The Rev. Jo H. Campe III, who overcame addiction and revived Central Park United Methodist Church in St. Paul, died June 24 of a respiratory illness. He was 79.

This is a portrait of Reverend Jo Campe
Reverend Jo Campe

In 2000, the pastor of the United Methodist Church decided to focus the oldest Methodist church in St. Paul on the 12-step recovery process. Campe knew it would help people like him.

A key factor in that decision was Campe’s relationship with a church janitor who was struggling with his recovery. The janitor was unable to stay sober and eventually died of alcohol poisoning.

According to a friend, Bob Swoverland, Campe became angry about his addiction.

“He became a warrior, if you want to call it that,” Swoverland said. “He was willing to go anywhere, for anyone, and share the hope of recovery.”

Campe also helped found the Minnesota Recovery Connection, an organization led and governed by representatives from local recovery communities.

Campe used to teach at Christ Recovery Center in St. Paul, where men can come off the streets to get clean and sober. They can stay there as long as they want, says Ted Garner, a friend and sponsor.

Campe had a sense of humor, friends said. He often began his sermons with a joke, many of which were “in bad taste” or “just plain bad,” Swoverland said.

“He’s going to be missed by a lot of people,” Garner said. “A lot of us, myself included, are conditioned to lose people. This is hard to process.”

Campe loved the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. At age 14, he and a friend spent a few weeks alone in the Boundary Waters, without a tent, according to his daughter Molly Campe. When Molly was just 3, Campe took her to the Boundary Waters for the first time, which sparked her own love of the wilderness.

Campe was born on January 11, 1945, in Minneapolis. He is survived by two adult children, Joey and Molly, grandchildren Kai and Ruby, siblings Chris and Annette, and a golden retriever, Cedar.

A celebration of life will be held at Recovery Church in St. Paul on Sunday, July 21 at 1:00 p.m.