Baltimore Sun’s 2023 Business and Civic Hall of Fame honoree: Robert K. ‘Bob’ Gehman

In January, Robert K. “Bob” Gehman retired as CEO of the Helping Up Mission, which he ran for 29 years, expanding the faith-based nonprofit’s reach and its mission. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

Robert K. “Bob” Gehman grew up in a Mennonite farm family in Pennsylvania, but by the time he was in his 20s, he had left the farm and gone to seminary to become a Baptist minister. He pastored a church in Baltimore County for 10 years before taking another path that led him, eventually, to the Helping Up Mission in Baltimore.

Looking back on his journey, all of Gehman’s experiences — as a minister, as a professional raiser of funds for faith-based nonprofits and as a man who watched a loved one struggle with alcoholism — seemed to prepare him for his work with troubled souls in Baltimore.


When he became CEO of the Helping Up Mission, Gehman quickly concluded that offering a dose of Gospel, a meal and a bed for the night was not enough. Early in his tenure, he decided there had to be more to the mission.

“What really became apparent to me,” he says, “was that these 125 to 150 men who were coming in off the streets every night — getting clothes and shelter and food and then going out on the streets the next morning — were experiencing mental illness, alcoholism and drug addiction. If we did not come up with a program that would address those needs, then we were just going to have to be happy with the conditions as they are. … So we decided to start a residential program.”


It did not happen overnight, and not without some pushback from the Jonestown community, where the Helping Up Mission had been located for years. Eventually, Gehman convinced opponents that his 24/7 spiritual recovery program would be well-managed.

It also had to be well-financed, and that’s where Gehman put his fundraising skills to work. As years went by, Helping Up Mission was able to acquire more property along the 1000 block of East Baltimore Street and serve a growing number of men seeking a place to stay while getting help with their recovery from addictions and homelessness.

These days, the mission provides beds and meals for up to 500 men. It offers thousands of hours of counseling during the course of a year. A campaign that raised $62 million resulted in the construction of a building for women and children in need of housing and health services.

Gehman, 74, accomplished these major expansions with the help of donors and volunteers who saw the mission’s commitment to changing lives.

“Although the shelter was meeting basic needs of people, it was a revolving door,” says Mary Lashley, a professor of community health nursing at Towson University who, after volunteering at the mission, became a member of its board. “What was needed was to really get at the root issues that were leading to chronic homelessness. And that included poverty and addiction and mental health issues. Bob saw the need for much more comprehensive, holistic programming to address the needs of people struggling with addiction and homelessness.”

Lashley found Gehman to be a visionary leader. “He’s very future-oriented,” she says. “He’s always thinking about where we’re going to be in 10 and 20 and 30 years, where society will be and how we can best respond to the needs of the people we serve. … He has a very humble spirit, and he trusts good people to do good work and produce good outcomes.”

After heading the mission for 29 years, Gehman stepped aside in January and now has the title of CEO emeritus.

The problems of poverty, homelessness, addictions and mental illness persist, and hundreds of men and women still come looking for help.


“You don’t think about what you can’t change,” Gehman says. “I am in the helping business. We help people who have fallen hard and will die if they don’t get help. I can bring them in and have a little oasis where we can give people all the basic needs. We can give them the physical health they need with primary medical care. We can get them mental health services — seven counselors are right here on site. We can give them drug treatment counseling. We can give them spiritual help. We have a school that is turning out graduates getting high school diplomas, a work program that finds people jobs. And so we can create an organization like that. We are so happy to see people’s lives changed.”

There have been many — one, in particular, who Gehman called “the five-time guy” because he failed to stay off drugs four times and had to leave the recovery program. Given a fifth chance, he graduated from the mission and found a job driving a truck for the city. The man called to Bob Gehman one day as he walked into the mission. “Thank you,” he said. “You saved my life.”

Robert K. “Bob” Gehman

Age: 74

Hometown: Bowmansville, Pennsylvania

Current residence: Glyndon


Education: Master’s in religious education from Liberty University; graduate certification in nonprofit studies from the Johns Hopkins University

Career highlight: CEO, Helping Up Mission

Civic and charitable activities: Jewish Museum of Maryland, the Jonestown Planning Council, Historic Jonestown Inc., and Camp WABANNA, a camp offered by Helping Up Mission to children of the men and women in its Spiritual Recovery Program

Family: Divorced; two children and seven grandchildren