Portrait of Superintendent Harold Mordh.

Harold Mordh is one of the most colorful, complex and controversial figures in the history of social work in St. Paul. Born in 1921, Harold’s hardscrabble youth is marked by numerous scrapes with the law. He is arrested three times for burglary and theft and claims he was kicked out of school seven times in one week. At 15, the police send Mordh to the Union Gospel Mission Boys’ Club after catching him burglarizing the Paramount Theater.

At the Mission, a spiritual transformation takes place, and a new chapter opens for young Harold. He is elected Student Mayor of St. Paul, heads to Wheaton College in Illinois and serves as a first lieutenant in the Marine Corps during World War II. Mordh embodies the power of the Mission to change lives. He joins the staff in 1949 as a program director with the Savage Boys’ Club and succeeds his mentor Peter MacFarlane as superintendent in 1957.

Mordh’s tenure is marked by success as well as controversy. He is fiercely dedicated to the youth programs that had rescued him and is credited with many new initiatives in the late 1950s and 1960s, including the Drydock recovery program for alcoholic men and the Mission’s foster home program. Though seen as hardworking and resourceful, Mordh immerses himself in ill-advised battles and excursions into local politics. Facing growing strife over his leadership, Mordh resigns in 1974.

Photos courtesy of the Union Gospel Mission and the Minnesota Historical Society.