Salvation Army In Holdrege

Stereoscope – Nov 2012

By Susan Perry

Though the United States fought a war with England for our freedom, much of what we know and enjoy came from that country. Many customs, items that sustained life, and thousands of people came to this country from England. Among the groups coming was The Salvation Army, deemed a “practical Christianity” which was important in 1880. They saw their mission as being a “means of spiritual and material help to many who came (to them) for help.” Because the organization was built on a military pattern, each congregation was called a “Corp.” Each had its active staff and ardent members and they had uniforms, and military titles. Most had bands which performed on street corners, marched in parades and played during local gatherings. After growing roots in this country they, at one time, operated 37 maternity homes and hospitals; had 394 clubs and recreation centers for boys and girls; 54 camps, serving 16,500 young people each year; and 186 mobile canteens which were used for fires and other disasters. In 1960, these current figures also included providing three and a half million meals each year for transient, homeless persons, securing jobs for about 115,000 persons and locating more than 1,200 missing persons a year. Not mentioned in their accomplishments was another one vitally important to all Christian bodies: spreading the Gospel and providing their services throughout the country. Thus a Corp was established in Holdrege in 1919, largely through the interest of Mrs. August (Carolina) Lundine, the grandmother of Dr. Theo A. Peterson. Capt. Anna Hjelm and Lt. Olga Johnson arrived in Holdrege to found the Corp here. The Congregational Church at 509 Blaine Street was vacant and became the first home for the local Salvation Army. The next year they moved to an upstairs space at 313 East Avenue, and in June of 1932 they moved to the Salem Methodist Church at 816 ½ West Avenue where they stayed till their own building was built in the 500 block on East Avenue. A generous donor provided money to buy the lot, and fundraising began for the building. When the dollars received were more than enough to pay for their headquarters, construction began in 1934 and they began services there in June of 1935. It did not matter where their meetings were held, a full schedule of services were often conducted, and the Corps provided much of the charity work done in the county. In 1929, the children of the Salvation Army Sunday School presented a Thanksgiving program which included many vocal and piano solos and recitations, at least one in Swedish. Regular weekly services were Sunday School at 2:30 in the afternoon, prayer service at 7 with their English meeting at 8 o’clock. Midweek services were also held weekly. Once a month the Helpers League Social was held on a Saturday evening. They were advertised to include “fine music and song” and refreshments. A sermon was also part of the service. Several times during their early years, a special guest speaker/evangelist would be invited to the community to conduct services in Swedish for the many who still relied on their native language. In 1957, Lt. E. Ingemar Ekstrom was assigned here, and his schedule included Boys Club, Sunbeam Troop, Bible study and Prayer meeting, band practice, and on Sundays, Sunday School at 10:00 and Holiness meeting at 11:00, with salvation meeting in the evening. He also organized a special service for the Scandinavian people which included Swedish song, music and a film. In the late 1920’s, the holiday custom of the red kettles began in Holdrege. Bells were rung in front of the Golden Rule and Hesteds and all the proceeds were used to buy food for the baskets which were handed out to families in poverty. Each year the number of families served grew, but as times grew more bleak, the dollars collected in the red kettle campaign shrunk. (One day only 16 cents was in the bottom of the kettle.) The community was reassured that funds were available, because many businesses and churches had contributed to their causes. The Army Corp also distributed clothing and other necessities, but those donations were funded with these other monies. A committee of Corp and community ladies purchased clothing for over 30 children who were “in desperate need of winter underwear, wraps and shoes.” These decades were the zenith for the Corps in Holdrege. Throughout the forties, fifties and into the sixties, local drives were held annually to fund the services provided to the needy in our community. The local “champion” of the army throughout all these years was Dr. Theo A. Peterson, who supported the local unit in any way he could. The army was overseen from Chicago headquarters, and staff was assigned here on a regular basis. There was a parade of male Lieutenants, then Lieutenants and their spouses, and also female officers here over the years. One, Lt. Harlan Strand, served Holdrege on three different assignments, then was promoted to Minneapolis. Captains appeared here periodically in evangelistic meetings and in a supervisory position. Sadly, in 1966, it was announced that the Corps in Holdrege would be closing, as their building had been deactivated the year before. The reason for the closing was “an acute lack of personnel within the Army ranks and insufficient funds for local work.” The army would work with a committee of local citizens to maintain a fund which would be used for the needy in the community. In 2000, Lt. Colonel Bonifield, divisional commander for the Salvation Army’s Western Division, announced that the Salvation Army had inaugurated a new service unit in Holdrege.“ This effort will provide services to the homeless and transient populations as well as local families in need. The new unit will especially give attention to needy children of the community.” This program has continued to grow during the ensuing years. As we approach another holiday season, we will see the kettles at several businesses around town, and we will recognize our neighbors ringing those bells. We all believe in the mission of the army- caring for those less fortunate. So as you put your money in the kettles, think of the rich history given to us by the presence of the Salvation Army in Holdrege.

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