Q&A: A tradition of ringing the bell

Long-time Salvation Army volunteer cherishes good memories

KATE YORK The Marietta Times Linda Denney, of Marietta, rings the bell for Salvation Army donations at the Marietta Kmart recently.

It’s a job where there are plenty of smiles exchanged and “Merry Christmas” is frequently spoken. However, there are challenges, said Linda Denney, a long-time Salvation Army bell ringer.

Due to disabilities including spinal arthritis, she can often be found ringing while sitting on a bench outside the Marietta Kmart, rather than standing at a traditional station. But the bell clutched in her hand never stops ringing–not even after she was robbed of the kettle donations at Kmart two years ago. The incident marked the only time in the Salvation Army’s 128 years in Marietta there has been such a theft.

It only made Denney more determined to keep going, she said, helping to raise money for programs that include emergency financial assistance, housing the homeless, Christmas assistance and more.

“I want to help for as long as I can,” she said. “When it’s really cold and other people drop out for the day, they know they can call me.”

Question: How long have you been a bell ringer?

Answer: I’ve been doing it for years. I did some around 1995, 1996 and then for a while I didn’t and for the last six years I’ve been doing it.

Q: What first made you interested?

A: No. 1 was that this money goes to local people. It does not go out of Washington County. I don’t really support any other organizations except my church. There I have very little money I can give but I give my time as a Sunday school teacher and as the college librarian (at the Marietta Bible College). I’m in the business of helping people. And doing this also helps me have Christmas presents for my family.

Q: Have you ever gotten to meet any of the people who have been helped by the Salvation Army programs?

A: I have had a couple say they received help. They say they were in a tight spot and the Salvation Army helped them out.

Q: How long is a bell ringing shift for you normally?

A: Today, 10 to 4, tomorrow is 10 to 8, it depends on how many bell ringers are out that day. I think we have about 20 this year.

Q: Are you always at Kmart or have you been at other sites?

A: I have been at others but this year they asked what our favorites were and I said it’s Kmart and Walmart. I love it here (at Kmart) even though two years ago I was robbed here.

Q: Was that discouraging, when you’re out here trying to do a good thing?

A: I was shook up, crying about it. I couldn’t run after the guy. I told Capt. Moore that I felt bad and he said “Don’t worry, we’d much rather have you alive than have the money.” The Marietta Community Foundation ended up making up the money that was lost. Now, I am more careful. If I see someone coming who is acting suspicious, I really keep an eye on them. And I have a cane here. The police told me to use it if I have to.

Q: I’m sure you probably see a lot more people here who are friendly and kind.

A: Yes. I’ve met so many really nice people. Last week, I had an Arby’s employee give me a card for a meal. A lady brought me hot chocolate and while she was getting it, another man asked if I needed something hot to drink. Today, someone bought me a cup of coffee and a cookie. I really appreciate that. I always say “Thank you and God bless you.” It’s one of the highlights that I see. People care. And that’s what the Salvation Army is about, too, giving to people.

Q: Do people normally just say hello or “Merry Christmas” or do they stop and have a conversation with you?

A: Some do. I meet some people from church here sometimes, and they’ll engage with me. I just have to make sure to keep ringing the bell while we talk.

Q: I would imagine the hardest part of this job is the cold weather.

A: I bell ring even when it’s -3 degrees outside. When it’s really cold, they try to have a relief person so you can go inside for breaks.

Q: How do you prepare for the cold?

A: I have two coats on, three shirts, long johns, two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks and heavy boots. The cold still gets in there.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of the job?

A: I like to see the kids give a donation. That’s teaching them something, and they’ll never forget it. I always call them sweeties when they come through. I tell them that money’s helping another little boy or girl out because the Salvation Army helps families.

Q: You have to keep ringing the bell continuously for hours. Can you still hear it in your head after you stop?

A: So many people ask me that, if I hear the bell in my sleep. I don’t. It doesn’t bother me to hear the bell.

Q: Have there been many changes you’ve observed over the years?

A: They’ve said the numbers have been down some for a few years. I know when that first started, I got to considering that three plants had closed down in one year and I had heard gas stations where laying off employees. If people aren’t working, they can’t give as much.

People also are carrying less cash. I understand, it’s what I do, too.

Q: Do you plan to keep doing this for many more years?

A: I hope to. I’ll do it for as long as I can. I’m not doing that hard of a job, although the cold affects me. But if I give up…I’m just not going to do that. I want to keep helping.

Kate York conducted this interview.

Linda Denney

¯ Age: 65.

¯ Residence: Marietta.

¯ Occupation: Bell ringer for the Salvation Army; volunteer librarian at the Marietta Bible College.

¯ Family: Nieces and nephews, one brother and one sister, all in the New Lexington area.

Source: Linda Denney.

To volunteer as a bell ringer: Contact Lt. Moretz at 740-373-4043.