The Salvation Army Andersonville Corps: Service 100 Years Strong
By: Gloria L. Evenson
Officers in navy blue uniforms ringing bells at Christmas time alongside bright red kettles, lively brass instrument ensembles, the War Cry magazine, holiday dinners for the poor and a red and white truck which transports second-hand treasures to resale shops and shelters are all a part of the familiar image of the Salvation Army. Currently serving 92 countries, the Army is by no means a stranger to Edgewater.
According to Lt. Colonel Birgitta Nilson, a Territorial Secretary with the Andersonville Corps for several years, the Army was founded in England in 1865 by a Methodist minister, William Booth.
Booth felt a strong calling to work with the poor of London’s East End and served through the Methodist church for a time. Eventually, he felt God was calling him to a different area than that to which the Methodist Conference (who decides its ministers’ assignments each year) wanted to send him.
Booth left the Methodist Conference and formed an open air ministry, but with the intention of linking converts up with local churches rather than starting a church of his own. “Respectable” Victorian churches, however, did not eagerly embrace the poor. The concept of charity as part of religion was a radical idea at that time. Booth had little choice but to train his converts to aid in the ministry, and the Salvation Army was born in a war against poverty.
In 1880, the Salvation Army came to America, with the arrival of a team of one man and seven women in New York. The present Andersonville Corps began in October 1890 at 4748 Austin Avenue, Moreland, Illinois. The Corps had a total of 17 different locations, including 1614 W. Winnemac and 5056 N. Ashland, before the present site at 1473 W. Berwyn was chosen in August 1920. Lt. Hylt was the first commanding officer, serving from 1890 to 1891.
Originally known as the Edgewater Corps, the group changed its name to “Andersonville” in 1966, when the Clark Street Business Men’s Association became the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce in efforts to promote the neighborhood’s Swedish heritage.
For many years, the Andersonville Corps served a Swedish immigrant population and a Swedish radio ministry was even taped at the 1473 W. Berwyn location, with a Captain Cai Ruein as a frequent speaker. When the ethnic makeup of the neighborhood changed, so did that of the Corps. Appalachians became familiar faces in the 1950s and ’60s and, in the 1980s, Assyrians, Blacks, Cambodians and Hispanics were among those added.
Despite the austerity of uniforms and military titles, Andersonville Corps officers and their message are cheerful and uplifting, teaching of a God who forgives and cares about every aspect of a person’s life. This ministry to the “whole man,” says Lt. Colonel Nilson, is a basis of Salvation Army philosophy. An extensive youth ministry has also long been part of the Andersonville Corps, with emphasis on character building and future officer training.
The Salvation Army logo shows a crown (symbolizing victory) atop a seal containing a cross, the letter “S” (for salvation), two swords and the words “blood” (of Jesus) and “fire” (of the Holy Spirit). Logo colors of blue, yellow and red symbolize purity, fire of the Spirit and the blood of Christ, respectively.
A notable in Andersonville Corps history is Ensign Henry Rostett, who served in 1924 and later received a rare Order of the Founder for work in Haiti during the early 1950s. Also honored are Augusta Engdahl and Mildred Olson for visitation and prayer ministry. Mildren Olson was active in Swedish services at the Bethany Methodist Retirement Home, now at 4950 N. Ashland, the Corps’ annual Lucia program and the forming of a Salvation Army outpost at Wilson and Sheridan (which was replaced by the Tom Seay Center at Wilson and Sunnyside in 1973).
Favorite annual events of the Andersonville Corps are a multi-cultural fest in the spring and a traditional Swedish Lucia program in December.
In warm weather, there are good old fashioned street meetings on Sunday evenings at Clark and Berwyn, complete with singing, musical instruments and a service to follow in the church building, led by Major and Mrs. Roy A. Mills. And, of course, Christmas time just wouldn’t be the same without the familiar sights and sounds of the Corps on our street corners.
So, as you toss your offering into those bright red kettles this holiday season, remember to give generously - as the Salvation Army’s Andersonville Corps has been doing for the past 100 years.