For veteran Salvation Army bell ringer Roland Jones, standing by his red kettle to solicit donations is closer to a calling than a day at work. Jones has been a Salvation Army member for more than 50 years, and the time he spends ringing—first at Cabela's in Boise and now at Walmart in Ontario, Oregon—is the highlight of his year. Nellie Baker, the Boise Salvation Army director of annual gifts, said during his 12 years on the job, Jones has consistently brought in $60-$80 per hour—well above the $30 average.
Though he had to take last year off from his kettle to care for his 95-year-old brother-in-law and was struck by illness early this season, Jones was happy to talk about his past experiences and how much he's looking forward to getting back to work. A few days after this interview took place, Jones called BW to say he had made a full recovery and was heading back out to his kettle.
How long have been with the Salvation Army?
I've been with the Salvation Army since I was 12, and I'm almost 82 now ... I've been an ordained minister in the Salvation Army, but right now I'm just a member or what we call a "soldier."
And how long have you been ringing bells?
I've stood kettles for years. I stood when I lived in Boise, then I moved out here three years ago to Fruitland. I stood at Cabela's and was the No. 1 kettle bell ringer in bringing in income.
Do you do anything special to bring in those extra donations?
I have my Salvation Army uniform, and I stand it in a lot of times and it helps a lot ... [And] when little kids put money into the Christmas kettle, I tell them, "Now, because you did that, you get to ring the bell." While they're ringing the bell, I look at the mom, and I say, "If Mom's got a cell phone camera, she could take a picture of this and have a keepsake for years down the road."
And I'm sure if another kid walks by right then, they want to ring the bell, too.
Oh yeah, and of course everybody likes to have Mom or Dad take a picture of them ringing the bell. I tell them, "Well now, years down the road, you can look at that picture and say, 'I helped the Salvation Army to meet the needs of needy people at Christmas time, or Thanksgiving.'"
That would make anyone feel good.
They go away happy: skipping, jumping and laughing. It makes their day. Sometimes children aren't too happy about having to go grocery shopping with Mom or Dad, but when that experience happens to them, they're as happy as a lark.
How long do you usually ring each day?
Black Friday I was out there nine hours, and Saturday I was out there nine hours. Normally, all the past years I've only rang like six, seven or eight hours a day.
Wow! That's a long time to be out in the cold. How do you deal with the weather?
I have two or three layers of clothes. I dress with long johns and then another layer of clothes over that. Now, a lot of times, I won't stand in uniform if it gets too cold, I just put three layers of clothing on. People say "Aren't you cold?" and I say, "No, I'm warm as toast because I dress for the weather."
Tell me about one of the good experiences you had while ringing in the past.
Well, I could go on for hours with experiences I've had, but I've had a lot of people come up to me with stories of what the Salvation Army did for them years ago, and how they always give because of that. Like one day, I remember a lady said the Salvation Army got her and her children a train ticket from somewhere in North Dakota back to Chicago, where her folks lived, so that she could celebrate Christmas with them because they'd lost their home.
I'm sorry to hear your health has kept you from ringing this past week.
I think one of the reasons I got sick is because I didn't take enough breaks last Friday or Saturday [while ringing], so that was my own stupid fault ... I missed last year ringing kettle bells, so I was so thrilled ... I'm almost back to normal right now. I've still got eight days of antibiotics to take, but I'm beginning to feel normal again.
Well, hopefully you can be back at it again soon.
Oh, I will be.