Since arriving at the Turlock Salvation Army in 2002, Corps Officer Major Debi Shrum has served as a trailblazer in the community when it comes to giving back. On Saturday, friends and family drove through the organization’s parking lot to give back to Shrum one last time before she retires at the end of the month by celebrating the culmination of her storied career with a retirement party parade.
Come May 31, Shrum will hang up her Salvation Army uniform and the famous red bell that goes along with it for good, retiring to her home in Chester where she grew up.
“It still doesn’t even feel real,” Shrum said.
She was first commissioned in 1979 as part of the Salvation Army’s Joyful Evangelists Session, and has since held many titles with the organization in several different regions including Colorado, Montana, the Bay Area and the Pacific Northwest. In the 18 years since she arrived as Turlock Salvation Army’s newest Corps Officer, she has helped oversee efforts to feed the city’s most needy, provide a host of programs for vulnerable populations and served as a spiritual pillar in the community.
Originally, Shrum had planned to celebrate her retirement with a 50-person dinner. The coronavirus had other plans, however, so a drive-through retirement party was coordinated instead. The virus didn’t stop people from rolling by to say goodbye, with car after car pulling up with gifts, cards and well wishes.
We Care Program shelter manager Debbie Gutierrez showed up with “Happy Trails” blasting from her car’s speakers and a sign taped to the door that echoed the song’s lyrics. She stopped by to say goodbye to a woman she considers an “icon” in the community, she said, and a fellow nonprofit pioneer that has always lent We Care a helping hand.
“Her heart is always all-in where she’s at. That’s what she does,” Gutierrez said of Shrum. “We’ve worked together so much over the years, coordinating and collaborating. I’m going to miss her sense of humor the most...she’s just always there for you.”
Turlock resident Penny Jacobson lives next door to the Turlock Salvation Army at Silvercrest Residence and recently became an soldier thanks to Shrum’s influence. She said she was sad to see Shrum leave.
“She’s taught me so much,” Jacobson said. “She taught the women’s group I was in and is a great leader. I’ll miss her being our leader.”
Shrum’s new home in Chester is about five hours away, she said. These days she’s busy with remodeling her house, and when she’s not doing that, she’s driving around her retirement gift to herself: a new Chevrolet Avalanche. When all is said and done, she intends on completing courses to become a certified dog trainer.
She plans on staying in Chester for much of the first year of her retirement, she added, so Turlock’s new officers Jeffrey and Katie Breazeale can settle into their new roles. Captains Breazeale come to Turlock from Yuma, Arizona, and have been with the Salvation Army for 13 years.
Throughout her own time in Turlock, Shrum said she’s proud of her efforts with both Turlock Together and the Salvation Army’s Vacation Bible School. What she’ll miss most, however, are the people.
“If you just pay attention to the days you’re living, it doesn't go fast or slow...I keep telling people this and I don’t think they necessarily believe me, but this town works together better than any other place I’ve been to in 41 years,” Shrum said. “No one in Turlock is trying to get ahead of anybody else, and if we're extra blessed then we share with everybody. That’s a really special thing.”