The relatively flat landscape of Seneca County was a surprise to Capts. P.B. and Becky Stetser, the new pastors of Tiffin Salvation Army. They have spent the past four years at a corps in Buffalo, N.Y.
"Most of our married life, we've lived in upstate New York," P.B. said. "I think what we miss most about New York is the mountains."
Becky is originally from Baldwinsville, N.Y., near Syracuse, while P.B. grew up in "south Jersey, outside of Philly." Walking to school past battlefields, he developed a natural interest in American history.
"This is the first time we have lived outside the 13 original colonies," he said.
Before joining The Salvation Army, P.B. worked as a Methodist minister with Youth For Christ. He graduated from United Wesleyan College in 1976 and was ordained in 1981.
While in college, he met Becky LaQuay, whom he married Nov. 29, 1975. P.B. said he has worked in a variety of ministries, such as youth minister/missionary, executive director, urban ministry director and "Wraparound" (one-on-one supervision of at-risk youth).
"My wife worked most of our marriage, too. She was a floral designer. She has training in horticulture and landscaping and also did beautiful silk flowers. She did dozens and dozens of weddings for people," P.B. said. "We've both had the benefit of a lot of experience in a lot of different things in other places where we've been."
Becky also worked as director of a children's day care facility for a time. P.B.'s other jobs included professional photographer, self defense instructor, EMT and adult educator at a local cooperative extension office. At one point, Becky was doing two jobs and P.B. worked three.
In addition, their family has kept them busy. It includes two adult daughters, Jesi and Heather, who live and work in Elmira, N.Y., and an adopted son, Ben Stetser of Niagara Falls, N.Y. Jesi has one child and another on the way. The couple also has an extended family who have lived with them various periods of time. Some had no safe place to go.
"You know how some people bring dogs and cats home? I brought kids home. We've had about a dozen kids over the years. Some were through foster care agencies. Some, I just brought home," P.B. said.
One young man even moved with the Stetsers when they received a new assignment. P.B. said "Bubba" was from a good family but seemed to have no direction for his life.
Eventually, he went to college and now has a regular job. They still consider him their son, and he attends their family gatherings. A picture from 2008 is posted online at www.stetserfamily.com.
The Stetsers joined The Salvation Army in 1998. They attended The Salvation Army School for Officer Training, which is equivalent to a seminary. P.B. said he was the second oldest in his graduating class.
"It was definitely a change of career for us. Most of the folks that have been in the Army for years assume that we're majors when they see us," P.B. said. "We're a lot more experienced than we were. When we first began, we were pretty much neophytes."
The Salvation Army is theologically similar to the Methodist church, but the couple likes the Army's service-oriented element. It tries to provide for the physical and social needs of people before addressing their spiritual needs. They served six years in Herkimer, N.Y., and three years as assistant corps officers in Canandaigua, N.Y. before moving on to Buffalo.
The captains said many people do not realize The Salvation Army is actually a church. The Stetsers like the service element that was lacking in their former ministry.
At the first corps they served in Herkimer, N.Y., they did a holiday project to provide a holiday dinner and collect toys for area children. P.B. said he felt blessed to be the "conduit" for the community's generosity.
The couple said they are excited about the opportunities available at their Tiffin assignment. They already have become acquainted with CROSSWAEH residents who come to the corps to help with the soup kitchen, maintenance and organizing donations of food, clothing, personal and household items.
"We have a clothing room that they do twice a month," Becky said.
"Our very efficient receptionist/secretary, Diana, just gave me a report on hundreds of people whose lives were touched this past month by (the corps) helping to pay rent, prescriptions, utilities, food and housing. Some of this went on in between officers. It's exciting to know that we have a great team. ... We're really blessed with a great staff here," P.B. said.
Last Sunday, the Stetsers led their first worship service in Tiffin and met with church members afterward to get acquainted. A guitar player and gospel musician, P.B. plans to use those skills in his ministry in Tiffin. The couple also must oversee the continuing capital campaign to finance phase 2 of the building program. Its goals are to finish the main chapel and to make the exterior "look less like a warehouse."
With her experience in botany, Becky would like to pursue some new gardening projects. While she was on the extension service board, she was involved in a container garden project that may be feasible to do in Tiffin.
"We'd take five-gallon buckets and fill them with a layer of drainage and soil and then planted four different things, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and beans. I think they were $5, and people could stop and get them. A lot of senior citizens did it to put on a balcony or back porch," Becky said.
Another family they knew in Buffalo had a vacant lot where they installed raised-bed gardens and allowed people to plant and care for a section. The property in Tiffin has space that could be developed for such a purpose.
"I think that would be a neat opportunity here, to offer raised beds out here in the side yard and say, 'This belongs to you. Plant whatever you want,' and help them learn they can provide for themselves," Becky said. "There's something about growth that excites people, no matter what age."