‘He leads me daily’
Juanita Hager is the quintessential Salvationist.
The 80–year–old Piqua, Ohio, woman found her spiritual home at The Salvation Army when she was just seven. During the pursuing decades, she became a sunbeam, a girl guard, a corps cadet, a junior soldier, and a senior soldier. Today, she is the Corps Sergeant–Major for Pastoral Care.
“I’ve been through the whole system,” Hager says. “I’ve played the alto horn in the corps band since I was a teenager.”
Hager and her husband, Cecil, also raised their three children in the Piqua (pronounced pick–wa) Corps.
Major Jody Kramer, the corps officer in Piqua, called Hager a “wonderful, living, breathing example of holiness.” When the corps decided to split its corps sergeant major duties—one person handling the “traditional” role and the other handling “pastoral care” duties—the church thought enough of Hager to give her the latter job.
“Juanita has an amazing capacity for the pastoral care of our congregation,” Kramer said. “She visits with people, calls them, and genuinely cares about each one.”
Hager said she loves the role because her mother, Thelma, was a home health care aide. The compassion for others has always been there.
“At one time, I helped her with being a home health aide. I could see the need that was there,” Hager said. “That was a big start for me.
“Growing up in the Army, you see all of the situations. Going to nursing homes and to other homes, you see the ways the Army helps people. I love it. It’s a part of me. My mom was like that. She was very loving and caring to other people and that’s how I try to be.”
She also learned from other women in the corps, including Marcella Denman, June Supinger, Doris Klohe (Susanne’s mother), Dorothy Carr, Rosella Fair, Evelyn Purk, and Goldie Shaffer.
“Visitation is very important to them because they know I’m a Christian and they know it comes from God,” Hager says. “That’s important to me.
“I think God touched my heart many, many years ago, even before I was a teenager, to be a special part of the Army and an outreach of God’s love and understanding. People need that when they’re going through a hard time.
“It’s wonderful to go around and see the smiles on their faces. That outreach means a lot to all of us. We love doing it.”
Most recently, Hager has been visiting a longtime corps member who is in a nursing home.
“I visit her frequently and we just sit and share,” Hager said. “We talk about family, the church family, and God. We have a lot to share because we have so much in common.”
Hager worked for an Ohio furniture company for 37 years, and later for an attorney, before retiring. Today, she focuses on her church.
“I wanted to spend time doing other special things,” she said.
Being retired also allows her to maintain a vigorous devotional life that keeps her spiritually sharp and ready to make visits.
“I don’t wait for an invitation; I spend time with Him every single day,” Hager said. “God is the center of my life. Whatever I feel He is asking me to do, I try to do it.
“Christ is everything to me. He’s the center of everything I do and say.”
Hager and her husband recently felt God asking them to open their home to an unwed mother and her baby.
“We helped them to get established in every way that we could and to have a place to live on their own,” she said. “Whatever it is, He leads me daily. I try to say and do what I feel God is leading me to say and do. He’s the center of my life.”
At Christmas, the Hagers help around the corps by picking up and distributing Angel Tree gifts.
Hager said you won’t see her in a rocking chair anytime soon. She plans to keep up her special ministry of visitation—and then she hopes someone will visit her someday.
“I’m going to keep going as long as I can,” she says. “I’m very healthy right now. God has been good to me and has blessed me, along with my husband. We’re active and I want to stay that way.
“I love The Salvation Army and what it stands for. They’re a special organization. It’s a wonderful feeling to be a part of that. I want to stay in it until the day I die.”
by Robert Mitchell