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Letter: Don Axinn, INN Angel

(Editor’s note: The following memorial is from an email that The Interfaith Nutrition Network’s (INN) Executive Director Jean Kelly sent to board members of The INN following the death of Don Axinn. When we asked if it could be published, it was requested that we include that one of Mr. Axinn’s last wishes was that anyone wishing to do so, may make a contribution in his memory to The INN. )

Dear All INN Angels,

I am very sorry to have to announce that one of the original INN angels, Don Axinn, left this world last night after a valiant battle with cancer.

Don was a critical member of the initial steering committee that helped to found and start The INN. In that role he also challenged the group, after only a few short years, to address the issue of AIDS when no one knew what it was, but when we all realized that something had to be done to help those who were dying, we opened the first emergency shelter for people with AIDS in 1985.

Don also made it possible, thanks to his generous donation, to purchase the current home of the men’s shelter, the Donald Axinn INN. This allowed The INN to continue sheltering single men when we were forced to close the emergency shelter at the Loretto INN, and thanks to Don were able to reopen the next day at The Donald Axinn INN without missing a single night of shelter.

Ultimately Don was a leader and compassionate challenger who never stopped being concerned for anyone in need, regardless of their circumstances.

Many Thanksgivings Don came to The INN and helped serve the meal and was always grateful that the space was available to feed everyone. One year he actually met a former classmate of his from Middlebury College and was touched by the reality that anyone can be in need, even someone who once walked the same path as yourself.

When we reflect on all Don has done for The INN we realize he represents his own vision that all the original founding members shared, that in the world’s wealthiest country, while the government strives to figure out how things should be, no one should be eating out of garbage cans or sleeping outside. Thanks to Don and many others, the response was formulated which became The INN and which all of you continue to make real and viable and open to everyone still today.

I believe that each person who enters our lives, if we’re lucky, will touch us in some way and sometimes even leave an imprint on our hearts. Certainly Don has left a very big imprint on our hearts, and many others who have been saved, thanks to his generosity and compassion and dedication to goodness.

I have attached a piece of music that I hope will offer some comfort which was written by a friend, David Qualey, called Solo for Strings. Since music is the language of the soul and Don has now returned to his soul I hope he can hear it and accept it as a thank you for gracing us with his love, and his many gifts, for all these many years. I also hope we can all realize that we are all notes in each other’s songs that play quietly in the silence of our hearts. May music bring us comfort as we mourn our loss.

Thank you for allowing me to share another piece of The INN’s history, that while lost to us today in Don’s passing, lives on every day, thanks to Don, when his name is said by all those who will sleep tonight in peace and comfort. May his memory be for blessing his wife, Joan and his children and grandchildren and his sister, Nadine, his nephew, Len, and all who shall come to The INN seeking help and hope and love.

Love, Jean