Her delicate fingers unfold the linen, draping it across the table and smoothing out the edges. Steady hands carefully fill the glass pitcher, to avoid spilling any of the symbolic communion wine.
These hands know the meaning of commitment, as they have been setting the Lord’s table, greeting new parishioners, and assisting those in need at the same church for almost half a century.
Zella Shugart, a Killeen resident, has been a member of the same Episcopal congregation at Fort Hood for more than 40 years.
Chaplains across Fort Hood came together to show their gratitude for her faithfulness, as Shugart received a certificate of appreciation during Sunday morning service Feb. 2.
Married to the late Command Sgt. Major Herman Shugart, she moved to Fort Hood in 1961.
The Liturgical Service, which is a combination of Anglican, Lutheran and Episcopalian denominations, has moved across Fort Hood multiple times. Throughout many relocations, Shugart has followed her church congregation, including to its current location, the Spiritual Fitness Center on Battalion Avenue.
In addition to being a member, Shugart volunteered as an altar guild with responsibilities including setting up the altar, washing the altar linen, and assisting the pastors where needed. She is often assisted in her duties by fellow church member, Barbra Brown, who has been a member for more than 30 years.
“It is such an honor to recognize Ms. Zella for all that she has done over the years,” said Col. Bill Phillips, garrison chaplain.
“In our world of the Army, we as chaplains stay at a duty station two years at most, so it is great to have people provide continuity to the services,” Phillips added.
Maj. David Waweru, the deputy command chaplain for the 13th Sustainment Command, met Zella when he moved to Fort Hood in 1994.
“I’ve always looked forward to coming back to Fort Hood, because I knew these two ladies would be here,” Waweru said.
“Ms. Zella has been a part of this congregation for over 40 years. They have been the core,” Waweru said.
“In military congregations, people come and go, but they have been the foundation in the fact that they have been permanently here,” Waweru added. “They are not just members. They are members of the altar guild, and they have been faithful since I met them almost 20 years ago.”
In 2005, Waweru saw firsthand just how selfless Shugart really was. He and his wife were slated to deploy to Iraq but were concerned about who would care for their children.
“We were trying to work it so one of us could stay behind,” he said.
As time neared, he learned both he and his wife would deploy. They didn’t have any family in the area, and Shugart volunteered to stay with their children for the year, he said.
While his children did not end up staying with Shugart, Waweru said he was grateful she was willing to help him in a time of need.
“You can always count and rely on her,” Waweru said.
A retired school teacher, Shugart said she felt the Lord brought her to Fort Hood, and she has enjoyed her time here immensely.
Shugart said many people would start out enthusiastically working in the church but would quickly tire of it.
“I have never felt that way,” she said. “This is something I enjoy.”
Outside of helping inside the church, Shugart helps her fellow congregants also. She often picks up a fellow church member, so he can attend service on Sunday.
“Their faithfulness to serve and to volunteer is so extraordinary for such a long amount of time, whether that was at a military chapel or an off post church, it is phenomenal, so we wanted to make sure we honored them for their service,” said Maj. Rich West, 1st Cavalry Division chaplain.
“They stuck it through the years of service, the last 12 years of conflict, all the years’ preceding that, the ups and downs and the budget cuts,” West said.
Although the Army has gone through many changes over the last few decades, Shugart’s dedication has left a lasting impression on the Fort Hood community and her congregation.
“I think it says more about them than it can ever say about the chaplain corps or any chapel,” West said. “It is a testament of their awesomeness.”