DMARC Honors the Life of Forrest Harms
Rev. Forrest Harms, former Executive Director of the Des Moines Area Religious Council, passed away on November 5 at the age of 79. Harms served as Executive Director of DMARC for 17 years, from January 1990 to July 2007.
Rev. Harms was dedicated to the interfaith mission of DMARC, and worked to create opportunities for interfaith learning through the January Thaw adult education series and interfaith panels, forums, and worship services. In 1992, he created the DMARC Interfaith Service Awards Luncheon to honor congregations and organizations who demonstrated a shared commitment to DMARC’s mission. With his encouragement, DMARC and Des Moines Public Schools partnered on “Project Connect” to provide mentorship opportunities for students.
“Forrest was the nicest person I have ever worked for,” said former DMARC Food Pantry Director Sr. Sandra Rodemyer. “He was very clear about the fact that DMARC was (and is) an interfaith organization. As such, our language was to reflect that. Words like ‘church’ were part of the Christian tradition, and we were to use inclusive words like ‘places of worship,’ etc. Clergy offering prayers were to be mindful of that inclusivity when doing so. Sometimes Christian clergy would get carried away and offer their prayers to ‘Jesus.’ Forrest would gently remind them to offer their prayers to ‘God.’ We had many non-Christian congregations who belonged to DMARC, and Forrest wanted those members to feel welcome. This is a lesson that I still carry with me.”
Harms led DMARC through the largest natural disaster response effort in the organization’s history in the wake of the flood of 1993 as the need for emergency food in the community skyrocketed. After the flood, he planted trees in Waterworks Park on behalf of DMARC as a symbol of “the new growth we can experience together as people of faith.”
“Forrest Harms made significant contributions to the life of congregations in Des Moines and to the life of the whole community,” said former DMARC Executive Director Rev. Sarai Rice. “His work to pull people and resources together during the floods and following 9/11 helped the community to heal. It was an honor to be able to follow in his footsteps and learn from his leadership.”
Following the enactment of welfare reform laws in 1996, Harms brought together social services professionals to determine how best to help low-income people in the community who began to “time out” of eligibility for benefit programs. He will be remembered as a passionate advocate for the human services sector.
“DMARC has been able to become what we are today because of the foundation that was built by prior leaders like Forrest Harms,” said DMARC Chief Executive Officer Matt Unger. “His legacy at DMARC is one of community collaboration to lift up our neighbors when they are in need and leave no one behind. We work to honor that every day.”
For more information about the life of Forrest Harms and details on his Celebration of Life service and visitation, or to leave a tribute, please see his obituary.