Grandmother Bode says she gets tired once in a while but never gets discouraged.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Willis Pearl Bode, known as Mrs. Bode or "mom" or "grandmother" to a lot of kids for a lot of years at the Mahoning County Juvenile Justice Center, is the Salvation Army's 2001 Chaplain of the Year.
Bode, a Salvation Army soldier, received the award during the Salvation Army luncheon at the American Correctional Association Congress of Correction in Philadelphia last week. The award was presented by Commissioner John A. Busby, national commander of the Salvation Army.
Bode, 78, was recognized for her 45 years of volunteer service providing church services, Bible study classes and counseling to children at JJC on East Scott Street and formerly the Juvenile Research Center at Parkwood and Oak Hill avenues.
Reaction: She said she was "shocked and surprised" when she learned she was to receive the award.
"I'm not a person who does things for praise. I don't like to be noticed. It's the Lord's work and I give him the praise.
Regarding the award, she said "I just thanked them for considering me."
Bode and her late husband, William Sr., got involved in the Salvation Army after their children started manning the donation kettles at Christmas time and participating in the Salvation Army's youth program.
James Lowe, director of the JJC, said Bode has been "a godsend." It doesn't matter what [crime] they are in for, she treats everybody the same. She's even been known to travel around the state if kids she has counseled here call for help, Lowe said.
How she started: Bode also considers the JJC ministry a godsend of sorts. She and her husband began the JJC ministry after she nearly died from meningitis and was in a coma for five days.
While in the coma, she said she "walked with the Lord. God said I have a job for you to do. There is no one to do services at the Juvenile Research Center. I promised to do it if he would heal me."
"I'm there every Sunday afternoon with ministers from the community. We have Bible study every Wednesday night and social events the third Saturday of each month. I'm on 24-hour call and I do counseling for the children and their families," she said.
She kept the ministry going after her husband's death and for all these years because of her promise to God. "I'm afraid to quit," she said.
"Our goal is to give the kids a goal of going to high school and college and giving something back.
"I never get discouraged. I might get tired once in a while, but once you go into the center and see the kids, your heart breaks."
The most important thing is that youth should have a chance. It isn't always just the youth that have the problem. It's family and parents too, she said.
"Grandmas are very important to help the kids I deal with get ahead. I get phone calls and letters asking can you help me finish my goal," she said.
Life story: Work and being active have been Bode's trademarks all her life.
When her husband was in World War II, she was a welder at Truscon Division of Republic Steel and a riveter at General Fireproofing making airplane parts.
After her husband died in 1969, she stayed home to raise her small children. But, when Social Security for the children ran out, she went to Kent State University to study to be an activities director. She then worked 17 years as activities coordinator at Covington House on Wick Avenue, retiring in 1988.
Over the years, she and her husband had seven children and 15 foster children. "We never knew who was going to be around the dinner table," her son, William Jr., said. He is a major with the Salvation Army in Massachusetts. She has eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Twenty-five years ago, Bode founded the Original Christian Fellowship for widows and divorced and singles, which still meets once a month, and she is a volunteer counselor for Help Hotline.
"I'm into anything the Lord calls me to," she said.
Born in Scranton, Pa., Bode moved to Youngstown as a child, graduated from South High School, and lived on a farm on Calla Road in North Lima before moving to Canfield 46 years ago.