At age 91-year-old Beda Addy Dick holds the distinction of being both the oldest member of the Johnson City Salvation Army Corps and its church piano player of the past 17 years.
Every Monday afternoon she plays a one-hour volunteer gig on the electric piano in the lobby of Johnson City Senior Center and after that she attends the weekly rehearsals of center’s Musical Voices traveling choir.
Most Wednesday and Thursday afternoons shes on the road with the Musical Voices, performing at area nursing homes and senior living centers across the Tri-Cities region.
Wednesday mornings she takes part in the Salvation Army’s weekly seniors program and stands ready to entertain her fellow seniors and the Salvation Army staff and volunteers with her piano playing anytime she asked.
Thursday evenings she attend’s the Salvation Army’s Home League Bible study.
And not only is she Salvation Army Soldier, she’s a former US Marine.
At the Nov. 15 kick off of this year’s Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program, Beda was in the crowd gathered to hear a young group of singers from Milligan College help the Salvation Army put mall shoppers in the Christmas spirit.
After hearing a few highlights of Beda’s story, I ask her for an interview for our weekly Meet Your Neighbor feature on “interesting people” in our community. She graciously agreed and as we began negotiating a time and place for her interview and photo, I learned just how busy this 91-year-old dynamo is.
She worked me in and during our interview shared that on Fridays she cleans house and cooks a little. This past Friday her plan was to whip up a cream cake specially requested by one of her grandchildren for Christmas. And on Saturday she would be on the road again with a group of 20 from Johnson City Senior Center center taking in this year’s Christmas musical at Lamp Light Theater in Kingsport.
“They were going and I signed up. I might as well go while I can,” she said. “My neighbors worry about me. I keep getting messages on my phone from them asking me, ‘Where are you? Have you moved some place else?’
“I just keep on the fly. I go and go and go and go, ” she said, stating the obvious.
Most often, Beda goes by transit bus, prearranged for curb to curb pick up and drop off. And she admits there are some Wednesdays that she is too tired or unable to work out transportation for her afternoon trip with the Musical Voices after spending the morning with the Salvation Army seniors. After all she is 91, even if you would never suspect that number while trying to keep up with her.
Born in 1922 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Beda is the daughter of two Salvation Commanders who met in Boston after coming to America separately — her mother from Canada and her dad from Ireland where as a young man he heard the Salvation Army’s founder William Booth speak several times and once shook Booth’s hand.
Her parents left Portsmouth soon after her birth and from there set off on a long course of post commands that took Beda and her younger brother through schools in six different New York state school systems before they finally graduated high school in Cohose.
In 1944, their family was Albany and World War II was still raging when Beda and her brother went together to enlist in the Marines.
Beda, who stood just a quarter-inch short of the Marine’s five foot height requirement lifted up on her toes to meet the mark. But alas, her military career was short lived. One year into her service, she said, “I got sick and when that was over they decided it was best to send me home. I was alright but I was mad because I wanted to stay in.”
Her brother went on to serve four years in the Marines and her first husband, who was already in the US Army when they met in Albany, served four or five.
One World War and two children later, the couple parted and Beda and their two children went to Florida to be near her mother and farther. By then her parents had retired from the Salvation Army and taken up a second career as the chief cook and maintenance man, respectively, at a church summer camp.
While in Florida, Beda married again, had two more children and a long and enjoyable career as a baker in the cafeterias of Pinellas Park schools. “I moved from the elementary school to the high school as my kids came up through the grades. And I was there long enough for two of my grandchildren to come through,” she said.
When her husband, George Dick, retired from Johnson & Johnson, her oldest daughter was working as a nurse in the Bristol area and convinced them to move to Tennessee. “We went to the Salvation Army churches in Kingsport, Johnson City and Bristol because I wanted to see if any of them needed a piano player and Johnson City did.”
That settled it. The couple joined the Johnson City Corps, bought a home in Elizabethton, and Beda spent the next 12 years working in the Salvation Army thrift stores in both cities.
George was sick and Beda had been his care giver for quite some time when he passed away late last year.
“I couldn’t go when he was so sick,” she said. “Now I’m flying the coop. I’ve stayed busy, busy, busy.”