History of The Salvation Army in Marion, Indiana
On June 4, 1899, The Salvation Army officially opened the Marion Corps in a tent on Second Street near Boots Street. Since then, The Salvation Army has never left the city of Marion, continuously operating in it longer than in any other city in Indiana, with the exception of Michigan City and Muncie. The first public evidence of the Army’s welfare activity was in a December 1899 newspaper article in which the Army asked for three barrels of apples for the needy. The earliest-born Salvation Army soldier from Marion was John F. Smith, born 1842, who at the time of his death in 1946 was Indiana’s oldest Civil War veteran. A photo taken circa 1910 shows that Marion had a nine-piece Salvation Army brass band, and an early twentieth-century postcard photo shows a Salvation Army band holding an open air street meeting outside the Home Corner Grocery. In 1913 the Army building was used to house victims of a major flood in Marion. Captain Roy Marshall used his horse and wagon to collect food and clothing and to transport flood victims.
The Salvation Army changed addresses at least eleven times during its first twenty years in Marion, but when it obtained property at the corner of Fourth and Branson Streets in 1921, the Army remained on this corner for fifty-four years. Captains Peter and Mary Vander Vliet were stationed in Marion from 1936-1943, bringing a sense of stability by their long stay. The building they worked out of was old and dilapidated. Many of the people attending Sunday School had to sit strategically when it rained, just to stay dry. Captain Vander Vliet was one of Indiana’s top cornet players at the time and the Army meetings were filled with music. The Army distributed clothing from a small rummage room next door. In 1943 the old buildings were torn down and the Army rented 107 South Washington Street for the next eight years while the Army raised funds to build a new hall on 4th and Branson Streets.
By 1944 a milk truck was donated to the Army and converted into a mobile canteen. It was used to serve food to the 62,000 World War II servicemen who were on board trains that stopped in Marion. The train depot was near The Salvation Army, and Salvationists typically handed out lunch packs, cupcakes, doughnuts, coffee, cigarettes, matches, pencils and paper, at all hours day and night. A large urn was filled with items daily and left at the depot as well, for the few trains Salvationists couldn’t meet. On a few occasions Salvationist servers didn’t get off of a train in time and had to be retrieved from Peru and other towns down the line! By the end of World War II The Salvation Army conducted hospital services twice a month and weekly song services at the Veteran’s Hospital. For a time, three Salvation Army radio shows were broadcasted each week on WBAT, featuring Salvation Army band music.
By 1947, the Marion Christmas campaign incorporated a money-raising gimmick called “Mile-O-Dimes” outside of the J.C. Penney Co. on the courthouse square. Passersby would place money on a long table and see how far they could extend the line of coins. As an added touch, bellringers in a booth would play phonograph records and ask for donations over an outdoor P.A. system. This became a tradition that continued at least into the 1970’s. The mayor traditionally kicked off the Christmas campaign with a few words and the donation of a silver dollar. There were three kettle locations, and all were downtown: J.C. Penney, Hills Dept. Store, and Montgomery Ward. In 1948 Captain Bill Benton put together a 24-member youth brass band in Marion. Some of the young people became very accomplished musicians, particularly Bob Miller on trumpet and Jim Davis on piano. Major William Hodson became Marion’s next Corps Officer and under his watch a new corps building was built and dedicated in 1951. The Marion Salvation Army experienced growth in the 1950’s and the congregation soon had trouble fitting in the new building. Service Club participation increased for the Christmas effort and the Lions and Kiwanis Clubs assisted in packing and distributing Christmas baskets.
On Palm Sunday 1965, the deadliest tornadoes in Indiana history ripped through the state, and Marion was not spared. The Army served the hundreds who were affected. In 1966 The Salvation Army in Marion organized a Men’s Club and it is active to this day. From 1966 through the early 1970’s, Salvation Army officials conducted the Labauch Literacy Program and taught many people how to read. A couple of Marion SA soldiers entered Chicago’s School for Officers’ Training in the late 1960’s and a ten-member Girl Guard troop was started while Captains Harry and Marjorie Smith were in Marion. Captains Loren and Janice Carter came to Marion in 1976 and stayed six years, conducting Army work from three different locations by the time they moved. The City of Marion bought the Salvation Army property in 1979 and the 28-year old corps building was demolished to make way for a new City Hall and Police Station. The Army bought the former HighlandElementary School, but soon moved again, purchasing the former SeventhDayAdventistChurch at 2001 South Gallatin Street in 1981. This was home to the Army for the next 19 years.
The thrift store in South Marion was struggling financially and was turned over to the Fort WayneAdultRehabilitationCenter. It has since closed altogether, although the corps occasionally holds rummage sales and flea markets. From the 1960’s-1990’s, veterans from the VA hospital built high-quality wooden toy trains, planes, and rocking horses, which were distributed to children at The Salvation Army’s Christmas toy give-away. Christmas kettle locations disappeared from the downtown area and were relocated to businesses on the bypass. The Marion Evening Exchange Club became a perennial winner of the top bellringer award during the last twenty years, raising thousands of dollars each year.
