Half a century of miracles

By Robert Mitchell

Suffering from cerebral palsy growing up, Diane Kearney didn’t have a lot of friends and was often teased. Her family came to The Salvation Army for financial help and Diane found a permanent home, recently marking 50 years as a volunteer at the Kingston, N.Y., Corps.

“I was the kind of kid a lot of the other kids didn’t want to be around because I was disabled a little bit,” Diane recalled. “At The Salvation Army, everyone overwhelmingly accepted me. No one made fun of me. I became a ‘corps kid’ because my parents didn’t come. I found unconditional love and acceptance.”

Diane, who was just 12 at the time, put her faith in Christ during a Youth Councils meeting in Maine in 1969. She also attended Sunbeams, camp, Sunday school, and even played the cornet in the corps band for a while as a youngster.

The Salvation Army also taught her about volunteerism and service and since 1973, the year she turned 16, Diane has taught Corp Cadets and Sunday school, stood kettles, and served as women’s ministry secretary and chaplain. She has also served in League of Mercy visiting shut-ins, toiled in the corps soup kitchen, and taken part in door-to-door ministry. She even preached a few sermons when her corps officers were away and considers herself a “prayer warrior” for the corps.

“I believe God called me into the organization when I was 12 years old,” Diane says. “It’s kept me going. It’s given me a purpose in life. God has used me, and I’ve seen a lot of miracles in my life that I wasn’t supposed to see.”

She’s an overcomer

Doctors said because of her disability and brain damage, she probably wouldn’t graduate high school, but she proved otherwise, graduating from Kingston High School in 1976.

She was told college was absolutely out of the question, but, again, Diana beat the odds and earned an associate’s degree in social work from Ulster County Community College.

“God is a God of miracles,” Diane said. “I often say out of my 50 years volunteering, I’ve been able to stand because I’ve learned to trust God and depend on His word.”

Because of her disability, Diane can’t drive and depends on rides or walks the 3-mile round trip from her home to the corps. Now 66 and retired as a home health aide, Diane is there five days a week every morning and early afternoon to work in the soup kitchen preparing to-go meals.

Food insecurity in Midtown Kingston is a major issue and Diane said her “love for God” motivates her to help the city’s neediest. Over the years, she estimates she has served more than 400,000 meals and has no plans to slow down anytime soon.

“I’m retired now, so it gives me a place to go,” she said. “I’m the kind of person who likes to feel like they’re helping people and it gives me a good feeling to know I’m helping somebody.”

During the Christmas season, it’s not uncommon to see Diane dressed neatly in her senior soldier uniform and hat, standing kettles at the Price Chopper supermarket in nearby Saugerties, N.Y.

“I don’t stand outside anymore,” she said. “I like talking to people. I also like seeing how people interact with me after I’ve asked them how they’re doing. It’s just nice to know you’re helping someone.”

A strong Salvo

Diane is a huge believer in The Salvation Army mission and has attended various events over the years, including an international congress in London in 1990, as well as other meetings in New York City and Ocean Grove, N.J. She has personally met three of her favorite Salvation Army generals: Clarence Wiseman (1974-77), Arnold Brown (1977-81), and Eva Burrows (1986-93).

She has served under 14 different officer couples over the years and can name them in order. Her current leader, Captain Erik Muhs, said he and his wife, Captain Barri Vazquez-Muhs, believe Diane “personifies a remarkable soldier in touch with the Holy Spirit” and they are impressed with her work ethic.

“From the moment we arrived here, Diane has been a great spiritual leader and an advocate for all people and an example of personal holiness,” Muhs said. “She has been faithful to the Lord and The Salvation Army. Not many 66-year-olds come to a job every day they don’t have to.”

While her life has not always been easy, Diane said she clings to the words of the song “Through It All” by Andrae Crouch:

“Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God. Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to depend upon His word.

“That kind of sums up my time with the Army,” Diane said. “I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without the Army to be honest with you. They’ve given me unconditional love and caring and opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”