For 18 years, Rev. Larry Arce, the CEO of the Fresno Rescue Mission, has helped feed and shelter hundreds of thousands of homeless men, women and children with hopes of giving them a new life through the word of God.
Tuesday, Arce, 67, announced his retirement at the Christian Business Men’s Connection luncheon at Pardini’s in northwest Fresno, where he was awarded the G.L. Johnson Ministry Leader Award.
Fighting back tears, Arce told the gathering that it was time for a change. “I look forward to what God has for me in the future,” he said.
G.L. Johnson Award Named after the longtime senior pastor of People’s Church in northwest Fresno, who died in 2011. The award also was given Tuesday posthumously to the Rev. Chester Riggins, a prominent pastor in southwest Fresno who led St. Rest Missionary Baptist Church for 44 years before his retirement in 2006. He died in March 2009. A street in southwest Fresno is named after Riggins. His family accepted the award on his behalf.
The Rescue Mission on G Street, south of the downtown stadium, is a faith-based organization that was founded in 1949. The mission provides temporary shelter to 80 to 150 homeless people per night and also runs Rescue the Children, a shelter for women and children at Clinton Avenue and Highway 99.
Arce said the mission has been part of his life for more than three decades. He became the chief executive officer in 1998, but has been on the mission’s board of directors since 1981.
“I wanted the mission to be a beacon of light for the city,” Arce told the lunchtime gathering. “We offered faith, hope and, most important, salvation.”
When Arce took over the mission, it had a staff of five people and a budget of $250,000, event emcee Alan Doswald said. Today, it has more than 100 part-time and full-time employees and a budget of about $8 million per year, he said.
About 90 percent of the budget comes from individual donations, Arce said. The rest comes from grants and foundations.
Arce said the mission’s goal is to help the homeless find work and permanent lodging. It involves faith-based courses, but Arce said no one is required to follow any specific religion to join. They do, however, have to be sober.
Doswald, founder and executive director of Evangelicals for Social Action/Love Inc. in Fresno, said Arce is special because he is “God’s humble servant who never has an attitude or shows his pride.”
He said Arce has been instrumental in starting rescue missions in Madera, Merced and Kings counties. He also started missions in Tel Aviv and in Bangalore, India.
In Bangalore, the mission feeds and shelters 3,000 lepers, Arce said.
For 10 years, Arce also traveled to the mountain regions of the Philippines, bringing food, medicine and the word of God to tribes.
Turned to God at 14
Arce was born in Hanford, but grew up in west Fresno, one of six children raised by a single mother. Arce said he turned to God at age 14, when his mother was dying. Prayer saved her and she lived a long life, he said.
After graduating from Edison High School in 1966, Arce joined the Army and became a soldier in Special Forces, known as the Green Berets. In the military, he became an expert in jungle fighting and hand-to-hand combat, graduated from parachute school and became an accomplished scuba diver. He also became a fifth-degree black belt in karate and judo.
After the military, he spent 18 years as a Fresno County probation officer before taking over the Rescue Mission.
He and his wife, Shirley, have been married 41 years and have three children, Audrey, Sheila and Luke, and one grandson, Cameron. His entire family is devoted to spreading the word of God to the less fortunate, he said.
After a while it weighs on you.
The Rev. Larry Arce, on his decision to retire after 18 years as CEO of the Fresno Rescue Mission
In an interview before his luncheon speech, Arce said being CEO took a toll on him. “The job was 24/7,” he said.
Arce said that every day he and his staff were bombarded with sad and horrific stories from the homeless people they served. Arce said seeing children being abandoned and neglected broke his heart. “After a while it weighs on you.”
For the past two years, Arce has been talking to his wife about retiring. He said he finally stepped down on April 29. He said the mission’s board of directors is looking for a replacement.
“I feel good about my decision,” he said. “A lot of weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”
Arce’s announcement caught some at the luncheon by surprise.
“He’s had a tremendous impact on my life and on the community,” said the Rev. Jim Franklin, pastor of Cornerstone Church in downtown Fresno. “I don’t know how they will fill that void because he has big shoes to fill.”
Robert Oliver, a retired Fresno County Superior Court judge, also said Arce has been a cornerstone of the community. But Oliver said Arce’s work is far from over.
“Somehow I think Mr. Arce will not retire, but will reconfigure his life,” he said.
Whatever happens in the future, Arce said, “it will be for God’s glory.”
G.L. Johnson Award
- Named after the longtime senior pastor of People’s Church in northwest Fresno, who died in 2011.
- The award also was given Tuesday posthumously to the Rev. Chester Riggins, a prominent pastor in southwest Fresno who led St. Rest Missionary Baptist Church for 44 years before his retirement in 2006. He died in March 2009. A street in southwest Fresno is named after Riggins. His family accepted the award on his behalf.