made clothes, and canned, preserved, and grew food in the garden. It just blows me away how she managed that. Without her, nothing dad did would have been possible,” Brian said with palpable respect for both of his parents.

It was through their hard work, perseverance, and faith in God that Alvin and Madeline not only provided a safe harbour for neighbours in need, but also a home for five children filled with love.

Story and Video Prepared by Amy Bumbacco
Communications & PR Coordinator

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