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First, order bigger kettles

The Salvation Army recently announced that philanthropist Joan B. Kroc, widow of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, bequeathed about $1.5-billion to the charity when she died last fall. The donation is believed to be the largest single contribution to a charity. Kroc slated the money for upscale community centers with athletic and educational programs.

The project will propel a penny-pinching organization known for collecting quarters and dimes to another level of community service. It may take six months to a year before we know whether the Tampa Bay area will get any of the money. In the meantime, we may have a lot more to learn about the Salvation Army, which is also a Protestant denomination with 500,000 members in the United States.

The Times talked with Steve Dick, director of development for the Salvation Army Florida Division. His office is in North Tampa.

Times: What's the atmosphere been like at the Salvation Army since the donation?

Dick: It's an exciting story in the fact that someone saw fit to bestow on the (Salvation) Army this gift. It also, I think, is a little scary because it's an enormous responsibility to deal with that amount of money and to carry out the wishes of that donor.

Times: The change-takers outside of Wal-Mart and Publix, are they the image the Salvation Army wants to continue to portray?

Dick: The Salvation Army, its image is of an organization that is well-managed, well-organized, committed to using donations to its best opportunity, in making that dollar go as far as it wants to go. Peter Drucker, a management guru, has named the Salvation Army the best-run charity in the country. . . . (Forbes) has the Salvation Army as one of the top 10 charities in the country regarding use of funds and the administration of using that money to provide services. So I think we want to be seen as a relevant, well-organized, community-based organization, and at the same time, we're not tooting our own horns, so to speak. We want to keep the humble roots of who we are part of that, you know, that simplistic view of the kettle-bell ringer on a street corner raising change to help provide service to the less fortunate. That goes back to the early days of the Salvation Army in the 1890s and has proven to be an icon of Salvation Army Christmas fundraising. I think we still want to hold on to some of that image because that's a simple way.

Times: One thing people may not know is that the Salvation Army is a church.

Dick: First and foremost, that's what we're all about. We are a religious denomination founded in 1865 in London, England. William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, his first objective and first goal was to minister to the spiritual needs of people. He was a Methodist minister prior to his idea of creating the Salvation Army and felt a real calling to the less fortunate people of the East End of London, England, who at the time were unchurched. He felt a calling to work with them and first provide them a hot meal or warm clothes and then, by meeting their physical needs, he could then talk to them about their spiritual needs. And out of that beginning formed the idea and the concept for the Salvation Army.

Times: So you have regular Sunday services with a choir and all?

Dick: Yes, we have a choir group, senior groups, we have choirs for young people and little children. We have brass bands that provide music there in the Salvation Army worship service. The brass band is kind of a traditional instrument or a traditional way of presenting music in a Salvation Army church. Going back to the early days of the Army in London, part of William Booth's outreach was going out to the street corner and preaching. There was a family called the Frye family who brought their instruments along one day to draw attention. And when people heard the music, they crowded around William Booth. . . . And so, brass-banding became a part of Salvation Army ministry and, in fact, many young people who come to the Salvation Army church are instructed in brass music, as well as vocal music. We have a number of renowned instrumentalists who were Salvation Army-taught. For instance, the principle trumpet player in the New York Philharmonic (Philip Smith) is a Salvation Army product. The principle trumpet player in the Chicago Symphony (Mark Ridenour) is also a product of the Salvation Army.

Times: Are most church members people served by the Salvation Army?

Dick: I think in some locations, depending on the size of the community and where the facility is, you would find some of the people who have been served by the Salvation Army in the congregation. But you would find most any type of cross section of representation in the Salvation Army church: business people, teachers, middle class individuals, as well as people who may be of less economic scale.

Times: About how many members?

Dick: The average Salvation Army center probably has anywhere between 75 and 100 in its congregation.

Times: Humility, frugality _ so those are part of your spiritual beliefs?

Dick: I think we're very cognizant of the fact that, as good stewards of people's money, we want to make sure that that money is put to its best possible use. As far as Salvation Army officers who are ministers in the Salvation Army, they receive what we call an allowance, which is not very much money. There are no negotiations in regard to what a Salvation Army minister receives. It's all based on years of service, and it probably runs about $20,000 a year, if that. . . . So there is a frugality in the fact that I think the lifestyle that the officers live of humility and trying to be stewards of money that it's not spent lavishly. Now, our facilities are well-kept, they pride themselves on cleanliness. . . . But you wouldn't find anything real extravagant.

Times: No gold toilet seat covers?

Dick: Oh no, none of that.

Times: So where are your state offices in Tampa?

Dick: We're kind of back in a neighborhood. You wouldn't even know we're here. We're in a facility we've been in probably for 30 years. . . . At one time, the facility we're in now was an old home and hospital that the Salvation Army ran for unwed mothers back in the '50s and '60s and early '70s. When we got out of that service delivery, we moved the state headquarters from Jacksonville to this facility here. So, when you walk into it, you can see the double-swinging doors that hospitals have.

Times: We won't find a Mercedes or any Lincoln Navigators in the parking lot?

Dick: No. If they do, then somebody else in the family must have a good job, 'cause I don't drive one of those.

Times: What do you drive?

Dick: I drive a Chrysler, but I have to pay for it myself.