There will be memorial service June 9th at 4pm at the Haines ANB for Haines Salvation Army founder and eldercare advocate Charles DeWitt, 82, who died May 15 at Wildflower Court nursing home in Juneau of heart failure.
Salvation Army Major Dolores Rivett worked with DeWitt for decades in Saxman, Kake, Angoon, and Haines, where he built the Salvation Army church in 1967-8. “Charles DeWitt was a real Salvation Army soldier, a man of God who was not afraid to speak his beliefs. He was a preacher, a singer, and man who hammered nails and got things done,” she said.
As a fluent Tlingit speaker and member of a well-regarded Tlingit family she said, “He was a great leader among his people, and other folks as well. He should be listed as one of the Salvation Army leaders of Alaska.”
Along with his first wife LaVerne, Charles saw needs and he acted, Rivett said, particularly when it came it the elderly.
Erwin Hertz admired the way the DeWitt’s cared for Haines’ elders in their home. “They took care of the old people. They loved those old folks. Charles was such a beautiful person, spiritually and mentally. He really helped people,” Hertz said.
Charles DeWitt was born Nov. 15, 1931 in Kake, his mother was Martha James DeWitt, the daughter of Chief Shakes of Wrangell, his father Forrest DeWitt was a fisherman.
DeWitt grew up in Kake, Prince of Wales Island, and Wrangell, and graduated from Wrangell High. He married Salvation Army officer LaVerne Nash there in 1949. “They got a fishing boat for a wedding present,” son Charlie DeWitt, also a fisherman, said. (Grandson Stuart DeWitt continues the family tradition.)
Caring for his aging in-laws on a California farm for several years shortly after his marriage, DeWitt became aware of a need for assisted living homes in small communities. When he and LaVerne returned to Saxman in 1958 to serve the Salvation Army there, Charles and LaVerne turned a former school into a home for about twenty elderly residents, caring for them on their own while managing the church. “My dad would have many services and my mother was a wonderful musician, so people from Ketchikan would come to hear her play,” Charlie DeWitt said. His father trained to be a Salvation Army officer in San Francisco from 1962-4, and when he completed his education was assigned the church in Kake.
“They won all kinds of awards, and at one time they had the largest Salvation Army Sunday school in Alaska,” daughter Shannon Willard said. Charles DeWitt was sent to the Haines area in 1967 and held Sunday services in the Raven House tribal home and preached in Klukwan on Wednesdays before building the current Salvation Army on Union Street in 1968.
The DeWitts turned a Viking Cove log house into a small assisted living facility before moving into a much larger Officer’s Row home, where they housed up to 32 elderly residents from 1970-1974, when they left Haines to work at the Kake Salvation Army again.
“When I played basketball, I had my own fan section. Dad would bring the ones that could make it to the games and they’d all sit in the balcony of the old gym and cheer for me,” Charlie DeWitt said of his extended household.
While Charles DeWitt was asked to serve in other Salvation Army churches, he chose to stay in Haines as much as possible so his children could attend school here, Charlie said, “Haines was his home.” That meant Charles was also a fisherman, logger, carpenter and truck driver. He was in the Teamsters union during oil pipeline construction, but conducted church services in construction camps.
“He sure was a good truck driver,” daughter Shannon Willard, also a Teamster said, “I learned a lot from him.”
DeWitt was chaplain of Haines ANB Camp #5. He enjoyed sport fishing and in his youth played basketball and boxed. LaVerne DeWitt died in 1996 and in 2003 Charles married Betty Ewing of Haines. “He was such a blessing to me. He is a man that will be hard to replace, if ever,” she said.
Erwin Hertz was with DeWitt building a dock at the former Schnabel Lumber Company in 1971 when a 12X12 timber fell and snapped his leg in half, sending bone marrow into his blood stream. “It was horrendous, I never seen anything like that. It should have killed him, but he was such a calm, faithful person, he survived it. Charles was amazing. I loved that man, ” Hertz said.
DeWitt leaves siblings Mathew DeWitt of Anchorage and Margaret Gross-Hope of Sitka; and in Haines wife Betty, children Charlie (Charles R.) DeWitt, and Shannon Willard; grandchildren Stuart and Tiffany DeWitt, and two great-grandchildren.
Memorial donations may be given to the Haines Salvation Army PO Box 550 Haines, AK 99827.