Northern Division: Serving every county in Minnesota and North Dakota
John Hopkins mops the gym floor

Man, 87, mops the floor with old age

Added on Monday, November 7, 2016

Written by Craig Dirkes, Salvation Army Northern Division writer/photographer

Seconds after the last hot lunch is eaten inside the gym at the Payne Ave. Salvation Army in St. Paul, John Hopkins Jr. gets straight to work. He folds and puts away dozens of chairs. Sweeps the floor. Heaves garbage bags into a dumpster. Then, he mops the entire gym in less than 30 minutes, without taking a break.

Jon Hopkins puts chairs awayHopkins has been doing all of the above, every weekday, for years.

Even more impressive: the man is 87 years old.

“God has been good to me,” said Hopkins, who stays in shape not only by swinging a mop, but by lifting weights at the YMCA and inside his West St. Paul apartment. “I like to work. I’ve been a working man my whole life.”

He started helping at the Payne Ave. Salvation Army more than four years ago, the day he joined a friend there for a free hot meal.

“After we ate,” Hopkins recalled, “I saw some people putting up the chairs, and I decided to give them a hand. I like to volunteer my time.”

He continued volunteering for a year, after which a Salvation Army employee told him about a government program that pays seniors to participate in community service assignments. Hopkins applied for the program and was accepted. Ever since, he’s been getting paid to do the same volunteer activities he would otherwise be doing for free.

“John Hopkins is just one of the many ‘characters’ who make up the unique life that exists here every day,” said Envoy Kris Fuqua, co-leader of the Payne Ave. Salvation Army. “He is an incredibly hard worker, and his personality is one-of-a-kind.”

Working man

Hopkins was born on April 8, 1929. He grew up with his parents and 16 siblings on a farm in Macon, Miss.

Hopkins has worked hard his whole life. He spent about 50 years working as a meat cutter, including 42 years at several packinghouses in St. Paul.

Portrait of Jon Hopkins“I still got all my fingers yet,” laughed Hopkins, who began cutting meat in St. Louis, Mo., in his 20s. The Korean War veteran also spent about 10 years working as a baker, plus another 10 years working in maintenance at a Twin Cities hospital.

He has 10 kids, some of whom live in the Twin Cities area. His wife died 15 years ago.

“My kids call me every day to check up on me,” Hopkins said. “I like that.”

Hopkins enjoys helping out at the Payne Ave. Salvation Army not only because it keeps him busy, but because he believes in The Salvation Army’s mission.

“They do good, and they help people in the neighborhood,” he said. “I don’t mind giving my time for that. I like these people. I get along with everybody.”

The people like him, too.

“John takes the time to get to know the people who come to our lunch program,” Fuqua said. “He is such a kindhearted man. He routinely goes to the store to buy candy to have in his pocket to hand out to children in the building.”

All walks of life

John Hopkins’s story illustrates how The Salvation Army offers volunteer activities for people from all walks of life. He is one of thousands of volunteers, young and old, who give their time to better their communities in cities and towns across Minnesota and North Dakota.

Emily Johnson profileThat includes 13-year-old Emily Johnson (pictured) of Mankato, Minn., who volunteered for more than 100 hours over the summer. She helped the Mankato Salvation Army in many ways, such as handing out lunches to local kids and distributing back-to-school supplies.

“It was a good opportunity to see that there’s another side to Mankato and to life,” Johnson said (read full story).

In Williston, N.D., a 90-year-old Salvation Army volunteer is equally passionate about serving others. For six years, Charlotte Flexhaug has been sorting and organizing food shelf donations at the Williston Salvation Army. She even comes in to help during holidays (read full story).

“When there are bread donations that we’re unable to give away, Charlotte takes the leftovers to help feed chickens in the area, making sure that not a single donation goes to waste,” said Kristin Oxendahl, community engagement director for the Williston Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army offers similar volunteer opportunities throughout Minnesota and North Dakota. Search volunteer activities in your area and join our mission today.