WEIRTON - Weirton native Lt. Col. Mark Bell, Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center commander was the guest speaker at the Weirton Salvation Army's annual civic appreciation dinner Monday at the Serbian-American Cultural Center.
"Our Salvation Army, as it stands, is due to three things: the grace of God, our community and Lt. Col. Mark Bell and his family," said John Greco.
Bell spoke on the theme of faith, hope and love.
APPRECIATION DINNER — Lt. Col. Mark Bell, a Weirton native, was the guest speaker at the Weirton Salvation Army’s annual civic appreciation dinner Monday. Maj. Ed Long, center, of the Weirton corps, and Bell’s wife, Lt. Col. Alice Bell, looked on.
"I love to dream big, so big that it overwhelms the situation," he said. "As a kid growing up in Haller Park, I dreamed of being the starting shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I think of those days, I would have my ball glove and a good rubber ball and I would just bounce that ball off a wall and catch it for hours, dreaming."
He spoke of his own struggles with alcohol, beginning with binge drinking at the age of 15 and suffering so much that every day he worked in the mill, he hoped he would be killed in an accident. However, through the encouragement and intercession of a Salvation Army officer in Weirton, he accepted Jesus as his personal savior and began his faith journey. Bell said he believed some of those whom he was helping fight their addictions also would be called to become Salvation Army officers.
Bell added he loved working with the Salvation Army.
"I love getting up in the morning and - my father went to work at the mill - I go to work at the Salvation Army, doing God's work," he said.
He spoke about the importance of love, talking about John Lennon sneaking over the wall at the Strawberry Field Salvation Army Orphanage in Liverpool so he could play with the other children. Lennon had a difficult home life, with an absentee father and a mother who died young in a car accident in front of him.
"The officer would go to him and say, 'Johnny, you don't have to sneak into the Salvation Army, you can always come in the front door,'" he said. "Many years later, George Martin, who produced all the Beatles records, asked him if he thought he'd written his best lyric or if he had yet to write it. And John Lennon said he had already written it - 'all you need is love' - that it was the greatest lyric he would ever write.
"Look around this room and realize - it doesn't get any better than this, that right here, right now you are putting your faith into action through these programs, Christmas, camps - that you're helping make life brighter for one person, that you're leaning in and saying, 'here's a gift, God bless you and have a better day,'" he said. "After all else disappears, love is the only thing that remains.
"These people who don't know who to have faith and trust in, you're giving them hope on Christmas morning, giving them hope today, by paying their utility bill. By loving them, serving them, you are giving them hope.
Bell's interest in the Weirton community never waned.
"At 12:01 a.m., my wife and I rushed into a nearly empty theater in Georgia to see 'Super 8,' and, like everyone else, we really didn't know what was going on, because the entire time, were were going, 'is that so-and-so's house?" he said. "I loved that it showed our Quonset hut."
Bell confessed to regularly checking community happenings on The Weirton Daily Times smart phone application.
"About once a day, I look at the news about Weirton, about what the mayor is doing and what's happening in Weirton," he said. "And every once in a while, I do say a prayer for what the community is trying to accomplish. I have faith in you, I believe in you and I trust in you."
Bell was born in Steubenville, is a 1969 Follansbee High School graduate and worked for the former Weirton Steel Corp. for several years before going to the Salvation Army College for Officer Training in 1974, where he met his wife, Lt. Col. Alice Bell.
The couple has served as corps officers, youth leaders, women's ministries leaders and as divisional leaders. They work rehabilitating whose suffering from alcohol and drug addictions. They have two children, Capt. Zach Bell and Capt. Cristina Trantham, both Salvation Army officers.
The fourth-annual Star Award, for going the extra mile to be of service, was presented to Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort. Mountaineer has provided 400 turkeys each Thanksgiving to be distributed to the needy for several years, and holds frequent food drives.
Hancock County Savings Bank was recognized for "extraordinary support in enhancing the lives of future generations."
The top three bell ringers in each category were announced. In the individual category, the top three were Joel and Terri Schreiner, first; Pam Castillo and Mary Walker, second; and John Ralich, third. In the business category, the top three were Hancock County Savings Bank, first; First Choice America Federal Credit Union, second; and Reimbursement Concepts, third. In the group category, the top three were the Woman's Home League, first; Kiwanis Club, second and St. Paul Holy Name Society, third.
John Greco, Salvation Army Advisory Board vice chair, gave the welcome; Sgt. Major Teresa McGown gave the invocation; Maj. Ed Long introduced the advisory board; Ed Long gave closing remarks; and Maj. Goldie Long gave the benediction.
In 2012, the Salvation Army assisted more than 5,300 area residents with clothing, furniture, food, utilities and medical assistance and housing. During Christmas, more than 1,800 people were assisted food and 4,100 children received toys through the Salvation Army.
Dinner sponsors included the Adult Rehabilitation Center, Hancock County Savings Bank, First Choice America, Gus's Goodies, Alice Frankovitch, Steel and Wolfe Funeral Home, Pam Zagula, United Bank Inc., Michael Wehr, Kitty Kochman, Miki Marino, Cathy Caranda and Tamara Pettit.
The Salvation Army Advisory Board includes Chair Catherine Ferrari, Vice Chair John Greco, Finance Chair Michael Wehr, Property Chair Doug Finton, Secretary Jane Anderson and Cathy Caranda, Judy Case, Angela Frazier, Alice Frankovitch, Dan Greathouse, Jan Hicks, Kitty Kochman, Walter Larch, Miki Marino, Bill Miller, Aggie Monezis, Tamara Pettit, Mike Powell, Rik Rekowski, Phillis Swain, Daniel Taylor, Ruth Ann Valiga, Scott Winwood and Pam Zagula. Kenneth Gabbie, Duke Horstemeyer, Ruth Ann Valiga and Walter Larch are life members. Weirton Mayor George Kondik is an honorary member.