To know 71-year-old Marie Ellsworth, a retired major in The Salvation Army, is to love this saint-like woman for all she has done to exemplify the compassion of Jesus Christ as a servant to all of God's children.
Describing herself as a “farm girl from North Dakota,” Marie grew up with a sister in a Christian home and worshiped every week with her parents at The Salvation Army church in Mandan, North Dakota. Every Sunday, she recalls, “Dad would drive us 45 to 50 miles to church – unless the roads were too icy to drive on.”
Sitting recently in the break room of the Independence Corps of The Salvation Army, Marie – dressed in her Salvation Army uniform – shares how “fortunate and blessed” she was to have grown up in a Christian home.
“We didn't have a lot of money, but we did have a lot of love,” she recalls, explaining it was her love of God and others that led to committing her life to full-time Christian service as a Salvation Army officer. After 45 years of dedicated service, the North Dakota farm girl retired in 2011. However, she continually serves The Army as a volunteer, working two afternoons a week at the Independence office of The Salvation Army and one afternoon at The Army's Kansas City headquarters.
As a teenager, Marie pondered her future, wondering where life would take her. But those days of wondering ended abruptly when she received a heavenly call.
“God spoke to me and asked me to become a Salvation Army officer,” she says, recalling the Lord was “ persistent.” But still she thought: “What can a (petite) farm girl do for The Salvation Army, other than help out at meetings and so forth?”
Marie quickly found out. At age 18, she moved to Chicago and attended officers' training for two years before receiving her first appointment to Omaha, Nebraska. Other assignments included Fargo, North Dakota, St. Louis and Chicago. After her mother's death, Marie moved to Independence in 2014 to be near her nieces and nephews who live in Blue Springs and Lee's Summit.
What you need to know about Maria is this: she can't stand to sit and do nothing for very long. Even though a chronic back ailment slows her down a bit, Marie doesn't use her ailment as an excuse to keep her from doing what she does best – reaching out to others and using her God-given talents to bring joy and happiness to those in need in the Kansas City metro area and other locales, such as the veterans' home in Lisbon, North Dakota.
“Part of what I do for others is send notes to veterans, says Marie, whose father was a World War II veteran. “Last year, I got ambitious and crocheted Christmas stockings for the 150 residents and filled them with different (inexpensive) things I had purchased over the years. This year, I am making them Christmas ornaments with the assistance of my nieces and nephews.”
Marie also has a warm, compassionate heart for the 12 families residing at the Independence Salvation Army Crossroads Shelter. Last Christmas, she made a fleece blanket for each family, as well as for each of the 20 residents in The Army's children's center in Kansas City. This Christmas she is duplicating what she accomplished last year – making blankets for the two shelters with her own resources. Since January she has made 32 fleece blankets.
Always anxious to do more for the down-and-out, Marie didn't have to look any further than The Army's Honk n Holler program that ministers to the homeless through its mobile canteen, which is on the streets three nights a week serving hot meals and providing such necessities as gloves, stocking caps, warmers, blankets, hygiene items and, of course, Marie's colorful handmade scarves of various sizes.
“I would like to get more warm gloves and scarves for Honk n Holler,” Marie says, expressing her sadness at not being financially able to do more for the homeless. “I wish I was a millionaire so I could donate more money to assist others.”
Marie remembers being introduced to Honk n Holler for the first time and thinking, “This is a ministry for me. I have a bad back, so it is hard (for me) doing things standing up. But I can sit down and sew (scarves and blankets).”
And sew she did – hour after hour – making up her own scarf patterns “so it would be easy to stop and start,” she explains adding, “I try to make them long enough so that people can cover their heads and wrap them around their necks, too. Last year, I gave (the canteen) a bunch of them. I don't know how many,” she says. “And I don't know how many I have done (this year). I haven't counted them recently.”
Those interested in supporting the Honk n Holler program can do so by bringing such need items as gloves, scarves, stocking caps, hand warmers, blankets, as well as XL or large men's coats to The Salvation Army warehouse, 1110 E. Truman Road, Kansas City, or call 816-471-4337 or 816-898-9830.
-- Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.