It reads like the plot of a cliché-filled romantic novel, but it’s all true:
A boy and girl grow up two doors from each other in a blue-collar neighborhood on Pine Street in Punxsutawney, Pa.—“weather capital of the world.” The boy is the sixth of nine children; the girl the second of three sisters.
The boy’s mother and father met at a Salvation Army evangelical meeting that his mother was conducting. His father, a recovering alcoholic, turned his life around at the meeting. He becomes an independent Baptist minister, opens a church in Punxsutawney. The girl’s father becomes Sunday school superintendent at the church.
The two families do things together—roller skating, picnics, basketball in the alley behind the two houses. No movies: these are strict Baptists.
Then, on Christmas Day, 1968, the boy’s mother goes into labor with her ninth child, and her husband has a heart attack. Both are taken to the hospital. He doesn’t return. She raises the nine kids, never remarrying. Her husband’s church folds, but soon after his death a Salvation Army representative visits the house, and the family starts going to that church.
The boy helps his mother with expenses, cutting grass and doing other chores for neighbors. Sometimes he finds time to help the girl, who also mows lawns and cleans houses. Meanwhile, they both maintain honor roll grades at Punxsutawney Area High.
Finally—finally!—when she is a junior and he is a year out of high school and working for Eastman Kodak in Rochester, N.Y., they start dating. On the first date, he realizes she is the one for him. (It takes her until the third date.) They marry in August 1981, and settle into a new condominium in Rochester. He is making good money—“More than I’d ever seen,” he says—and she opens a housekeeping business, quickly acquiring 20-plus customers. Their first child, a daughter, is born in December 1982.
If not exactly affluent, the couple from the working-class neighborhood seems poised to achieve the American dream: house in the suburbs, two cars, two or three children, membership in the pool, maybe the country club.
But their lifestyle leaves them with a vague, nagging sense of guilt. She remembers it this way: “We felt we were making money but not doing things for other people, just for ourselves.”
“We felt very selfish,” he adds. “And we didn’t feel fulfilled.”
At about this time, they go back to their hometown to travel with family members to a Salvation Army function in Pittsburgh. During the ride, a church officer tells them of an emergency shelter in Fitchburg, Mass., that’s in need of management. “I think you two would be good at it,” he says.
They return to Rochester, pray on the offer, and decide to change their lives entirely. They move to Fitchburg, a city of 40,000 near Boston, and take over the shelter. He is 22, she is 20.
And so the couple—Tim and Janet Duperree—begins what their official Salvation Army bio describes as “an exciting and challenging journey.” Thirty years later, the Duperrees’ altruistic odyssey has brought them to Delaware. They arrived last summer, Major Tim as director of the state’s Salvation Army organization and Major Jan as associate director. They replaced Majors Michael and Connie DeMichael, who retired.
Like most Army officers, the Duperrees have moved often, leaving a trail of accomplishments in their wake. Prior to formal ministry education, they operated first the family shelter in Fitchburg, then one for battered women in Allentown, Pa. That’s where Jan finally got her driver’s license—at 23—taking the test in a 15-passenger Salvation Army van.
They subsequently graduated from the Salvation Army School for Officer Training in Suffern, N.Y., and became certified grief counselors. Next, they established a new corps (the Salvation Army’s term for church) in Riverhead, part of Long Island. Their last posting was in Pittsburgh, where they oversaw construction of the Pittsburgh Temple Worship and Service Center.
“That was my favorite assignment until now,” says Tim. “We had a blend of social classes, from poverty to the upper class, and we were seeing lives being changed.”
The Duperrees had spent many summer vacations at Rehoboth Beach, so they were somewhat familiar with Delaware. Tim calls coming to the First State “like winning the lottery.”
To hear staffers and board members talk, the couple took to their new assignment with gusto.
“They worked very hard when they first came to learn everyone’s name,” says Geraldine Brown, accountant at the headquarters on Wilmington’s Orange Street. “That helped morale.”
That hasn’t always been the case in the past. “Some majors interacted with the department heads but not as much with the staff people,” says Kathy Gill, director of Children’s Services, who has been with the Salvation Army for 38 years. “But the Majors Duperree are excellent with all the staff.”
