Majors John and Judith McCarty have seen the light in people. And they have seen the darkness. In their nearly 35 years of service to The Salvation Army, they both have witnessed more than some people do in a lifetime. On Feb. 1, the couple will retire from the nonprofit they have spent nearly all their adult lives serving.
The McCartys journey started in 1969 when John began a seven-year stint as a minister with the Evangelical Methodist Church. In that time, he preached to ministries in Lubbock, Texas, Columbus, Ind. and Wichita, Kan. Much to the disapproval of the congregation, he and his wife - a fellow Vennard College alumni - began helping people who were less refined than the church officials were accustomed. They accused the McCartys of dragging in riff raff.
"We were doing Salvation Army stuff before we were Salvation Army," John said.
Pictured are Major John and Judith McCarty who have served The Salvation Army for more than 34 years and will be retiring effective Feb. 1.
In 1976, the couple joined The Salvation Army. They began officer training in Chicago. There, the couple learned how to hone their charitable inclinations. They strengthened their tolerance of those on society's fringes. They learned not to demonize them, instead opting for a quiet understanding.
One day while working at the Adult Rehabilitation Center in Waukegan, Ill., a man walked in demanding a check he said the center had for him. But it wasn't there. Disgruntled, he punched John between the eyes before storming off. The next day, the man returned. Again, he asked for the check. It had still not arrived. He examined John's bruised face.
"Did I do that?" he asked, clearly more lucid than the previous day.
"Yes you did," John said from behind blackened eyes. Tape held his glasses together at the bridge. "But you were not in your right mind. I think you were probably high on something."
"Yeah. I was. I was high," the man told him. "I don't hardly even remember it."
Often, John said, people coming into The Salvation Army have a devil-may-care attitude; whatever it is they need, they need it badly, but it's not because they are necessarily bad people. They are frustrated and often counting on aid the charity provides.
John and Judith have worked South Bend, Indianapolis and Munster, Ind. They worked in Chicago, Belleville, Waukegan and East St. Louis, Ill. They worked in Rapid City and Spearfish, S.D., and in Kansas City and Columbia, Mo. The fact that this incident happened outside Marshalltown is irrelevant.
"Human nature is the same across the United States," John said. "They are venting on you because they have been given the round-around it's important to understand their anger is out of desperation. That helps tremendously."
And although the Adult Rehabilitation Center in Waukegan had bulletproof glass at the window and barbwire on the gate, the McCartys felt safe there. God had given them a place they belonged. He needed them there to do His work. The McCartys said they have always felt God's watchful eye looking out for them.
Working in areas like Chicago's north side strengthened their purpose and prepared them for what would lay ahead. Chicago's Adult Rehabilitation Center stands only about a mile from what compiled police reports show is the worst neighborhood in the county. Dealing with people in such a dicey area helped them sharpen their instincts and develop a thick skin. Judith said the couple has developed a sixth sense as to who is phony.
Most people are just looking for a little compassion, John said, to be treated like people instead of freeloaders and malingerers. The McCartys said they sometimes have to combat developing a curmudgeonly attitude. The constant "give me, give me" attitude - the sense of entitlement - some clients have can wear on even the most soft-hearted person, Judith said.
But it pays dividends, she said. It is rewarding to see people change because someone took the time to give them the help they needed to reinvent themselves. Most of that change, she said, comes through a better understanding of their spirituality. Many are hungry for more than material nourishment, John added. They are hungry for transcendent fulfillment.
"If they miss that spiritual food we give them, it throws their whole day off," John said.
The couple has been in Marshalltown for five years. In some ways, they said the town has a unique signature; in other ways, it's more of the same. All the places they worked have had common threads, some of which are quiet telling. Every Salvation Army where they have worked has trouble keeping its toilet paper stocked. People always steal it. But the size of Marshalltown breeds a familiarity in the people here, Judith said. When the McCartys walk down the street, people know who they are.
"Oh hi major," people say to them on the street.
John said Marshalltown's Salvation Army had its best Christmas since he started. But it's time to pass the torch. John turns 66 Jan. 18, and his wife will turn 65 in March. Their children and most of their family live out of state. It's time to make up for missed opportunities. Judith said during her children's youth now-antiquated Salvation Army policies forced her to sacrifice family time for work. It's time to enjoy their Golden Years.
The Salvation Army has yet to announce who will replace the McCartys. The Majors retirement party will be held at 1 p.m. Jan. 5 at The Salvation Army Community Center, 107 W. State St. Community members are welcome to stop in and say "Bye major."