Sept. 28, 2008 — As bright sunlight broke through the rain Saturday morning, the Salvation Army Southwest Division Youth Band filled Emancipation Garden with vibrant sounds.
Seated on the gazebo in a circle facing bandmaster Ralph Pearce, the youngsters played to the raindrops, to the sun, to the folks huddled under umbrellas in the rain, to onlookers crowded in the back of the gazebo and, most of all, to honor their mission: "Working together to do the most good."
The performance highlighted the army's three-day fund drive for the expansion and renovation of its St. Thomas headquarters on lower Main Street. The events started with a Friday night concert at Holiday Inn Windward Passage Hotel, followed by Saturday's concert and parade, a concert Saturday evening at Church of God of Prophesy, a 9 a.m. service at the St. Thomas Reformed Church, and finally wound up with a Magens Bay picnic at 1 p.m. Sunday.
The band started off with a rollicking piece written by Pearce, "Gonna' Fly Now." Speaking with an unexpected clipped accent, Pearce, who is Welsh, talked about his band. "We are based in Phoenix, Arizona," he said, "so this is quite a treat for the youngsters. They haven't been here before, so the humidity is new to them."
Not just the humidity. "They are really enjoying the island," he said, "the people, even the rain."
And they seemed to be doing just that with lots of laughter in between numbers. One young musician sat rather militantly wearing his red and white Army baseball cap backwards. "Oh," said Pearce with a smile, "he's a tuba player."
Pearce was "born into the army," he said laughing, "I had no choice." He left his native Wales many years ago when he was transferred to Arizona, which he clearly loves. "We're from Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and even Las Vegas," he said, "And we play all over the states. We are a British-style band, no French horns, no trumpets and four tubas."
Officiating over the ceremony was Capt. Ricardo Fernandez, divisional commander for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, along with V.I. hosts Majors Federico and Doris Craig, and board president and Master of Ceremonies Tom Bolt, who urged everyone to join in the celebration.
One person needed no such urging. A lone woman seated on a bench under a large black and white umbrella kept a lively beat in the steady rain, her umbrella bouncing up and down, seemingly inviting the sun to reappear, which it did — just in time for the parade down Main Street.
The band, resplendent in crisp white shirts, black pants, hats on straight, was preceded by a small army of Boy Scouts, Venture Scouts (girls), and a single Cub Scout who stood soldier-straight among his tall fellows officers carrying the Virgin Islands, United States and Salvation Army flags.
As the band rounded the corner on to Main Street like the Pied Piper, folks got in the spirit, some tromping along behind the band, singing along with "Onward Christian Soldier," while store owners watched from the sidewalks.
As the group arrived at the Salvation Army headquarters for a six-hour radiothon with host Addie Ottley on WSTA, the rain, whose absence had blessed the group's march, returned with a passion, sending folks scurrying indoors. No matter, the show continued unabated, with Ottley's characteristic enthusiasm bringing in dollars all day for the drive.
The army property was donated by Alfred Lockhart and dedicated in 1940 by then-Government Secretary Daniel Ambrose. The building, though small, is sturdy and inviting. It was built entirely by the corps. Major Craig points out a small block in the front of the structure, saying it was "laid in 1941, by Judge H. E. Moore."
The building is home for services, Bible school, prayer meetings and the women's ministry. The adjoining structures house the thrift shop, dining room, minuscule kitchen, office and upstairs quarters.
Board member Maria Ferreras said one goal of the drive is to expand the kitchen facilities. "We serve a free meal to about 100 people a day; we need more room."
Bolt said he and fellow Rotary Club members are working with America's Second Harvest program to get food donated from hotels and restaurants for re-distribution to the Army. "There is no reason for anyone here to go hungry," he said.
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