Ruth Pryce and Bertha Harris.
Those names are the first thing I think of every year when Christmas rolls around.
They were the officers of the Salvation Army in West Pittston when I was invited to join the Advisory Board in 1985. The following Christmas they gifted each member of the board with two needle point Christmas scenes they had spent months working on. It’s not Christmas in my house until I hang those scenes on a wall.
My entrée to the Salvation Army came by way of a phone call from Thomas R. Davis, since deceased, who ran a hardware store in West Pittston. “Ed,” he began, “you strike me as an altruistic guy …” and I started to wonder where this was going. I soon found out.
While it may sound like I am making this up, the previous Christmas I got wind of a man and his pregnant wife trying to make their way from the south back to their native Vermont, winding up stranded in Wyoming Valley with no money, and being directed to the two majors at the Salvation Army in West Pittston, who fed them, put them up in a motel for the night, and bought them two bus tickets the next morning.
It didn’t take a genius to recognize the Christmas column opportunity in that story and reading it got Tom Davis to thinking.
I often tell of my first board meeting when after hearing the treasury report from Jimmy Condosta, also since deceased, and the meager cash on hand balance of maybe $285, if that, I looked up to find Bertha staring right into my eyes from across the table. “Now you know what you’ve gotten yourself into,” her eyes seemed to say.
At 35, I was the kid on the board, surrounded by some of the most beautiful souls I have ever met. Betty Miller was the legendary president of the board then. Her sweetheart of a husband Coray and I manned many a Red Kettle together during the Christmas season and it was always a pleasure, although he could get a bit uncharacteristically aggressive when urging shoppers not to pass us by.
I love the Salvation Army of West Pittston and can tell any of a number of stories to illustrate why. Here’s one:
Ruth Pryce gave a report at every meeting and she always had a little anecdote to add. One year as Christmas approached she told us how the old van she was using had broken down right in the middle of delivering food baskets. Stranded on the side of a street on a dark, frigid night, with several drop offs left to go, she said it was time to have a little chat with God.
“Lord,” she said, “you know I never question you and if what you want on this cold night is for me to leave the van here and walk home, I am willing to do that. But there are a lot of good people counting on these baskets for Christmas, so if it’s all the same to you, I’d appreciate it if this van would start up.”
With that, she turned the key and the van started.
“You know,” Jimmy Condosta added when she finished, “when my pickup truck won’t start I talk to God too. But not in so many words.”
Of late, I am ashamed to say I rarely get to a Salvation Army Board meeting. They are traditionally held in the morning and I am usually teaching. But I look forward to ringing a bell at a Salvation Army kettle every year and will be doing so this afternoon and evening, Dec. 9, from 3:30 to 8 p.m. outside of the WalMart on Route 315 in Pittston Township. I am fighting a cold so I have to summon some courage. Bur rest assured I will be there.
I will get plenty of moral support from my great niece, Hannah, a 15-year-old freshman at Holy Redeemer, and her mom, Katrina Kern. Hannah has joined me at a kettle every year since she was little. My sister Sheila Kern, Hannah’s grandmother, will be there for the first hour before leaving for a previous engagement she must attend.
If you get the chance, stop by. A little light snow is forecast which will only add to the occasion.
Ruth Pryce and Bertha Harris.