Majors Gary and Patty Elliott, the Salvation Army officers sent here from the agency’s Tennessee/Kentucky Division headquarters in 2009 to put the struggling Johnson City corps back on its path, are leaving town today for six months of sick leave and possible retirement.
Commissioners James and Ruth Osborne, retired commanders of the national Salvation Army organization, will take over as the corps’ interim commanders Feb. 6 and stay until new commanders are assigned in June.
“My doctors discovered some things and they absolutely insist I take a few months off to find out what’s up. We’re going to north Georgia for six months’ sick leave. Then we’ll re-evaluate things,” Gary Elliot said.
After nearly 2½ years in Johnson City during which they returned the local corps to financial stability, made several major improvements to its property and led three of the largest Christmas campaigns in the corps’ history, the majors’ departure is bittersweet.
“We certainly do have mixed feelings,” Elliott said. “This was not how we intended our career to end, if it is to end. We came here expecting to finish here after a couple more years.
“The medical report came as a surprise, although it did clarify some things I was experiencing. Being out of such a demanding environment does improve your health. So I’m going to try not to think about it for a few months.”
As for the health of the corps they came here to revive, the Elliotts credit the local Salvation Army staff and the community for what has been accomplished.
In contrast to when they arrived in early October 2009, the corps is paying its creditors on time and is operating in the black. Its thrift stores have been reconfigured and are earning revenue. There’s a new roof on the Charles O. Gordon Center of Hope that houses the Salvation Army shelter and kitchen and on the army’s administration building across the street from the shelter.
A new central heat and air system has been installed in the administration building and in downstairs space in the building previously used for storage there’s a large new social service office and pantry. A covered entrance to the new office has been opened on Ashe Street. Next door, the city has demolished an abandoned and deteriorated building and built a small gravel parking lot with access to the Salvation Army offices.
Inside the Center of Hope, more shelter beds have been added in the space vacated by the old social services office and pantry. A new Veterans Affairs per diem grant for a housing and transitional support for veterans is helping cover the cost of the shelter’s operation.
In the delivery of services, including emergency and transitional shelter for men, women and children, food, clothing and assistance with utilities and rent, Elliott said, “Services have increased because demand has increased and because the community has helped us meet that. There’s no question that things are still tough in the economy and people are having it tough. That puts more demand on us and the community has been very generous with us.
“People give us credit for a lot of things but the work of the army, that’s providing food, shelter, clothing and the other assistance we provide with rent and utilities to people who need it and asking the community to help, is actually done by the staff.
“The staff here does that very well. They do it exceptionally well and they are here doing it every day, networking with other agencies to meet the demand because no one agency alone can meet all the demand there is alone. The community sees that and rewards the agencies with their support and volunteering,” Elliott said.
“We’ve had a lot of good reception from the community and we do want to thank the community for their generous support they have given the army in many ways. We have a healthy army here because of the community’s support.”
From his observation, Elliott said, “The people in need in this community really have a community that steps up to help them. The climate here is prime for positive change.”
As they hand over the corps’ command, Elliott said, “Everything’s not perfect but we’ve made progress and the best we can ask is that we pass it on a little better than we found it.”
While officially retired, James Osborne will bring more than 65 years of experience in Salvation Army leadership to Johnson City, including service as the U.S.A. national commander from 1989 to 1993 and commander of the U.S.A. Southern Territory from 1986 to 1989. Ruth Osborne is former president of the Salvation Army’s National Women’s Organizations and is the only Salvation Army officer to have served as chairwoman of the Executive Committee of the Veterans Administration Voluntary Services.
Patty Elliott described the Osbornes as “a lot of fun, very experienced and recognized nationally for excellent leadership. It’s good to have them coming in for the transition,” she said.
The Elliotts are looking forward to turning their focus to their new home in Adairsville, Ga. “This is the first home we’ve owned in 30 years,” Gary Elliott said. “It has a big yard to mow and there’s a big fishing hole across the street.”
The Elliotts also have a daughter who lives in nearby Atlanta and they are looking forward to spending more time with their family.
“We’ve been married 43 years and we have had a great 28 years with the army,” Gary Elliott said. “We arrive at this point very happy with what the Lord called us to do and with the opportunity for service the Salvation Army provided us.”