Tears flowed just minutes into a discussion of farewells.

Capt. Jodi Sladek, 44, could not help it. She and her husband, Capt. Alan Sladek, 55, have poured their hearts into the people helped by the Bartholomew County outreach of the local Salvation Army corps that they have led. And those people have, in turn, poured their souls into the Sladeks.

Come 11 a.m. Sunday, after seven years, the Columbus couple celebrates their final Sunday worship service at their offices at 2525 Illinois Ave. After arriving here from Springfield, Illinois, they are being transferred to the Shelbyville Salvation Army headquarters and begin their new assignment Wednesday.

“I knew this was going to make me cry,” Jodi Sladek said as her eyes grew watery.

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The emotion stems partly from the fact that this was the Sladeks’ first appointment as officers of the worldwide, Christian-based social service and church that specializes in helping the physically and spiritually needy.

“One thing we really wanted to do was establish a real presence here,” Jodi Sladek said. “We wanted people to know that the Salvation Army is more than a red kettle and a bell.”

She referred to the annual Red Kettle Campaign, for which the ministry is best known.

The Sladeks worked with generous local volunteers and donors to help raise more than $115,000 in 2015 — a record for the past few years. Money supports programming such as the corps’ food pantry to utilities assistance and summer camp for youth.

“We’ve had a ball,” Alan Sladek said.

A moment later, he stepped near the doorway when a client saw him and offered a warm embrace.

“You can’t leave,” she said told him.

One of the reasons the couple bonded so easily with clients, many of them struggling financially, is that the Sladeks understand how it feels to be in need. In 2004, when the pair lost their secular jobs, they eventually lost their home before finding help with the Salvation Army and feeling the call to reach out to others.

Yet, the Sladeks and their clients, friends and supporters understand that Salvation Army ministry leader are transferred every few years to keep people focused on Jesus for help and guidance, and not human ministers.

“I just hope that people can see that, in our time here, we shared who and what the Salvation Army truly is,” Jodi Sladek said. “We have built so many wonderful relationships. And I know practically every client walking through that door.”

Salvation Army administrative assistant Nancy Johnson began to cry the minute she tried to put into words the Sladeks’ local impact. Jodi Sladek reached out a comforting hand to touch Johnson’s back.

“They have helped me learn to be loving and accepting of myself,” Johnson said, her voice cracking.

Doug Hollenbeck, a 47-year local firefighter and paramedic, plans to attend the Sunday service to offer a few words about Alan Sladek.

“Actually, I’m going to roast him,” Hollenbeck said with a laugh.

Then Hollenbeck turned serious. He mentioned that Alan Sladek drives the ministry’s mobile food-and-beverage truck to fire scenes at all hours to provide support for emergency personnel, which has assisted them tremendously.

Alan Sladek also has helped him and others cope with on-the-job stress, the fireman said.

“He’s done more for me than just about anyone else on this,” Hollenbeck said, adding that the job sometimes exposes emergency personnel to horrific scenes and awful suffering of others. “He’s just been very special. And he’s very much a calming influence.”

Alan Sladek has learned to mirror the eagle figures that had adorned his office, finding a way to catch the toughest wind to enable the breeze to lift him to go where he needs to.

Sladek acknowledged that he feels emotion much the same as his wife. He simply handles it slightly differently.

Take Sunday’s goodbye service, for instance. He’ll likely watch his wife cry, then go home and allow all the love and well-wishes to move him.

“By Sunday night,” he said, “I will fall apart.”

As they depart, however, both Sladeks assure that the Salvation Army’s local work will continue marching onward.

The new officer

Replacing Captains Alan and Jodi Sladek at the Columbus Salvation Army will be Envoy Amy Tompkins, who is moving from Rocky Mount, North Carolina, with her son and mother.

The Sladeks' impact

Captains Alan and Jodi Sladek have ushered substantial growth of the Columbus Salvation Army since their arrival in June 2010. Here is a quick overview:

  • The food pantry has expanded from two days per week to four, and from serving 200 people monthly to more than 1,000.
  • Bags of Hope, a monthly home-delivery service for groceries, recently began for shut-ins and others with mobility and transportation issues.
  • A weekly youth ministry launched shortly after the Sladeks began, and has continued.
  • A year and half ago, they launched monthly burger-and-hotdog cookouts in front of Rural King on National Road to raise about $200 monthly for the ministry’s missions support.
  • In their first year, they launched a women’s and men’s ministry.
  • They have written their own summertime Vacation Bible School curriculum.
  • They have seen Sunday worship attendance increase from six people their first weekend to a weekly average of about 35 people.
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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.