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Betty ages gracefully

When Betty Hensley was just 12 years old, WWII was on the horizon and she was about to begin her own great adventure.

Her father gave her a golden jackknife to carve her way and a compass embedded in the smooth handle to guide her way through an uncertain path in life. She wore the knife with pride and joy on the broad belt of her new gray and burgundy uniform.

At the invitation of a friend, Betty had become a Salvation Army Girl Guard (like the Girl Scouts) and was excited about the prospect of further decorating her attire with merit badges that would come as a reward for completing the various tasks required to earn them.

Betty and her friends also looked forward to drinking delicious hot chocolate and eating homemade cookies served after school by the Salvation Army women. During the summer months, her parents took their 10 children to enjoy the Army’s band concerts in Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

After Army staffers assured Betty’s parents that she would be well taken care of, they allowed her to extend her stay by attending The Salvation Army summer camp for a week. She had the time of her life.

However, life got tough for Betty. Even before her graduation from Portland High School, she lost her dad; later in adulthood, she lost four siblings; and in 1969, her mother and a sister died.

That same year, the city of Portland decided to build a housing development and, under eminent domain, took the home their family had lived in for 40 years.

During those difficult times, Hensley attended two different churches, but they were eventually torn down and made into parking lots.


Her favorite memory

Today, 78 years later, Hensley’s Salvation Army camping experience remains a favorite childhood memory. Figuratively, her jackknife compass still carves the way and points her spiritually in the direction of the almighty God.

For 30 years, Hensley has been a member of The Salvation Army Portland Corps Center for Healthy Aging. Jan Lavenbein, the center director, and her staff provide music, Bible studies, games, Songster performances, wellness visits from community medical and nutritional professionals, special events and speakers, delicious lunches, and special holiday and birthday celebrations.

In 1992, Hensley became a member of the center and for the next 28 years she formed many friendships that have helped shape a caring and loving family atmosphere. They share their good times and sad times under Lavenbein’s gentle and loving leadership.

Since COVID–19, the Salvation Army’s Portland Corps has been meeting for church in the parking lot. When Hensley was asked if she would like to go to the Salvation Army church where some of her friends from the senior center worship, she replied with enthusiasm, “I’d love to go!” At 90 years old, it feels good to have so many friends that I care about and who care for me too.”

by Mary Irace
Program Development Associate at The Salvation Army
Portland Citadel Corps & Community Center in Portland, Maine