During the 1980’s and into the 2000’s, the Marion corps was often represented at Marion’s annual Christmas City Parade and won a few awards with its timbrelists, band, and floats. The band also marched in the James Dean Festival Parade in Fairmount. Marion became a rather popular location for Salvation Army officers to retire and at least a dozen have called Marion home during the past twenty-five years. In the 1990’s IndianaWesleyanUniversity was chosen to host statewide Salvation Army events such as Indiana Music Day, Music Conservatory, and Officer’s Councils. The Chicago Staff Band has performed in Marion at least three times. AsburyUniversity’s Salvation Army Student Fellowship Band also visited Marion, playing at the Phillippe Auditorium, the Matter Park Band Shell, and at the dedication ceremony of the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Way in 1998.
Around that time Marion once again faced a major flood and The Salvation Army canteen served numerous meals and drinks in the downtown area for weeks. Not long after, a tornado ripped through a new subdivision in Greentown and again, Marion personnel went to work. The old Marion canteen’s longest trip was made aid victims of the Mississippi flood of 1993. The Salvation Army responded to area fires, floods and tornados, and also served annually at local events, such as the Easter Pageant, Old Folks Day, and at Christmas City Parade and Walkway of Lights. After years of seemingly constant repairs, Marion’s canteen truck was finally retired in 2006. Since that time, there have been responses to a few disasters using other vehicles.
As Indiana Wesleyan University attracted Salvationists to Marion in the late 1990’s, a Salvation Army Student Fellowship was organized. This culminated in the acquisition of a house on campus which was used as a Salvation Army student center. Its keys were handed back over to the university in 2011 and the house was soon demolished to make way for campus growth. Among the number of Salvationists who attended IWU at that time, Salvationist Tanya Hedberg was Principal Cornet in the IWU Wind Ensemble for four years and went on to play in the Chicago Staff Band. The Salvation Army’s National Commander, Commissioner John Bassett, spoke at Commencement and received an honorary degree at IndianaWesleyanUniversity in 2006.
By the early 1990’s the city gave Emerson Elementary school property to The Salvation Army in hopes it would build a new corps building there but Headquarters didn’t allow this because the property wasn’t large enough. Eventually the Army worked with the Marion Housing Authority to build transitional housing units on this property. The MHA built and maintained the units while The Salvation Army handled the casework. After a few years the Army relinquished the property to the Housing Authority. In the meantime, the Army bought five acres on the corner of Bradner and Spencer Avenues for future development. During 1999 the Army built its current corps building at the corner of Spencer and Bradner Avenues. 1999 marked the Marion Corps centennial, but the celebration was held off until 2000, when the new corps building was completed. Territorial Commander, Commissioner Harold Hinson, led the service.
Susan Pettiford’s “Upfront Ministry” teamed with The Salvation Army during the late 1990’s. For a time, Sunday night worship services for ex-offenders were held in the Army hall, and Susan, with the Army’s backing, organized a few community-wide worship gatherings at MatterPark band shell, each of which attracted hundreds from various Marion churches. These events promoted Christian unity and racial reconciliation. When Marion’s Walkway of Lights developed into one of the Midwest’s largest civic Christmas light displays, The Salvation Army entered its own display featuring a lighted super-sized kettle hanging from a tripod, and this is now an annual tradition. It took the place of the Army’s “Tree of Lights” which had been located near North Park Mall, a large, lit Christmas tree promoting our Christmas fundraising effort.
When Major Gerald and Captain Louise Rowland were transferred in 2002, they had become the longest-serving officers of the Marion corps, having put in nine years. Just after the Rowlands transferred from Marion, Major Gerald Rowland found he had cancer and within a year he was promoted to Glory. In 2004 Marion’s chapel was rededicated as the “Major Gerald Rowland Memorial Chapel.” Marion music groups continued to be active, performing in nursing homes and at the Veteran’s Hospital, and taking annual trips to perform in other cities in Indiana as well as annual programs at HartfordCity’s Civil War Days. In 2008 the Marion Corps Band and Songster Reunion drew many past members and past officers from three states.
Under volunteer Ben Medows’ direction the food pantry ministry greatly expanded and the pantry moved out to a large pole barn, making it among the largest Salvation Army food pantries in the state. Another Salvation Army volunteer, Mary Smith, was a caseworker for the Salvation Army and was awarded Indiana Divisional Volunteer of the Year in ca2002. During the 2000’s the Christmas Angel Tree program and family adopting became popular, but the Army continued its traditional food basket and Toyland programs. During the ten years 2002-2011, Marion had six different sets of officers. In recent years The Salvation Army used its gym for a neighborhood drop-in center, and offered a summer lunch program.
Currently The Salvation Army provides year-round assistance to people in need as it has funds available. The Salvation Army now serves Grant County with Emergency Assistance for utility bill and rent assistance, food pantry, lodging, gasoline, referrals, scouting and music programs, men’s and women’s clubs, church services, meals, and counseling. A summer camp experience is offered to kids and families at a token price of $25 per camper for three to five days at Hidden Falls, a 700-acre camp in Southern Indiana. Fresh out of Training College and newly married, Lieutenants Jason and Dana Bigelow became corps officers in June 2011, serving for five years in the community. Lt. Blake Fewell, a 2016 graduate of the Training College, assumed command of the corps in June 2016 and continues the mission today.
May God bless the work of The Salvation Army in Marion for many years to come!