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New policy boots longtime Salvation Army worker from airport

| Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Christmas is more than four months away, but several frequent fliers say the Allegheny County Airport Authority is a grinch for implementing a policy that kicks out a longtime Salvation Army worker who collects money in her red kettle in the terminal.

Marilyn Darnley, 72, had tears in her eyes on Friday as she told frequent donors that she would be out of a job at the end of the month. An airport policy that goes into effect on Sept. 1 bans all solicitations in the terminal.

“I love the airport, and I love The Salvation Army. We get a lot of money from this kettle,” said Darnley of Scott, as she sat in her usual spot wearing a blue fedora, just inside the entrance to the landside terminal. “I just really enjoy helping people.”

Considered an institution by many travelers, Darnley has collected money at the airport for 16 years. She's known to many as the woman with funny hats, often changing her hat to match an upcoming holiday.

“I wear a hat every day, and I have a different hat for every holiday,” Darnley said. “If someone is having a bad day, and they're coming through, they look at the hat, and they laugh. It might brighten someone's day.”

She recounted some of the most notable and frequent givers, including Steelers players Jerome Bettis and Franco Harris and said Cardinal Donald Wuerl also stops to say hello and donate.

“What better public servant can you find?” said frequent flier Jeff Ragazzini, 54, of Beaver. “She comes in every day early in the morning, and it's a friendly, wonderful face you get used to seeing. I can't see that she's causing any harm.”

Airport Authority spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said airport officials re-evaluated their policy on solicitations after receiving “some informal feedback from customers who said they felt discomfort with solicitations at the airport.”

Jenny said officials are rearranging the area where Darnley sits and want to improve passenger flow. Acting Executive Director Jim Gill made the decision in conjunction with other departments. Officials looked to other airports and found similar bans, Jenny said.

Jenny said other charities will be impacted but acknowledged The Salvation Army was present more often than any other.

“The Airport Authority thinks very highly of The Salvation Army. Their organization provides a great service. It's just a matter of re-evaluating our policies. Part of this is our effort to reconfigure that area,” Jenny said.

As an employee, Darnley is paid for working four days a week, but volunteers on the fifth day and other hours to complete her week. She's the only year-round red kettle collector in the region. The kettles and ringing bells are typically seen around Christmas.

Salvation Army Maj. Paul Moore said the charity likely can't afford to employ Darnley without airport customer donations. Her kettle brings in more than $40,000 a year, he said.

“Right now, I'm just kind of shocked. We understand they have a right to change their policy. I'm just not sure why,” Moore said. “Marilyn has been very successful. She knows a lot of people there and has a lot of good contacts including several Steelers players. It's going to hurt. We deducted her pay (from collections) but even with that, it was a lot.”

Travelers said they were surprised the airport would boot Darnley.

“She knows me. Every time I fly, I donate something. She's my good-luck charm,” said Michael Beck, 55, of East Liverpool, Ohio. “To me, she's a fixture at the airport. I'll be very sorry to see her go.”

“Every time I have change, I stop. I'm not offended by her at all,” said Rex Waller, 58, of Upper St. Clair. “She's always a fresh face and always has a blessing and a smile.”

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-320-7886 or

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