'Mother-Figure' to Memphis Kroc Kids
Soul saving trumps barriers of age and race for Maggie, who found a welcome amid the civil rights struggles of the 60s.
Maggie Robinson has a big family. Besides her four sons, “Miss Maggie” is the self-appointed mother-figure to literally hundreds of children and teens attracted to activities at the Memphis Kroc Corps Community Center (Tennessee).
“I love people,” Maggie exclaims, “and I love telling others who don’t know that The Salvation Army, and our Kroc Corps Center, is also a church.”
Her corps officer, Captain Anita Howell, says that Miss Maggie is “our greatest evangelist” in bringing young people into the Kroc for Sunday worship.
Maggie’s introduction to the Army began under the ministry of Brigadier Gertrude Perdue (Order of the Founder recipient, the Army's highest award) back in the turbulent 1960s, when Memphis was one of many hotbeds of racism across the country. Despite the bigotry of that day, she and her four sons felt “right at home” and “welcomed” at The Salvation Army's Southside Corps. (She later transferred to the Ben Lear Corps when Southside closed—and in 2012 to the Memphis Kroc when it opened.
All four of her sons are still connected to the Army in some way. Two attend a corps in Nashville, one attends in a corps in St Louis and her oldest is Lt. Colonel Lonneal Robertson—the divisional commander of the Northern Division (Minnesota & North Dakota) of the USA Central Territory. She also has a grandson, Lieutenant Will Richardson, who is a Salvation Army officer in the Midwest Division (Missouri & Illinois).
“I was invited to the (Memphis Southside) Corps by Brigadier (Gertrude) Perdue,” Maggie says. “The five of us were among only six black Salvationists here in Memphis during those years—but we didn’t care about that; we were made to feel welcome and my sons loved activities at the Army.”
In the beginning of her connection with the Army, Maggie also kept her membership in another church, and even asked Perdue for permission to take one Sunday a month “off” to attend there.
“She told me we’d talk about it, but then she later said, ‘When we get to Heaven, do you think the Lord is going to say, All you blacks go this way; and all you whites go over here? I don’t think so!’” she says laughing. “That’s all I needed to hear; I’ve been coming to the Army ever since!”
Over the decades, Maggie’s found what many Salvationists in the USA encounter: the general public, by and large, do not know The Salvation Army is a church. She’s always been aggressive in encouraging people to “give the Army a try,” but since the opening of the Kroc Corps, a vast new harvest of potential corps members has opened for her.
Now that her sons have left home, Maggie’s full attention has been turned to what young people she can influence for Christ. A good number of children and teens she’s invited to the corps are now junior soldiers and soldiers—all because of Miss Maggie.
Still, her influence extends to everyone; not just Kroc kids. Dian Brown is a great example of Maggie’s recruitment for the Kroc Corps.
“Like many people, I joined the Kroc Center for exercise and fitness, and later became involved in the Dinner Theater—singing and acting,” Dian says, “but Miss Maggie let me know that they were also worshipping here in the building, so I came.”
Dian, who’s been a Christian since age nine, has found in the Kroc Corps a loving and encouraging environment that further inspires her every week.
“God has allowed me to worship here and be a part of the (corps) family,” Dian adds. “I love it here because the ministry is Christ-centered. I’m not a uniformed member yet, but I’m constantly reminded that I am a soldier of Jesus Christ.”
For all her success in leading young people to the Lord and to The Salvation Army, her heart breaks for those who “fell through the cracks.”
“Some of them got into trouble or were killed,” she sighs, “but I loved them all.”
Maggie also looks back to working at head cook every summer for six years at the Kentucky-Tennessee Division’s Camp Paradise Valley.
“I loved the kids there too, and every so often someone will tell one of my sons that they remember me.”
Miss Maggie is diligent in her role of “spreading the word” about The Salvation Army’s ministry there at the Kroc.
“I tell people that they can exercise here, but that this is also God’s House! I even take them into the chapel so they can get a sense of what it’s like. And often they will come on Sunday,” she says.
“The Lord has placed me here to tell people that this is a wonderful place to worship and serve others. And I tell them they can really see what God can do!”
Maggie chuckles at the thought of being called a mother of the corps—and there are no signs that she plans to slow down as she enters her 80s.
“I love them, and I keep praying, ‘You’ve placed me here for a reason so I have to keep moving!’”