COLUMBIA CITY — While the Whitley County Salvation Army is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, the organization recently received pieces of its past from a local resident. The collection includes historical photos, memorabilia and memories of the organization’s olden days, which will be used by the local Salvation Army as it begins compiling a memory book.
The memory book became a reality approximately two weeks ago when Esther Smith, a life-long Columbia City resident, told Mossburg she had several old photos, newspaper clips and memorabilia which were passed down from her grandmother, Alice White, her aunt, Martha White, and her mother, Ruth Simmons.
“I’ve had them for a very, very long time, and I thought they should go somewhere,” said Smith. “That’s when I realized the Salvation Army could make something of it.”
Although Smith was born in 1957, she has few memories of the Whitley County Salvation Army when it still had a building, located at 109 W. Market St. in Columbia City. Her collection includes several photos displaying much of its early history.
“The Salvation Army technically is a church,” said Smith. “When I was growing up they always remembered us by our bands which played on the Courthouse lawn or by ringing bells.”
Along with her collection, Smith also has some memories of a few things her grandmother did for the church.
“She always tore old sheets and made bandages,” said Smith, “It must have been for mission trips with the Salvation Army. Something else she did was take bread wrappers and weave them to make mats.”
Whitley County Salvation Director Pat Mossburg, she has been hoping someone with this kind of collection would come forward.
“She tells more of the story than I remember,” said Mossburg. “It would be interesting to know how many people in the community would have memories they could share for this book.”
Ken Locke ran the Whitley County Salvation Army before Mossburg and now oversees the organization from Warsaw. The Salvation Army was originally opened in Whitley County by Elgie and Edith (Schaefer) Koughn in 1937.
“When the Salvation Army first came here to Columbia City, they were located at 302 E. Market St., then they went to 113 E. Ellsworth St. and then they went to 109 W. Market St.,” said Locke. “They moved to 109 W. Market St. in February of 1942, and they were there until 1963 when it closed.”
In her collection, Smith has a newspaper photo of the Salvation Army helping people downtown on Van Buren Street.
“Back in those days they had a booth that they would leave downtown and the bell ringer would be down there to try to cut down on the wind,” said Locke.
Smith also has a short newspaper clip from 1961 which describes Nancy Hull, an officer at the Salvation Army, as a chalk walk artist.
“They would draw a picture with chalk, and it would glow in the black light. Usually what they would do is draw a Bible story of some kind,” said Locke.
Smith’s older brothers Carl Simmons and Elmer Stocker are in one of the photos she has held onto. In this photo are several children attending Bible class before the building closed.
“Carl said they closed the building mostly because of attendance and money,” said Smith.
After they closed, Locke said they would have had volunteers that gave out assistance during that time.
“We’re still here, and we have been here in some way for 75 years,” said Mossburg. “We may not have had the physical building like a church or a store, but a representative has always been here to help.”
According to Mossburg, in the past seven years she has worked for the organization, it has had four different locations in Columbia City including the Lembergh Building, the First Presbyterian Church, Eagle Quest and its present location at the First Church of God, located at 1200 W. DePoy Dr.
“Since 2002, we’ve gone from lending assistance to 22 families to 400 families,” said Mossburg.
Mossburg encourages anyone who has memories or photos to visit the Whitley County Salvation Army at the First Church of God in Columbia City or call 248-1711.