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Sioux City photographer remembers Father Dollar Bill

By RENEE WEBB, Globe senior reporter
(Email Renee)

Seeing a commentary in the May 30 edition of The Catholic Globe about the priest known as Father Dollar Bill brought back memories for a Sioux City photographer.

George Lindblade met the priest when he was taking photos of President John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s. Father Maurice Chase, who later became known as Father Dollar Bill for handing out thousands of dollar bills to the poor of Los Angeles’ Skid Row, was serving at the parish in Palm Desert, Calif. when the president visited there several times.

“I was a pool photographer for President Kennedy at the time,” noted Lindblade.

One of the photographer’s best known images was that of the president and Father Chase. He captured a photo of the two men shaking hands as President Kennedy was climbing the stairs to the church.

“What happened was that the president actually tripped on the step walking into the church and that is why Father Maurice has such a good grip, because he was catching his balance and shaking hands with him,” Lindblade recalled.

The photographer said the photo is one of the few for which he still has the negative. The image can be found in the Kennedy Library.

Lindblade said he remained in contact with the priest through the years, hearing from Father Chase up until about a year before his death in November of 2011 at age 92.

The priest, who had gained national coverage through the years for his work with the poor, was recently highlighted in a column by The Christophers. It focused on the hope Father Dollar Bill brought to those in need.

“He tried to give people the sense of value – that they were worth something,” Lindblade said. “He would help people out spiritually and, in a small way, financially.”

While Father Chase mainly gave out $1 bills, he would sometimes give out $20s to those with children or if there was a particular need.

“All of the people who were close to him were concerned about him going into those areas,” he said. “The street people knew him and knew he had money. We always thought someone would hit him in the head and take the money but God must prevail because Father Maurice never had anyone make any moves on him.”

It is estimated that Father Dollar Bill gave away between $2,500 and $3,000 every Sunday and about $15,000 on holidays. Hollywood celebrities such as Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and their spouses were among those to bankroll this ministry.

Lindblade still receives an occasional request for a print of that famous picture of President Kennedy and Father Dollar Bill. It remains one of the photographer’s favorites.

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