Huntington’s own World War I ‘Doughnut Girl’ to be feted Saturday

She was known as “The Doughnut Girl” – the Salvation Army soldier who came up with an idea to make doughnuts for troops fighting on the front lines in France during World War I. On Saturday, April 14, Helen Gaye Purviance, a Huntington native, will be recognized and honored for her service and ingenuity in bringing homesick soldiers a taste of home.

“Helen Purviance Day” will kick off beginning at 11 a.m. and go until 2 p.m. in the Huntington County Courthouse rotunda and outside on the courthouse lawn.
A number of activities are planned to take place, including recreating a Salvation Army “canteen,” featuring doughnuts cooked using Purviance’s original recipe.

They will be served to visitors, along with coffee, hot chocolate and water for a free will offering.

Other events of the day will include:

• Presenting the colors, by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2689.

• National Anthem, sung by Angie Garcia.

• World War I memorabilia and artifacts, displayed inside the courthouse and outside in a display tent.

• Joint city-county proclamations from Mayor Brooks Fetters and Huntington County commissioners.

• Display tent to represent a WWI soldier’s tent.

• “Doughnut Girls” wearing WWI period Salvation Army uniforms.

• Reading of the history of Helen Purviance.

• A memorial service, which will include the laying of two ceremonial wreaths.

• Appearances and remarks by dignitaries, including members of the Indiana World War I Centennial Committee.

Besides a framed photo and documentation about Purviance, World War I artifacts that can be viewed include a regular army belt, mess kit, German helmet with spike on top, a 60 mm dummy mortar shell, a working compass, 60 caliber shells and 40 mm cannon shells, a German gas mask and women’s army uniform.

The VFW will also sell poppies for a donation, a tradition dating back to World War I.

Local groups involved in the special day include The Salvation Army – Huntington and state directors, City of Huntington, County of Huntington, Huntington County Chamber of Commerce, Huntington University, Huntington County Historical Museum, VFW Post 2689, American Legion posts, National Guard of Huntington County, Our Sunday Visitor, Daughters of the American Revolution and Brig. Gen. Stewart Goodwin of the Indiana War Memorial.
Issued helmets, gas masks and pistols as they ministered along the front lines, Purviance’s Salvation Army unit worked in France while bombs were exploding everywhere.

“We just knew anything could happen, though. There was machine gun fire, and they dropped some bombs from planes. One of them fell in our backyard,” she recalled during a newspaper interview. “But somehow or other, you get an inner reserve which comes to your assistance in time of great stress.”

Angie Garcia of the Huntington County Chamber of Commerce says Purviance and her fellow doughnut girls also provided other valuable services to the fighting troops.

“They did more than just the doughnuts; they were caretakers. They would read to the soldiers. They were homesick, and they (Purviance’s unit) were providing them with comforts from a mother’s perspective,” Garcia says. “Some of these soldiers were so young that it was just reading to them, feeding them and taking care of them like mom would do.”

Setting up “canteen huts” in tents, The Salvation Army also offered other baked goods, coffee, clothes-mending services, notions, stationery, concerts and spiritual support to war-weary soldiers.

After she returned home and having reached the highest rank of lieutenant colonel in The Salvation Army, Purviance went on to become dean of women at the Salvation Army training college. She also established the Huntington Salvation Army post, along with her brother Paul.

In 1965, Purviance was honored with a gold-plated doughnut, presented by Huntington Mayor Bob Ambler. She was also decorated by Gen. John J. Pershing for her service and valor under shell fire at many major battles of the war.

“She changed history. She changed generations of lives, and that’s across the country,” said Capt. Dennis Marak, of the Huntington Salvation Army. “Huntington County needs to be proud of the fact that she was born and raised here.”

More information about the World War I centennial, and Helen Purviance’s service during the war can be found online at www.worldwar1centennial.org.