Salvation Army couple is calling it quits Monday Retirement: On Monday, Majs. Frank and Louise Gordon will put aside the mandatory dark blue uniforms they have worn for almost five decades.

January 13, 1998|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Majs. Frank and Louise Gordon raise their index fingers to heaven one last time Sunday and say goodbye to 84 combined years in the Salvation Army.

The gesture is an old greeting among Salvation Army believers, declining in use at the same time the Gordons have observed the institutions of family and community declining.

Since they began in the 1950s, the Gordons' trek has taken them through 15 towns and cities in the United States, winding up in Baltimore, where they have commanded the district since 1994.

"We see the same problems as when we began 40 years ago. But the suffering has increased in intensity," said Frank Gordon.

"The family once was together. We could call on someone in the neighborhood to help. There was a saying in Dundalk: 'Anybody's mother could whip anybody's child if he needed the discipline.'

"Now, there's often no support from the family and people don't know their neighbors. They have so many distractions. They once sat on their steps and talked. Now they watch TV and don't."

He said the underpinnings of the Salvation Army remain the same: "When Gen. William Booth began the army in London in the 1800s, he brought compassion, shelter and food to the poor and abused. This hasn't changed."

The Gordons are retiring at the Salvation Army's mandatory age of 65 in a public ceremony at 3 p.m. Sunday at Middle River Corps Community Center, 1400 Fuselage Ave.

The Gordons will be replaced in June. Until then, the Baltimore staff and Maj. John Falin, divisional commander of Maryland and West Virginia, will direct activities from new local offices at 814 Light St. in Baltimore.

The Gordons conclude that the Salvation Army -- the country's most popular charity in terms of funds donated, receiving more than $700 million a year -- will be needed well into the next century. But they also see hope in several recent trends they have noticed: Welfare to work might produce good results. More parents and teachers want their children to read better. Some people are more accountable to God and their fellow beings. Television can surprise -- even extolling family strength.

Meanwhile, the majors acknowledge no personal career regrets but clutch a sheaf full of memories from a service that began separately for them in 1951 and 1952. They were married in 1955, and began as a team commanding the Salvation Army office in Aiken, S.C., in 1959.

They moved every three or four years, a Salvation Army rule to avoid personality cults. They began at $15 each a week. They end at a combined $350 a week, plus home, furniture, car and phone. With scholarships, their five children went to college.

While helping the afflicted, they encountered good humor. A favorite of Frank Gordon's is the Goldsboro, N.C., boy who bade a departing Salvation Army commander farewell: "We hate to see you go because the more they come, the worse they get."

Overall, Frank Gordon said: "Our life is beyond imagination. God called on us to do things and not sit. The Aiken office looked like someone's garage. You could touch the ceiling. It shook when we played music. I was afraid the building would fall down."

The other extreme was in Dallas. "We started the Carr P. Collins Center, with 11 social services for 500 homeless. It was almost like a carwash for people -- day care to a minimum-security jail. You came in with a problem, we cared for you and you left.

"One Christmas, three homeless Mexican-American girls in our shelter wanted to sing 'Feliz Navidad' [Merry Christmas] to the drunks and other inmates. They sang and the prisoners had tears in their eyes. It was a good Christmas. People cared."

Louise Gordon said of the inmates and others who consider themselves dispossessed: "It breaks my heart when people think they are unloved. God loves all. It wasn't fire and brimstone that brought Frank and me to this calling, but God's love."

Retirement in Phenix City, Ala., will mean the long days and nights of caring for strangers are over.

On Monday, the Gordons will put aside the mandatory dark blue uniforms worn for almost five decades.

They are to occupy the first home they ever owned. They will volunteer. They will live near their children and eight grandchildren in Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina.

They might even develop their first hobbies.

Pub Date: 1/13/98

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