Captain Ruth Wilkerson embodies the Army’s mission to serve suffering humanity in Christ’s name. While working as a counseling supervisor for delinquent girls, she met The Salvation Army in 1980, coming into a deeper understanding of God at the Indianapolis Eagle Creek Corps and eventually becoming its corps sergeant–major.
Ruth, who holds a master’s degree in social work, joined the Indianapolis Harbor Light as its assistant director in 1981. She answered God’s call to officership 10 years later at age 54, a time in life when many others start thinking about retirement!
“To anyone considering officership, I would say, ‘First talk to the Lord and find out what He wants you to do.’ Then do it, regardless of what others say,” she said.
As director of the Tom Seay Service Center in Chicago, Ruth managed 70 employees and oversaw a wide array of support services for the homeless on the city’s near–north side. Among the services provided were mobile and on–site feeding programs, temporary and residential shelter, crisis counseling and 12–step meetings.
Three years later, a nearby corps merged with the Seay Center, and the new entity became the Chicago Uptown Corps, with Captain Ruth as the corps officer. “It was quite a challenge because our current work didn’t stop; we just added more!” she recalled, but her mission never wavered.
In fact, she made such an impact that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago presented its Human Dignity Award to Ruth in 1997 for compassionate ministry to the homeless and hungry. Her administrative and pastoral skills, coupled with purposeful collaboration to build a presence in the community, resulted in Ruth being loved by the people she served and appreciated by neighbors, government officials and partners in the social service, religious and business fields.
Upon retirement in 2005, Ruth moved to Arizona where she became a Sunday school teacher and community care ministries volunteer at the Chandler Corps and began volunteering on the Gila River Reservation, teaching sewing and quilting to Native American elementary and GED students.
To this day she continues ministering to the Pima and Maricopa tribes. God has used Ruth’s loving nature, attractive personality and zeal for the gospel to open many doors on the reservation over the years as students and staff approached her for prayer and counseling.
By Anne Urban