Nonagenarian Still Engaged in Salvation War"Really I’m a very shy person, but I love people; and my heart has always been for the young."
At 93, Della Ellis would still be selling The War Cry to literally thousands of friends she’s made over 50 years. Her tireless work helped finance the mission and ministry of The Salvation Army in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Unfortunately, her legs can no longer tolerate the miles she walked four times each week on collection routes that frequented businesses to barrooms throughout Wayne County and environs.
“I absolutely loved every minute on my routes,” the nonagenarian says. “Selling The War Cry made me the person that I am today—there’s no doubt about it!”
During her eight decades of service as a Salvation Army ambassador, when she was not on one of her collection routes, she was at her beloved Goldsboro Corps. She volunteered for anything needed of her, including Sunday school teacher, youth worker and program director.
Even these days she shares her love for Jesus with neighbors at the seniors’ apartment complex where she lives. Della has a gift for spotting anyone who “needs a shoulder.” “When I was a young girl, we always went to mass because my father was Catholic,” Della says, “but we lived on North William Street just a few doors down from The Salvation Army and once I started going there, I loved it!”
Della explains that she grew up during the Great Depression. Everything was scarce and the neighborhood children knew they would always get a “treat” for going to youth activities. “Sometimes it would just be a biscuit and jelly, but during the depression that was a really big deal,” she says.
And there were a lot of neighborhood children. Della was something of a ringleader, and when something was going on at the corps, she would bring her group of friends with her. The kids enjoyed church at The Salvation Army so much, on Sunday afternoons they “played church,” parroting all that happened earlier that day.
“People at the Catholic church didn’t want me to go to The Salvation Army, and people at the Army didn’t want me to go to the Catholic church,” Della chuckles. “Someone at the parish even talked to me about someday becoming a nun. But then I would have to wear those long skirts and a habit, and I wasn’t about to do that!”
She became immersed at the corps and at age 14 was enrolled as a soldier. That coincided with her “career” selling copies of The War Cry. Captains Charles & Evelyn Sams were the corps officers and Mrs. Sams would always have a cup of hot cocoa waiting on cold days. Besides selling The War Cry, Della loved manning a Christmas Kettle stand in front of Woolworths in downtown Goldsboro. “Sometimes it got so cold, that bell would ring itself!” Della says laughing, referring to her shivering so badly she did not have to put much effort into ringing.
Captains Sams were followed by Captains Willard & Marie Evans, and Della became a part of the Evans family, later moving with them to subsequent appointments in Raleigh and St. Petersburg. She returned to her hometown while in her 30s and further solidified herself as a fixture at the Goldsboro Corps and to innumerable supporters throughout Wayne County.
When asked why she never married, Della is quick to respond: “I never had time to look for a husband!” She adds, “It’s not that I didn’t have boyfriends. I did! It’s just that when they saw how involved I was at the Army, I guess that scared them off!” In a real sense, she admits, she married the Army.
Della’s commitment to Christ through her service in The Salvation Army goes all the way back to age 12, when during a worship service she concluded that just coming to church was not enough. One must believe and commit with all her heart, she reasoned.
So down to the altar she went. When she rose back to her feet, 80 years of service to her Savior commenced. Her secret in making friends is her love for people. “Really I’m a very shy person, but I love people; and my heart has always been for the young.” Hundreds, if not thousands, of young people have been touched by Miss Della’s lovingkindness—from experiences at divisional summer camps to corps youth activities.
As she grew older another of her favorite ministries was Community Care Ministry. She loved walking down the halls of any nursing home, singing a song, knocking on doors, praying with people, making them laugh, telling them she loved them, but more importantly that God loves them.
One former corps officer states: “I couldn’t take Della anywhere without someone recognizing her. It did not matter if it was out to lunch, Community Care Ministry, to the mall or to a doctor’s appointment. Someone knew her everywhere she went in Wayne County.” People recognized her not because she was famous by the world’s standards—but because she is the hands and feet of Jesus to everyone she meets.
When Della finally had to retire, the City of Goldsboro declared a “Della Ellis Day,” complete with local media coverage. An impressive $8,000 was collected for her retirement, but she turned around and donated the entire amount to The Salvation Army.
As she looks back on her long life, Miss Della credits her tenure as a seller of The War Cry as the greatest factor in shaping her character. “When you do something worthwhile long enough, you ‘grow into’ that mindset—and it stays with you forever.”
Major Frank Duracher’s final appointment before entering retirement was as assistant to the editor-in-chief at National Headquarters.