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Woodbury food shelf founder Wolff dies

People who knew Woodbury resident Dick Wolff, founder of the Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf, remember him the same way: passionate, sincere, caring and always willing to lend a helping hand.

"I don't even know what kind of words I would use to describe what kind of man he was," said Woodbury resident John Ethridge, a volunteer with the Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf. "He was really a special person."

Wolff died Wednesday, Jan. 9, at the age of 78 of natural causes.

He had been living at Woodbury Senior Living.

Visitation will be held at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Woodbury Lutheran Church followed by a 4:30 p.m. memorial service.

Wolff is survived by wife Sharon, six children -- Matt Wolff, Laura Wolff, Susan Anderson, Jim Wolff, Dan Wolff and Cathy Gregorson - and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Dick grew up in St. Paul where he was raised by a single mother.

For most of his life, he worked at 3M in sales.

In 1983, Dick helped found the Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf, located in the basement of Woodbury Lutheran Church, with his wife Sharon.

Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf is collaboration between seven Woodbury area churches.

Dick also helped found Trinity Presbyterian Church in Woodbury.

The face of the food shelf

In the early days of the food shelf, Dick could be seen there for 15 to 20 hours per week sorting food, helping clients and reaching out, his daughter Susan said.

Growing up, Dick's children remember a father who would go out of his way to help those in need.

"He made sure that we understand that the community had needs as well," his son Matt said. "He had a sense of compassion to help others and make sure that people were taken care of.

"He convinced other people that they also needed to give back - he made people want to pay it forward."

Dick's daughter Susan said her father loved to help people.

"He wanted people to try and have a better life," she said. "He wanted to do what was right for people who didn't have a lot of opportunities."

Dick's daughter Laura recalled how her father would go out of his way to help a family in need.

Dick would always make himself available.

"He was just 100 percent dedicated to helping people out of tough situations," she said. "He would take phone calls from people in need seven days a week around the clock.

"He was never too busy to stop what he was doing to meet with someone and give them food, or a gas card, or help them avoid eviction."

Laura said she believed her father's childhood helped with his compassion toward those in need.

"He grew up without a lot of money, so he understood people were more than their circumstances," she said. "He related to people who were having temporary financial struggles, so he never confused people's circumstances with who they were as people.

"He wanted to help them find their way to a better place."

Ethridge, who was a former client of the food shelf, said he can remember coming to there and being welcomed with open arms by Dick.

"He gave his heart and his life to this food shelf," he said. "I don't think anyone will realize the amount of people he touched. There's nothing I could do to equal what they did for my family."

Carol Hanson, the operations manager for the Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf, said she will remember Dick as someone who loved people.

"He would go out of his way to meet people," she said. "He just liked people and he always had a smile on his face."

Family first

As passionate and dedicated to the food shelf as Dick was, he was even more passionate and more dedicated to his family, Susan said.

"Family was No. 1," she said. "On days he would have off, he would just hang out with the family - he wanted to be around everybody."

Matt and Laura remember their father always being there when they needed him.

"He was very charismatic and loving," Laura said. "He made people feel so good."

Some of Dick's favorite things to do with family included going ice skating at Como Lake, camping, sitting around and eating pepperoni sticks and going on cruises.

"He loved pepperoni, he loved the grandkids and he loved to travel - he loved the cruise ship," Susan said.

Dick will be missed everyone, Matt and Susan both said.

Laura said she will remember her father as the "ultimate role model."

"I'm so proud of him," she said. "He treated everyone with such great respect and there wasn't anything he wouldn't do to help someone in need.

"I'm proud to be his daughter and I'm grateful for having had the opportunity to know him."

Visitation for Dick Wolff will be held at 3:30 p.m. at Woodbury Lutheran Church. A memorial service will be held at 4:30 p.m. at the church. The family is asking for memorials, to be given to Wolff's widow Sharon, in lieu of flowers.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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