Gertrude Purdue has been involved with the Salvation Army for more than a century.
Born to Salvation Army officers in Massalin, Ohio, in 1909, she joined the organization in 1930 and married her husband — a Salvation Army brigadier — in 1934.
To coincide with her 100th birthday, Purdue was honored for her years of service and dedication to the Army this week at their annual dinner. Willard Scott — known for his birthday shout-outs on the Today show — was the keynote speaker.
"She is an amazing lady, and I don't think I've ever met anybody quite like her," says Elizabeth Duncan, director of development for the Salvation Army. "She's an inspiration to us all."
Duncan first met Purdue 12 years ago. At the time, Purdue was 88.
"Eighty-eight is a number that would indicate that you were old, but she proved otherwise," Duncan says.
Though she retired officially in 1973, Purdue still volunteers at Memphis' VA hospital twice a month to distribute magazines and serve drinks to patients, family members, and caregivers.
"At 15, I knew," Purdue says. "I saw my parents in action and their mission to the poor, the hurting, the depraved ... and I wanted to do it, too."
After attending Kalamazoo Teachers College in Michigan for two years, she entered Salvation Army officer training in Chicago in 1930. She then moved to Huntington, Indiana, where she served during the Great Depression.
"People were desperate. I had one man come by my office, and he said to me, 'I'll kill to feed my children.' That's how desperate they were," she says.
She and her late husband, Brigadier Bramwell Purdue, met as teenagers at a Salvation Army camp in Michigan. After getting married, they lived in 11 cities before moving to Memphis in 1962.
Purdue still serves as a member of the Church Women United, the White Station Optimist Club, and Quota Club International.
"A man may be down, but he's never out," she says, quoting a Salvation Army slogan. "Give yourself as a service to people who need your help. There are plenty of people out there who need it."