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After 20 years, Minn. field rep keeps on ridin’

When the Salvation Army hired Peggy Kill as the first female Service Extension Rep in the region in 1994, it was a great coup for Kill, who enjoys being first, but a tough sell for the Army, which had a tough time picturing a woman riding the 26-county circuit four days a week.

You don’t see it much anymore: someone who rides a circuit like an old-fashioned country doctor or preacher. But if you’re Peggy Kill, Salvation Army field representative for central Minnesota, your territory encompasses 14 counties. So you ride.

In 1994, when Kill started with The Salvation Army, the territory was even bigger – 26 counties. It’s not the life she anticipated, growing up on a farm near Donnelly, Minn., population 235. All Kill knew was that she wanted to help people, and to be married at age 19.

Fresh out of high school in 1974, Kill began working in nearby Morris as an accounting assistant for Stevens County Social Services. She met her “married at 19” goal, and continued to be promoted by county social services – eventually to Senior Case Aide, a job she describes as “underpaid social work.” The job entailed money management; providing child care assistance and legal referrals; and volunteering for The Salvation Army.

Joining the Army

Kill’s volunteer work with The Salvation Army eventually led to a job with the charity. In 1994, The Salvation Army hired her as the first female Service Extension Rep in the region. This was a great coup for Kill, who enjoys being first, but a tough sell for the Army, which had a tough time picturing a woman riding the 26-county circuit four days a week. She reassured them that if the weather got bad, her husband, who worked seasonally, would ride with her.

Kill had no idea what she was getting into, although her first day provided a foretaste:

  • Rise at 5:30 a.m. to meet her predecessor for a 7 a.m. meeting in Montevideo, an hour away.

  • Drive back to Morris.

  • Drive five to six hours for a meeting in Red Wing, with meetings along the way.

  • Drive to Salvation Army headquarters in the Twin Cities.

“I remember lying in bed crying, wondering, ‘What have I done?’” Kill recalled.

Two decades of doing the most good

What has she done? A lot of good. That’s what keeps her going, year after year, season after season.

Her work varies. Winter is filled with meetings; summer with summer camp. Christmas – with its red kettles, toy programs and holiday food boxes – is especially crazy. On average, Kill’s phone rings 20 times a day, sometimes non-stop, with requests for help.

“Sometimes I think I’ll have a day at home to do paperwork,” Kill said. “Then wham, something hits.”

That “something” could be filling a shift at a Salvation Army Store, or a disaster  that takes her from home for two weeks.

After 20 years, Kill still rides the circuit. The week we interviewed her, she was headed from Morris to Wahpeton, Sauk Centre to Alexandria, New Richmond to Breckenridge.

What keeps her going? After joking, “I like to eat,” Kill turned serious and began recounting the “cool stories” of human moments that keep her riding the circuit: Tears of relief when a heating bill is paid. The smiles on people’s faces when they say these are the only gifts they’re getting for Christmas. Taking her grandchildren to help buy and hand out back-to-school supplies.

Favorite story

Peggy has 20 years of stories. Here, in her own words, is one of her favorites:

“One year, I was driving two girls and a boy to Northwoods Camp and I asked what they hoped to do there. Robert, the boy, said, ‘I want to make a friend.’ ‘What do you mean, you want to make a friend? Come on Robert, you have a friend.’ ‘No, I don’t. I go to special ed because my dad tells me I’m retarded.’ I talked to his counselors and told them he needs to find a friend. When I picked them up after camp, I asked what they liked best. All three said, ‘Church’. I went, ‘Whoa, wait a minute, what do you mean, church?’ They told me they didn’t realize how much fun you could have in church, and Robert added, ‘I made friends, and I promised to pray for them.’”

Ironically, “fun at church” has happened for Kill, too. Church just wasn’t her thing when she first started working for The Salvation Army. Today, she loves going to Salvation Army worship services because, she said, “it is so happy.”

“If you can make a little bit of difference in someone’s life,” Peggy observed, “you know you’ve done something.”

By that standard, Kill has done a whole lot of something – 20 years of doing the most good in Minnesota.

And she’s still out there riding the circuit.