Founding Lighthouse Shelter director turns over reins

Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Leo Grothaus, interim Lighthouse Shelter director, and Debbie Wallace, founder and retiring shelter director, stand together in The Lighthouse Shelter office. (Kelsey Alumbaugh/Democrat-News)

For 18 years, Debbie Wallace founded and helped to run The Lighthouse Shelter, but now she has given up that role as she plans to take the next step in her life.

"It was a tough decision," she said. "It's something that I have been thinking about for about two years now. I'm tired. Running a 24-hour facility, working 16 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, I'm getting older and then there was a person, Leo (Grothaus, now the interim director), that was available."

Wallace said while the decision was tough, she knew it was time. She hopes to be able to travel to see her children and spend more time with her family.

"I've dedicate 18 years of my life to the Lighthouse and I will continue to dedicate some of my life to the Lighthouse, but there are some things I want to do in my life and if I don't take the time to do them now, I never will," she said.

Although The Lighthouse Shelter has taken a large amount of time in Wallace's life, she said she has loved it.

"I have so many memorable moments," she said. "I remember back to the very first client we had, not having a facility to put them in, going out on calls... There have been so many positives that out-weigh the negatives."

Wallace said her biggest reward was knowing she made a difference.

"You know people say, 'Oh, thank you for all the hard work you've done.' I appreciate that, but my reward has been I've touched over 12,000 lives and I know that somehow or another I've made a difference," she said. "...This has been the most rewarding job that I've ever done in my life besides raising my kids ... it's been the hardest thing I have ever done in my life."

She said the most rewarding part of the program was seeing someone succeed and become a self-sufficient person.

"There's not anything more amazing than that," she said.

Wallace was one of the founding board members of the shelter, and she said she has performed every role within the organization. She said her favorite role was being an advocate.

"I've done everything," Wallace said. "I can remember when we first started this I would get dressed up in the morning and come be an advocate for the few clients we had and I would go home at lunch and change clothes to come back and mow the lawn. Other afternoons I'd pick up donations and then I'd be an advocate again in the middle of the night."

The Lighthouse Shelter began when Wallace saw a need for the organization's services in Saline County.

"Being a mom and thinking of other women out there my age that needed help and it was unavailable to them, I felt the need at that time that it was time for me to do something in the community that I lived in and was involved in and was raising my children in," she said.

Wallace wasn't the only one who saw a void to be filled.

"When we started out we just had a vision and it was amazing how fast things started rolling," she said. "We had a home donated to us as a shelter. We got everyone involved in the community and we did an adopt-a-room program and that's how we were able to turn that home into a shelter for women and children."

Wallace is especially proud of the children's programs now available through the shelter, but she is also proud of just how much the shelter has expanded.

Youth services, a bilingual advocate, a counselor on staff, an outreach program and The Lighthouse Thrift Store are all additions over the past 18 years.

"One of our biggest successes is our thrift store, which we started almost nine years ago, Wallace said. "It has really been a win/win situation for us."

Wallace said the thrift store provides women in the shelter with anything they may need, but also with job experience, which is important for becoming self-sufficient. The thrift store is also the biggest fundraiser for the shelter.

"We have been so blessed and greatly supported by everyone in the community that a thank you really isn't enough," Wallace said.

Grothaus left his position with Court Appointed Special Advocates in December and has been working with Wallace since the end of April.

"Debbie's done a great job," he said. "There's a lot to learn."

While there may be a lot to learn, Wallace believes the shelter is in good hands.

"I think at his direction, The Lighthouse Shelter will continue to be a success in Saline County," she said.

Contact Kelsey Alumbaugh at

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  • One could say "ends reign" or "turns over reins. The headline is apparently punny.

    Nevertheless, Wallace knows much and has done a good job for the community.

    -- Posted by former editor on Tue, Jun 4, 2013, at 7:13 PM
    Response by Eric Crump/Editor:
    Credit for a pun is generous. It was actually just a mistake, I'm afraid. It's been repaired.
  • Debbie Wallace has such a beautiful soul! Our community is fortunate to have her as a resident. Her dedication to the program is why so many families have peaceful & productive lives. Thanks Debbie! I am sure Mr. Grothaus will do a fantastic job.

    -- Posted by SalineVoter on Tue, Jun 4, 2013, at 8:51 PM
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