Salvation Army rebuilds hurricane-damaged headquarters

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FORT WALTON BEACH – After sustaining $1 million in damage from Hurricane Sally in September 2020, the rebuilt 44,000 square foot building that houses the Fort Walton Beach Salvation Army The corps headquarters, chapel, social services office and thrift shop became officially known as Hollingsworth Hall on Friday morning.

That’s when more than 50 people helped rededicate the facility now named in honor of a longtime Salvation Army supporter and local resident. Dr Gerald Hollingsworth.

The Salvation Army’s original headquarters served for about four decades near Beal Parkway and First Street. In the mid-1990s, the Salvation Army was able to expand its services significantly after purchasing the former Lowe’s building at 425 Mary Esther Cut-Off.

The Salvation Army facility at Fort Walton Beach officially became Hollingsworth Hall Friday in honor of longtime supporter Dr. Gerald Hollingsworth.  From left, Salvation Army Community Advisory Council Chairman Tom Rice, Hollingsworth, Salvation Army Florida Divisional Commander Lt. Col. Ken Luyk, and Lt.  James and Abby Milner.  The Milners run the local headquarters.

Hollingsworth helped lead the capital campaign for the existing facility, which serves Okaloosa and Walton counties.

During Friday’s re-dedication ceremony, Salvation Army Community Advisory Board Chairman Tom Rice said that although the roof of the existing facility did not completely blow off during Hurricane Sally, “pretty much all the bolts holding the roof together have disintegrated”.

For a while after the storm, the building “smelled a bit like wet dog” from rainwater leaks, Rice added. “The plasterboard got wet, the carpets got wet. Everything in the building started to deteriorate.

Lt. James Milner began leading the local Salvation Army unit with his wife, Lt. Abby Milner, in June 2020. He said Friday that during the extensive building rehabilitation project, the organization was able to continue to offer its social service programs and religious services, but in spaces where repairs were not underway.

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The Salvation Army thrift store also remained open, although much of it had to operate from the organization’s warehouse for several months.

“It’s been a long time coming, but we’re back at full capacity,” James Milner said of the repairs and renovations.

Lt. James Milner, who leads the Salvation Army unit from Fort Walton Beach with his wife, Abby (seated left) speaks during Friday's ceremony that rededicated the Army's headquarters Hi as Hollingsworth Hall.

Rice noted that Hollingsworth has been a huge contributor each year to the decades-old Empty Stocking Fund.

The Salvation Army is the steward of money donated by the community to the annual fund, which is facilitated by the Northwest Florida Daily News and helps many people in need.

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As a boy growing up in rural Mississippi, Hollingsworth and his family received food, clothing, and shoes from the Salvation Army. He came to the area in the mid-1950s after serving as a Navy flight surgeon and continues to support local charities, organizations and institutions.

The medical facility at One Hopeful Place homeless shelter in Fort Walton Beach is named after Hollingsworth, who trained as a doctor at Harvard Medical School.

“We couldn’t think of anyone better to honor” with the Salvation Army headquarters appointment, Rice said of Hollingsworth.

Dr. Gerald Hollingsworth (seated) and Salvation Army Community Advisory Board Chairman Tom Rice listen to a speaker during Friday's ceremony to rededicate Salvation Army Headquarters Fort Walton Beach as than Hollingsworth Hall.

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Rice shared a message from District 4 State Representative Patt Maney, who called Hollingsworth “the epitome of a humble and generous man, and I thank him for his commitment to the Salvation Army.”

Lt. Col. Ken Luyk, divisional commander of The Salvation Army in Florida, also thanked Hollingsworth for helping the local facility renew the spirits of those who walk through its doors.

“It’s a refuge, a place where healing and hope can be guided,” Luyk said.

For the various ways he helps the community, Hollingsworth was chosen as the 2019 Northwest Florida Journalist of the Year. In a story announcing the honor, Hollingsworth spoke of the joy of helping others.

“I think the Bible says something like, ‘If you give back, you will be rewarded tenfold,'” he said. “That satisfaction and pleasure that I feel when I realize that I’ve helped other people who needed the same kind of help that I gave when I was young…it’s something you can’t really quantify.

Friday’s rededication ceremony for the restored Salvation Army facilities concluded with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by ambassadors from the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce.

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