In Memoriam, 2010: Father James McKeown

3 Dec

THE MARIA ROGERS ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM has collected interviews with Boulder and Boulder County residents since 1976. Each year we add about 50 new interviews to our archive. And every year, some of the people that we interviewed finish their time here on earth, leaving behind loved ones and memories of a wide variety of experiences and accomplishments. Fifteen of the people who died in 2010 told of their experiences through oral history interviews.

The sanctuary at St. John's Episcopal Church in Boulder

One of those people, Father James McKeown, is featured in our latest podcast, produced by Heidi Pate. Father McKeown was born in 1921 and was a priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in downtown Boulder from 1965 to 1991.  In his oral history he spoke about his church’s response to the influx of young people to Boulder during the summers of the late 1960s, including many runaways who had heard about Boulder’s reputation as a “happening place.”

Father McKeown explained, “At that time the city and county had no facilities for runaways. They were put into the regular jail. If you picked up a nine-year-old runaway, he had to stay in jail for three or four days until his parents came to get him. So we had some old houses that we’d bought where our parking lot is now. And we used those—we called it the Haven House program. We said to the police, you bring the kids over here instead of putting them in jail and we’ll keep them, feed them, and house them, and get them to their parents, and deal with the runaway problem. And we had, for three years, about 200 runaways every summer.”

Father McKeown’s Haven House program takes on new significance today, as can be seen in this Camera news article: “Boulder Shelter to Open for Growing Number of Homeless Teens, Runaways.”

Before coming to Boulder, Father McKeown was the first Episcopal priest in Mississippi to integrate his church—an action which resulted in death threats to his family and prompted their move to Boulder, where he continued to work for social justice.

In the early 1970s, Father McKeown initiated plans for the city’s first low-cost housing. His plan resulted in the construction of San Juan del Centro, which still provides housing for 150 low-income families in Boulder.

His daughter, Jennifer McKeown, told a Camera newspaper reporter, “He spent his whole career fighting for the underdog and helping the underdog.”

Listen to Father McKeown’s entire oral history interview on our online digital archive.

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