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Full Circle

Almost four decades after graduation, Barbara Thomson Getz ’75 fulfills a lifelong dream that began at Wheaton. by Liuan Chen Huska ’09

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GetzWhen she began her studies at Wheaton, Barbara Thomson Getz ’75 thought she was training to be a high school counselor.

Instead, after graduation she married Jack Getz, a Salvation Army officer, and joined the Army ranks herself (a requirement for married officers). After Barbara completed her officer training and received her ordination, she spent the next three-plus decades as a Salvation Army officer—and only recently returned to counseling.

The couple’s first assignment took them to Indianapolis, where they started an inner city church and community center. Over the years, they worked across the Midwest in a variety of positions: pastoring churches, teaching at the Territorial College for Officer’s Training (seminary), heading up community care programs, leading a regional youth ministry department, and eventually administering all of The Salvation Army’s work in Minnesota and North Dakota. Always they were looking to answer the question, What can we do to help people in practical and spiritual ways?

Over the years the couple moved frequently. “I would guess we averaged a move every three years,” Barbara says. As a working mother, Barbara also had to balance infinite needs with finite resources. “I realized early on that I couldn’t be Wonder Woman,” she says. The moment of clarity came soon after their first daughter was born. Consumed with the Army’s Christmas ministries, she and Jack realized on Christmas Eve that they didn’t have their own tree up. “I had to learn that there were some things I could do, and others I couldn’t. And the lesson was learning to know the difference.”

After Barbara and Jack retired in 2008, she earned a master’s degree in counseling and currently heads the Officers’ Personal and Spiritual Development department for The Salvation Army’s Southern Territory with the headquarters in Atlanta. In this role, she oversees the personal counseling, leadership and communication coaching, and pastoral care for about 1,400 Salvation Army officers and their families. “All of my life has prepared me for this. It’s definitely the fulfillment of my passion, and the highest use of my experience,” she says.

Despite Barbara’s significant administrative responsibilities, connecting at a personal level remains her focus. “She amazingly keeps regular follow-up contact with those in her care, encouraging and providing answers for fearful, wounded individuals, all of whom intuitively trust her and follow her lead,” says Wendy Gorton Hill ’87, a friend.

Recently when Barbara received a call from a couple who were packing to leave the ministry, she immediately drove several hours to meet with them, to listen and help them devise a plan to address the critical issues. “They just needed someone to understand their pain and frustration and to access the resources available to them,” Barbara says. Today the couple continues in effective ministry.

Jack says, “She has literally saved lives and provided countless expressions of hope for people feeling there was none to be found.” In fact, Barbara says she makes a point of trying to leave people with hope—even if that means simply letting them know she will stick with them.

“That’s the wonder of Christianity,” she says. “There is always hope.”

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