Leading the way in our corps

With the gifts and skills God has given us, we each have a valuable role to play. Here we salute some of the exceptional local leaders in the Central Territory, whose steadfast and sacrificial service even during a pandemic is making all the difference for now and eternity.

Welcoming everyone in Watertown
by Michelle DeRusha

Luann Baseler’s self-proclaimed mission is to put a smile on every person’s face.

“I love being the first person people see when they walk through our door,” said Luann, who serves as welcome sergeant on Sunday mornings and as the front desk receptionist weekdays at the Watertown, S.D., Corps. “That moment sets the tone for every interaction that follows, so I take my role very seriously.”

Just because she’s serious about her work, however, doesn’t mean Luann doesn’t have fun. “I do what I do because I love it and because I have a good time doing it,” she said. “I don’t get paid monetarily, but I get paid in a million other ways.”

Luann’s introduction to The Salvation Army came in the early ’80s, when, after graduating from college, a friend invited her to lunch at The Salvation Army in Huron, S.D. Just 25-cents, it helped Luann make ends meet when her finances were tight.

“At the time I was what we would now call homeless though I didn’t think of myself that way,” she recalled. “I didn’t have a place of my own, so I bounced around a lot, staying with different friends. I had a job, but I didn’t manage my money well, so I didn’t have a penny to my name.

“There was no judgment there. Everyone was kind and welcoming,” she continued. “Back then, I didn’t even really know what The Salvation Army was. I didn’t know what they did.”

That changed in 1998 when another friend invited her to attend home league (women’s ministries) at the corps in Aberdeen, S.D., where Luann had moved. She had applied for disability and was unable to work, but when the corps needed a volunteer to answer phones at the front desk, she jumped at the opportunity. Luann has been volunteering ever since.

“Luann does absolutely marvelous work,” said Lt. Zachary Zumwalt, Watertown corps officer. “She’s at the corps five days a week, answering phones and helping people get checked in. On Sundays she welcomes everyone with a warm greeting. She makes everyone feel at home, even if it’s their first time visiting.”

When she’s not welcoming visitors, Luann helps compile statistics, posts on the corps’ social media  platforms and keeps the office sanitized. However, her favorite role by far is welcoming people and inviting them to worship on Sundays.

She said, “I tell them they’ll see a familiar face—me!”


Passing on the faith
by Captain Judith Fetzer

When kids talk about a mentor, you know they have a hero. My own children can’t stop talking about Ron Washington, young people’s sergeant-major at the Pontiac, Mich., Corps, who teaches children’s Sunday school and junior church each week.

Ron first volunteered at The Salvation Army when his wife worked as the corps’ social services director. He was inspired by the Christmas distribution, and when the job of community center director became available in 2011, he applied because he “wanted to be part of all the joy.”

Ron remembers the 1967-68 riots in Detroit when everything was shut down: “There were young people with nothing to do.” Ron’s dad, who worked as a teacher and coach in the Catholic School System, started a city-wide basketball program with the Detroit Public Schools, including summer leagues and camps. Ron went on to play four years of college basketball at the University of  Massachusetts and remembers the positive impact his college coach and teammates had on him.

Ron was fortunate to have another role model, especially after his father died when Ron was just 25. Monsignor Thomas Finnigan, his dad’s boss and friend, functioned as pastor and mentor for Ron during the difficult years after his father’s passing. His experience as an altar boy at Catholic School and discipleship by Monsignor Finnigan led him to faith in the One Living God and belief in Jesus Christ.

For Ron, his role at The Salvation Army is a natural expression of that faith, seeded in a Catholic tradition and bearing fruit as a Salvation Army soldier. Ron says he loves wearing his uniform as a way to connect with people and share the Lord. Of his experiences in The Salvation Army, Ron most values visitation and transportation. He loves the “expectation of the kids who are waiting for us to arrive” and then the process of the families “becoming part of us” as a church family and culture.

In 2018, Ron experienced kidney failure and is now on the organ donor list. Despite this continuing trial, Ron has never lost hope or faith in God’s goodness and feels he already has been given a second chance at life.


Connecting creatively with corps cadets in Omaha
by Michelle DeRusha

When Omaha Citadel, Neb., Corps Program Director Matt Walter realized he needed to get creative during the pandemic in order to connect with each of his 18 corps cadets, he knew whatever he planned would involve tacos. After all, teens and tacos go together like bread and butter. He also knew he would need to adhere to social distancing guidelines. After brainstorming with his corps officer, Major Shelley McClintock, “Driveway Tacos” debuted.

“I brought some dinner over—always Taco Bell; it has to be Taco Bell—set up some chairs on the driveway, and together we knocked out three months of lessons,” Matt said. He hosted more than a dozen “Driveway Tacos” meetups at the homes of corps cadets during June and July.

Because the brigade hadn’t met in person since mid-March, they were about three months behind. “Zoom is fine, but I’ve found it just works better to connect with young people in person if possible,” said Matt. “This turned out to be a great opportunity to check in with each kid and get done what we needed to get  done. Plus, you can’t go wrong with tacos, right?”

Matt, who oversees youth programming at the corps, including music, character-building programs and corps cadets, has worked for The Salvation Army for 15 years, but his personal connection with the  Army was forged long before then.

“I walked into Citadel as a 15-yearold to fulfill my community service requirement after I’d been expelled from school for getting in a fight,” Matt explained. “The staff showed me so much support and showed my family so much support, The Salvation Army became my church home. I came to The Salvation Army as a troubled teen myself, so I get what some of these kids are going through.”

While Matt was studying computer programming at a local college, he had the opportunity to volunteer as a youth leader at the corps. Eventually he was hired fulltime as program director. He’s worked for the Army ever since.

Some of the kids Matt knew as kindergarteners are now in their 20s and are serving as youth leaders themselves. “It’s been so rewarding for me to see these kids mature into leaders,” he said. “I’m grateful to be able to see the fruits of God’s work, and I’m just amazed at how God has really blessed me through this whole experience.”

Matt is looking forward to the day when regular in-person youth programming will resume. Until then, there’s always the opportunity for another driveway taco with a corps cadet.