Another Set of ‘officers’
If the walls at the Hilltop Corps in Columbus, Ohio, could talk, they would have nothing on 76–year old Patricia Sexton.
“I was brought here when I was two weeks old,” Pat says. “I’ve been here ever since.”
Pat and her husband, Green, are mainstays at the corps. She is the record sergeant and the couple also runs the feeding program and food pantry.
“I just feel the need to do this and keep busy,” Pat says. “I believe the Lord put me here for a purpose, and until that purpose is done, I’m here. Why not do things around the corps and for people who need it?”
When Pat was in her 60s, she retired from the Giant Eagle supermarket chain, but maintained a relationship with the grocery store that is still paying off.
“We pick up stuff from Giant Eagle four days a week and bring them over here to give to the feeding program,” she said. “If we have anything left, we give it to the food pantry.”
On Mondays, the Sextons pick up bread and pastries for the pantry, which is open Monday to Friday. The feeding program, which draws about 50 people, is on Wednesdays and Fridays. The Sextons are there to help serve.
The Sextons return to the corps on Friday night so Green can call Bingo at the senior fellowship.
If you think Pat and Green might take Saturday off, think again. They come in to clean up and restock the food pantry.
Sunday, of course, is for church.
“We’re basically here seven days a week,” Pat says. “We both enjoy it. It’s keeping us young. Because if we were at home all the time, I think we’d give in to our aches and pains. Here, we don’t have time. We’re always on the go.”
Green, a man of few words, handles the food pantry and makes sure everyone fills out the proper paperwork.
“We put the bread on the racks,” he said. “We also make up bags for people who need the food when they come through. It’s a lot of fun. We get to meet a lot of people.”
Over the years, Pat has also been a junior and senior soldier. She later taught Sunday school, Sunbeams, Girl Guards, and junior soldier classes. Green has also served in a slew of unofficial roles.
“I’ve been a little bit of everything,” he says.
The couple met and married 57 years ago. Green played basketball in a church league at the former Pontiac Corps and Pat attended the now–closed Goodale Corps. Those two corps combined in 1980 to form the Hilltop Corps.
“My sister brought Green out on the kettles where I was working and we met,” Pat recalls. “We dated and then got married on my dad’s birthday.”
Pat worked for the former Big Bear grocery store, which later became Giant Eagle.
“They would offer me different foods and that’s where the feeding program got started,” she said.
Pat said the feeding program is an example of The Salvation Army at its best.
“I’ve done what the Lord expects us to do,” she says. “He tells you in His Word, if you see someone hungry, feed them. If you see somebody in need, take care of them. That’s what we’re trying to do; help somebody that might need it.”
Pat and Green enjoy mingling with the crowd at the feeding program and praying for the various needs they hear about. Sometimes, they’re just there to listen.
“If it makes somebody feel better that someone is listening to them, or talking to them, or saying a prayer for them, then that’s what you should do,” Pat says. “I’ve told our officers time and time again that the feeding program is the best thing we have because you can go around and talk to people.
“There’s people out there who have nobody to talk to. We let people know we’re here if they ever need anything. That’s what they want. They want somebody who is here for them and someone they can go to and have them listen.”
The Sextons show no signs of slowing down in their golden years.
“I don’t have to stop just because I’m a little older,” Pat says. “When I do stop, that’s when I get sick, so I keep going.”
Pat has had her share of health issues over the years, including five strokes. She also suffered a heart attack after falling at church and breaking her hip.
Then there was her bout with uterine cancer, a disease that took the lives of two of her sisters and a daughter.
Pat most recently has dealt with a painful thumb that caused her to be hospitalized. However, when the trials come, she knows where to go.
“Without prayer, you can’t survive,” she said. “There are many times I’ve prayed, ‘Lord, I need your help. Get me through this.’”
The faithfulness of the Sextons has impressed the corps officers, Lieutenants Christopher Hinzman and Nate Deming.
Hinzman, who arrived in June from the Cleveland West Park Corps, said he often wondered during his days in Cleveland how he would fare someday at a smaller corps with fewer soldiers.
“They cover the work of many soldiers,” Hinzman said of Pat and Green.
“It’s just endless service, but beyond the service, it’s their hearts and joy. We make jokes constantly. It’s a great friendship. I’ve come to love them as friends and almost family.”
The Sextons also open the church on Sunday mornings to allow the corps officers to pick up people in a neighborhood troubled by poverty, drugs, and prostitution.
“Pat and Green are the kind of people who, while they’re here, are making coffee and putting out desserts,” Hinzman said. “Sometimes, it’s like having another set of officers.
“They’d be the last people to say they’re ‘something special.’ They’d be the last people to realize how God is truly using them for the people in our community.”
by Robert Mitchell
‘They’re with the Lord’
Pat and Green Sexton have lived through their share of tragedies. They lost a daughter to heart failure and another to uterine cancer, a disease that also claimed two of Pat’s sisters.
The couple has leaned on prayer, each other, and their church family to see them through.
“It wasn’t easy,” Green said.
“For either of us,” Pat added.
The couple, who also has two sons, believes strongly that God has sent messages to let them know their loved ones are in heaven.
“The Lord gave us different signs that they were OK and it was all right,” Pat says. “He called them home and we knew we’d see them again.”
The couple’s youngest daughter, Cindy, died in 1980 at age 13.
“She loved church,” Pat says. “She would go up and down the aisles and sit with people and make friends.”
Her favorite song was “Climb Up Sunshine Mountain.” When the congregation would sing, Pat remembers her daughter going to the pulpit and directing the singing.
When Pat’s father, Earl, was on his deathbed in 1977, he told her he would return for Cindy someday. The night Cindy died, Pat says she had a vivid dream.
“I saw my father walk down a hallway with Cindy and he was holding her hand,” Pat says. “On the other side of Cindy was a man in a long white gown that glowed in the dark. Dad turned and said, ‘See, I told you I’d come back and get her.’ And he did. I knew she was in heaven.”
The couple’s other daughter, Nancy, died of uterine cancer in 2000.
A few years later, Pat’s nephew Steven was laying on a trampoline looking at the clouds when he said, “Nancy is up there with a little girl walking through the clouds. What did Cindy look like?” Pat replied that Cindy had short brown hair.
“He described my daughter ‘to a T’ and he had never met her or even seen a picture of her,” Pat said. “I think God gives us signs that our loved ones are OK and we’ll see them again one day. You know deep down, they’re safe. They’re not going through this world with all this torment and anger and frustrations. You have to let them go.”
Pat said it’s difficult even today thinking about her daughters.
“It brings back the memories,” she said. “They’re not dead as long as we don’t forget them. They’re just in a better place and they’re with the Lord.
“When I complete the task He’s put me here for, I’ll go join them and it will be like they’ve never been gone.”