Weaned on a strong work ethic in “Punxsy,” the two directors aren’t afraid of physical labor. “They’re willing to do whatever it takes to get everything done,” says Marcus Brown, a part-time Salvation Army employee who helps with the toy warehouse. “The first day I met them, they went into the warehouse and cleaned. I was kind of shocked because a lot of times [officers don’t do that], but they rolled up their sleeves and dug in and got just as dirty as I did.
“They’re exceptional, easy to get along with. They have an open door policy and they don’t mind taking advice,” he says. Sounding slightly incredulous, he adds, “And they actually ask questions.”
Given their duties, the Duperrees no doubt have asked many questions. The programs they’re ultimately responsible for include: Emergency Shelter for Women and Children, Child Care, the Community Center, the Keep a Job program, Family Services, the Food Pantry, the Senior Center, four worship and service centers, Community Care Ministries (including VA and other hospitals), Prison Outreach, Disaster Services, and human resources for more than 100 employees.
One of their first tasks was to freshen up the 56-year-old headquarters at 400 N. Orange Street. Jan took a particular interest in brightening the hallways. She and her two youngest daughters—Katrina, 19, a student at Edinboro (Pennsylvania) University, and Alexis, 16, a junior at Wilmington Christian School—painted cartoon characters and motivational quotes on the walls.
Claire McElwee, vice chair of the board, calls the Duperrees “inspirational.” Noting the hallway artwork, she says the building is now “a more vibrant place.”
The Duperrees also have found time to work on their Salvation Army-owned home, a split-level brick located behind the Wawa on Philadelphia Pike near the Washington Street extension. They’ve torn up decades-old carpeting, sanded the floors and painted, and Jan got out her miter saw to replace baseboard molding in the 60-year-old, 1,950-square-foot house. They also planted a vegetable garden in the small back yard.
Salvation Army couples (officers can only be married to other officers) receive an average salary of about $28,000 (more than $100,000 less than similar positions in industry, according to CareerBliss, an online company that reviews salaries and job listings). The low pay, including slight raises for years of service, is supplemented with rent-free furnished housing and use of a car. Utilities and insurance are included, and officers get
allowances for child care, dry cleaning and uniforms. Furniture—which doesn’t include televisions—is replaced after a specified number of years. The result is a modest middle-class lifestyle. The downside is that officers are on call 24/7, and they can get “marching orders” (the actual term) to move every two or three years.
The Duperrees have readied their home for a hoped-for holiday visit from all four of their daughters and five grandchildren. The oldest daughter, Melissa, lives in Middletown, N.Y., with her husband and two children, while their second daughter, Carrie, and her husband, who are in Mohton, Pa., have three children.
At work, the two directors have been focused on upgrading facilities and programs. They have prepped for a capital campaign to improve the headquarters building, which has a total of four floors that accommodate staff offices, shelter and other facilities. They hope to expand and improve the day-care center and tiny gym, and replace the roof and windows, among other projects.
Kenneth Wattman, a longtime member of the board, says he thinks the Duperrees “are going to be among our best officers. I’m very, very impressed with the enthusiasm and energy they bring to the job. They’re very hands-on and they follow through. They are not sitting in the office waiting for somebody to bring something to them. They’re out getting things done.”
Usually, officers receive new marching orders every two to five years and are reassigned to different posts, sometimes moving great distances. Geraldine Brown, for one, is hoping the Duperrees stay much longer. She’s in her 39th year with the Delaware Salvation Army, and she wants the couple to remain at least until 2019.
“I have six years before I retire,” she says, “and I told them they need to stay here till I leave.”
Helping at Christmas Time—and Year-Round
In Delaware, nearly 8,000 people (about 5,000 in New Castle County) volunteered as Bell Ringers during the 2012 Red Kettle Campaign, raising approximately $450,000 to provide services and assistance to families and individuals in need throughout the year. In addition, in New Castle County the Salvation Army was responsible for more than $1 million in gifts and support during the last Christmas season. This included toys, clothing, gift certificates and food, as well as utility and rental assistance. Most of this support was donated or gift-in-kind.
Other services provided by the state Salvation Army last year: