In a cypress-shaded pool in a bend of the Guadalupe River, where the clear water pauses in its rush to the Gulf, Lee Roy Loeffler, LCDC has baptized more than 1,000 people.
“I’ve lost count,” he says when asked for a total of baptisms performed since he joined the La Hacienda staff in 2000. “One year I did more than 100.”
He’s also conducted weddings for former patients who returned to recite their vows at Serenity Hill. And he’s performed memorial services for staff, including former Executive Director Dr. Frank Sadlack in 2003.
Given those ministerial duties, it may be surprising to learn that when Lee Roy retired August 15th, 2018, it wasn’t as Campus Pastor. All these years he’s served as a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor specializing in Christian Focus.
It’s fitting, however, for a man who has worn many hats during his 79 years.
He started in land and livestock management, a natural for a young man who grew up on the family ranch in Mason County. Along the way, he also worked in the oil fields, drove a long-haul rig and did Christian missionary work in Latin America.
And he battled alcoholism. Lee Roy’s been sober since November 1, 1979.
Becoming a Counselor
Divorced from his first wife, he met and married Irma, a baker. Together they operated a bakery and restaurant in Junction for eight years. It was once featured on the Texas Country Reporter television show.
They lived over the restaurant, where they also hosted local Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous groups. True to the 12 Steps, Lee Roy sponsored and counseled others in recovery. One of them was a minister from San Angelo who dropped in for food and support when preaching in Junction.
“He told me, ‘Lee Roy, you need to do this professionally.’”
Another customer was a physician who took advantage of the restaurant’s 4 a.m. opening following a long night of treating patients at the local hospital. After about a year of talking with Lee Roy, the doctor left behind a box, saying, “You’re going to need this.”
Inside the box was clinical information about becoming a drug and alcohol counselor. “What am I going to do with this?” Lee Roy wondered. The answer came in a vision.
“I had a dream in which I saw my preacher friend,” he says. “When I opened the restaurant the next morning, there he was at the door. I told him, ‘I’m ready to be a counselor.’”
Shutting down the restaurant and preparing for a new vocation was a big move for Lee Roy and Irma. She reassured him, “Do it. We’ll make it work.”
Lee Roy applied and was accepted to be a counselor intern at La Hacienda in April 2000. Given a choice between two positions, he chose to be the Christian Focus Counselor. He was already a minister ordained in the Church of Christ and had been “filling in” for 11 years as preacher for a small Junction congregation.
In Christian Focus, Lee Roy led patients through sessions where they discussed how Bible verses related to the 12 Steps, and conversely, how a step can be connected back to the Bible.
He has worked with hundreds of men and women of all ages and their families and frequently counseled male patients approaching or past retirement age. “Some have retired without a financial plan, and that can be a big problem, especially for alcoholics.”
When the counselor who had led Sunday worship services left two years ago, Lee Roy was asked to take over. He was available as his small Junction congregation had merged with a larger church with a fulltime pastor. So he began conducting the 8 a.m. Sunday worship service in the Family Building.
Hearing from former patients have made the long hours of work worthwhile, he says.
“I love having former patients call and say they’ve been sober x number of years. The annual reunion is the highlight of my year. I love seeing proof that what we do here works.”
Even when the news is not good, he tries to keep things in a perspective through his Christian faith. “It hurts when I hear that a former patient has relapsed. Some of the reports are very heartbreaking. But God can turn it around. I don’t take it personally. I’m not God.”
One of a Kind
His supervisor, Clinical Services Director Janet Blackburn, states that when Lee Roy says, “Thank you, boss lady,” it is a term of endearment and respect. “He is a genuinely grateful person. Lee Roy can pull off both.”
“He has comforted and inspired so many patients, family members and staff throughout the years. He has led us in countless group prayers and prayed quietly with many of us behind the scenes. Lee Roy answers to a much higher authority, and he lives out his faith in Christ daily.”
“Lee Roy Loeffler is truly one of a kind. I will miss him dearly,” she adds.
A former patient tells how Lee Roy inspired him to become a counselor.
“Lee Roy meets people where they are–with tenderness, gentleness, compassion, attentive ears and extremely evident love. He clearly loves his God and loves people. Period.”
“That makes it possible for him to be a vehicle literally to help save and transform lives. I have known him briefly, but I love the man,” says the counselor.
Not Slowing Down
Busy is the word that comes to mind when Lee Roy talks about retirement. He will live on the family’s ranch and renovate the old house in which he grew up. “I’m going to put in a garden, and sleep at night on the porch under the stars.”
He’ll have more time for his favorite activity, braiding Western horse gear, such as quirts and whips. And more time for shooting his black powder firearms–“It requires a lot of concentration.”
Lee Roy also loves cooking, but he will not be able to share that activity with Irma, his wife and partner in the Junction restaurant, who passed away in August 2017.
Knee replacement surgery on both legs this year has slowed him down a bit, but running is also on his agenda. “I’ve promised my grandkids that I will run with them again. I walk three miles a day when not working, and have signed up for a 5k walk in September.”
He also plans to return to La Hacienda for Reunion in May.
Asked what parting advice he’d give, he says, “Keep God in the world.” Asked about La Hacienda, in particular, he replies, “Don’t change a thing.”