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Music and art as healing: Man in recovery brings voice, artist’s touch to Churches United shelter

Douglas “Bubba” Herman Ludwig sings the blues June 9 in the Churches United for the Homeless dining room in Moorhead. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 3
Ludwig’s pen drawing has been made into Father’s Day cards for Churches United for the Homeless. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 3

MOORHEAD - As Douglas Herman Ludwig, or “Bubba” as he’s better known, started tuning his guitar at Churches United for the Homeless in Moorhead, people gathered around to listen.

When the 54-year-old started singing, his voice as gritty and full of emotion as a seasoned blues singer, adults started bopping their heads and children started dancing.

Applause rang out when he finished, and one of the shelter’s staff members requested “Amazing Grace.”

As he played, smiles lit the faces of those who watched.

Ludwig went from helping out in the kitchen to entertaining the residents of Churches United.

“I love listening to him,” said Angelique Goulet, the shelter’s development director. “He’s magnetic.”

Sometimes the shelter residents will join in when Ludwig sings, eliciting a real sense of community, she said.

“It gives me goose bumps to hear him because it comes from such a deep place,” she said. “I feel like you can hear his story in his voice.”

Ludwig is also an artist. An ink drawing he did of a forest scene was featured on Churches United’s Father’s Day cards this year.

“I never imagined one of my drawings would be on a card,” he said.

He spent a month and a half on the drawing, using an office pen as his medium.

Both music and art are a form of healing for Ludwig, Goulet said.

“They have been his saving graces,” she said as tears welled in her eyes.

Ludwig’s path to this point in his life has been fraught with forks and pitfalls.

“It’s been an adventurous life,” he said.

He said he went through an abusive childhood before running away from his California home at age 10. He lived with his dad’s best friend and his family in Kentucky, and instead of going back to school, he said he chose to work on various farms for several years before he became caught up in illegal bootlegging.

“That’s what they did in rural Kentucky when I was growing up,” he said.

Kentucky was a mostly dry state around the time when Ludwig lived there, according to a 1974 article in the Kentucky New Era newspaper called, “Bootlegging Liquor Business Is Still Thriving In Kentucky.”

Ludwig had his first drink, which he said he brewed himself, when he was 15 years old.

He started drawing and playing “mountain music and hymnals” from a young age when he lived with what became his surrogate family in Kentucky.

“When I’m creating art, I’m not here,” Ludwig said. “I live in a different world, a world that’s very, very spiritual.”

He’s had no formal instruction in his artwork, and his music is also self-taught.

“I’ve played on many street corners,” he said. “I’ve played in many bars, nightclubs and dancehalls, and I drank my way through most of them.”

Ludwig has struggled with alcoholism, lost his license, and spent time in jail. After leaving Kentucky, he did construction work, worked in restaurants, and worked as a commercial fisherman in Florida, where he lived for 21 years. Then 12 years ago he rode with a woman and her child who needed to get from Florida to Fargo and didn’t want to go alone. He’s been in the area ever since.

He worked at an area nonprofit organization for 10 years before leaving to work in area restaurants.

After he was evicted from his apartment last summer, Ludwig said he lived in an art studio for a while before going to Churches United.

Ludwig has been sober for the past 10 months. He’s also gone through 10 years of sobriety before, but he said he doesn’t really consider it sobriety because he didn’t have a sponsor and didn’t go through any steps in a recovery program.

“And then one day everything fell apart and I said, ‘Heck with it. I’m going to have me eight Fat Tires,’ ” he said. “I only drank when I was sad. I was too busy when I was happy.”

A few months ago, Ludwig found out he is diabetic, which he blames on his drinking.

According to Mayo Clinic, too much alcohol can cause chronic inflammation of the pancreas, which can impair its ability to secrete insulin and ultimately lead to diabetes.

In February, Ludwig had to have part of his big toe removed.

When diabetes is not managed properly, nerve damage and poor blood circulation can make the feet vulnerable to skin sores that can worsen quickly and are difficult to treat, according to Mayo Clinic. An ulcer that doesn’t heal causes severe damage to tissues and bone and may lead to a toe, foot or part of a leg being amputated.

“So for me to drink again is not very promising to my psyche,” Ludwig said.

He also has a sponsor and said he is working on a recovery program.

Goulet said Ludwig is quick to volunteer and help out whenever he’s needed.

“He looks like such an imposing figure,” she said. “But he exudes warmth.”

Julio Villamil, the kitchen coordinator for Churches United, said Ludwig is dedicated, a hard worker, and “a valuable resource for ideas and inspiration.”

Ludwig recently moved out of Churches United into an apartment of his own after living at the shelter for about 10 months. Though he’s moved out, he still volunteers to help in the kitchen.

“You volunteer because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “If you open your eyes and ears to the passion, you’ll find yourself volunteering here a lot.”

Tracy Frank

Tracy Frank is a SheSays, Variety, and Farmer's Forum reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to

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