A memorial service was pending Thursday for Clancy Imislund, managing director of the Midnight Mission in downtown Los Angeles, who died at the age of 93.
Imislund died peacefully on Monday, according to Georgia Berkovich, the mission’s director of public affairs.
For 46 years, Imislund worked with the disenfranchised on Skid Row, and was known worldwide for his leadership in the 12-step community, speaking globally to bring a message of hope.
Imislund was responsible for bringing the 12-step philosophy to the mission, known as the Midnight, establishing the organization as one of the first providers of addiction treatment in the area. He said that what the Midnight Mission does “is the difference between giving a hungry person a fish and teaching them how to fish.”
Imislund led the Midnight through dramatic changes on Skid Row during the past five decades, and watched as the population began to include women and children, along with homeless men. He championed the campaign to build the Midnight’s facility at 601 S. San Pedro St., which opened in 2005 to handle the diverse populations it now serves.
“Clancy Imislund was the Jonas Salk of recovery,” said the Midnight Mission’s supporter and friend, actor/activist Ed Begley Jr. “With 12 steps — and often 12 good jokes — he could inoculate a large room, or one lonely and desperate soul with a cure that, unlike polio, didn’t last a lifetime, but one manageable a day at a time. The millions of people that he touched around the world will never be the same.”
Born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in 1927, Imislund joined the Merchant Marines, marked his 16th birthday in Pearl Harbor, then joined the U.S. Navy at the age of 17.
After the war, while in college, he began drinking with other veterans and grew dependent on alcohol. Despite not liking the taste, he continued to drink, and after a 15-year battle, found himself alone and penniless on the streets of Skid Row.
When he was thrown out of the Midnight on Halloween 1958 after a brief scuffle, Imislund realized he had finally hit bottom. His recovery began by walking to an alcoholic rehabilitation center on Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.
After five years of sobriety, his wife and family reunited. He later became an executive at KHJ radio and television in Los Angeles, where he helped introduce the Boss Radio format. During this time, he began working with alcoholics and speaking to civic groups about alcoholism and rehabilitation.
In 1974, Imislund was asked by a member of TMM’s Board of Directors if he knew of any candidates who were qualified for the managing director position. Finding no one to take the job, he decided to do it himself, first on an interim basis, then permanently.
Over the years, Imislund had a profound impact at the Midnight and in the lives of the thousands who have come through its doors. Larry Adamson, a TMM board member and former president and CEO wrote that Imislund “was a man who had more impact on humanity than anyone I ever had the privilege to know.”
His survivors include five children, 15 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and thousands of friends who considered him their teacher and mentor. He was preceded in death by his wife, Charlotte, and his son.