Ulla Trepkow was an officer of the Swedish Salvation Army who also served a slum sister and missionary.
Ulla Trepkow was born in Uppsala in 1929. She and her six siblings were raised by her parents, Per Vilhelm Trepkow and Karin Trepkow. She formed the view that all humans were equal at an early age, presumably influenced by her Roma playmates who lived in a tented campsite close to her home, but also due to connections she made in the Salvation Army which she joined at a young age.
As a teenager Ulla Trepkow worked as a children’s nanny and a shop assistant but at the age of 20 she decided to become a Salvation Army officer and a slum sister. She was taken on as a trainee at the Salvation Army officers’ school in 1949. The following year Ulla Trepkow took up her first position, at Morgonsol, a Salvation Army children’s home in Gothenburg. She then served at slum stations in Stockholm, Gothenburg, and at Skogsbo home for single mothers near Stockholm, followed by three years at the Salvation Army children’s home in Norrköping. The slum stations provided a form of refuge run by the organisation where slum sisters partly ran these refuges and partly provided social welfare services. Following nine years’ service as a slum sister in Sweden it was time for Ulla Trepkow to put her longstanding missionary calling into action. In 1959 the Swedish Salvation Army sent her to Cuba.
Ulla Trepkow served at the Salvation Army girls’ home in Havanna, Cuba for several years, during Fidel Castro’s first years in power. Initially Castro was well-disposed towards the Salvation Army and even donated money to their children’s homes but subsequently, as political conflict with the USA and other countries intensified, Christian children’s homes became outlawed. The Salvation Army staff were flexible and in 1962 they repurposed one of the former boys’ homes as a home for elderly without dependents. Ulla Trepkow became the director of this facility.
As director she was in charge of everything, from sewing curtains and bedclothes to preparing food, overseeing purchases, and – with the help of a colleague – caring for the elderly. Being solely responsible for the facility’s finances meant that every morning, between four and six o’clock, she headed to the town square to buy vegetables. Ulla Trepkow gained the trust of the local populace through the respect and patience that she displayed, whilst her Russian-sounding name was certainly beneficial too. However, food shortages became ever more regular following Fidel Castro’s rise to power. Eventually all that could be found was rice, onions and black beans.
Food shortages and a steady decline in living conditions, coupled with the Cuban government’s increasingly suspicious attitude following the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, eventually led to all foreigners being banned from Cuba. It was with a heavy heart that Ulla Trepkow left Cuba, having handed over the running of the home for the elderly to a native Salvation Army officer. She arrived emptyhanded at her new station in Jamaica, having given away everything she owned to her Cuban friends and colleagues.
In Jamaica Ulla Trepkow served as an assistant at a home for elderly blind people where her duties included organising residents’ activities. Through her connections at home she obtained financial support from Sweden to renovate the kitchen and other areas of the facility. Ulla Trepkow settled well in Jamaica and enjoyed taking care of the elderly, however her own health and family circumstances led her to return home to Sweden in 1964. For the first three years after her return she served at Skogsbo, a Salvation Army home for single mothers and their children.
Over the ensuing years she served as director at a home for the elderly in Halmstad and also volunteered at slum stations in Stockholm and Falun. In 1970, when Ulla Trepkow was a little over 40 years old, she was appointed to the Salvation Army headquarters as treasurer of the women’s social enterprise and retained this post until her retirement.
Ulla Trepkow was both a strident and stubborn individual, qualities which proved useful on many occasions. She respected people for who they were and displayed tolerance and tact which opened many doors and hearts. She treated everyone equally and fulfilled the qualities of Salvation Army officer, slum sister, and missionary.
Ulla Trepkow died on 5 March in 2020 and is buried at the family grave in Uppsala’s Old cemetery.