The purpose of this column is to highlight both businesses and the owners. However, at the interview with Kurt Rothgeb his first comment was, “Instead of the carpet cleaning business, can you write about my ministry instead? I feel like it’s more important to help them than it is to help me.”
That comment is enough to tell you what kind of person Kurt is. He believes in what he is doing. I agreed that we would talk about his ministry this time and do an article later on his business.
Kurt grew up in Gatlinburg. His parents owned a chain of Dairy Queen restaurants and he was enthralled by the family business. While his friends were reading comic books he was studying restaurant leases and manuals. After school he joined the military. When Kurt came home he married and settled down in Sevierville.
16 years ago something happened that change his life. His marriage began to fail and he moved out of his home. He needed a place to stay and realized there was no place for him. He bought a large home and lived alone trying to deal with the pain of a lost marriage. One day his pastor called and said, “We have a couple of missionaries coming to town and we need a place for them to stay. Do you have room for them?”
He did and was glad for the company. “They stayed with me for two months and it was such a blessing. They really helped me deal with my divorce and got my thinking turned around,” he says. “When they left I realized how nice it was to have people living there.”
Kurt kept getting calls from the church asking if people could stay with him. Some were other men who had also recently separated and needed a place to stay. He made a place and counseled them. Several were reunited with their wives because they found encouragement.
Kurt kept expanding his ministry of taking people in. It expanded to those arriving in Sevierville fresh out of jail, then to homeless people. The Sevier County Rescue Ministry calls him now almost every day. “Last week a police officer found a homeless veteran dying with cancer. The man has no family and no where to go. I told the officer to bring him to me. We will keep him here as long as he lives at no charge.”
Kurt not only provides shelter, he makes sure people get food, clothing and helps them find work working in concert with First Baptist Church in Sevierville and the Smoky Mountain Area Rescue Ministries. “We don’t have a shelter in Sevier County and I don’t run a shelter. I run a boarding house. Some people can pay for a room and I charge them accordingly. That is the business side of the boarding house. The business side pays for the ministry side. Sevierville wants to deny it has a homeless problem but go behind K-mart or under the bridge by the Co-Op and you can find it. I got a call from a police officer about a family with a six-year-old girl living in an abandoned house in Gatlinburg with no electricity, no water and no heat. There was no where else for them to go so I took them in until they could get on their feet. Right now I have a family with a nine-year-old. The great grand-mother is raising her because her mother is in prison and the grandmother is deceased. I can’t leave them homeless.”
With this huge task to be undertaken, is there any way for the community to help? “The biggest help,” he says, “would be to have some volunteer legal, medical and dental services. These people have no insurance, no cash and no transportation. Even the Good Shepherd Clinic can’t service them because they don’t have the $25.00 for a visit to the clinic. There is no help for these folks.”
I asked again what else would help. “Things wear out faster here than they would in a normal home,” he said. “At the house we need four beds, three dressers and a sofa. It would be great if someone had something we could use. We also try to have a community Thanksgiving and Christmas meal. Anyone who would donate to those things would be a great help.”
If one would like to know more about Kurt, his carpet cleaning business or his boarding house ministry please contact Kurt Rothgeb, Rothgeb’s Rooms, 233 Prince St., Sevierville, TN 37862. Phone: 865-309-6223.