It’s Frank Bowers’ third season as a Salvation Army bell ringer. And for the past two years, he’s been stationed outside the northeast door to JC Penney’s at the Kitsap Mall.
Just about every weekday morning, and on Saturdays throughout the season, you’ll find him ringing the bell from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“I love it,” said Bowers. “It’s a great way to get into the spirit of the holidays.”
Originally from Oakland, Calif., Bowers now lives in Bremerton where he had a daughter and three granddaughters. A disabled veteran, ringing the bell is a way to supplement his disability income.
“It helps the Salvation Army and it helps me make a few dollars,” Bowers said.
While he doesn’t sing or dance, he does have a very distinctive rhythm to his ringing.
“It’s up and down and up, up down, down,” he quipped. “And then I change hands.”
Shoppers this year seem to be in a good mood and are being generous, he said.
“I can’t tell you much about the economy, except that it’s not stopping them from shopping or giving,” he said. “People are generous.”
And whether they give or not, they’ll always get a smile and a “hello” from him.
“Some of them stop to talk a bit,” he said. “We talk sports (he’s a Raiders fan…) or the military or the weather. This year, it’s been a lot about the weather.”
As for the cold streak that Bowers has had to endure, he’s not a wimp.
“I dress warm and it’s a mind thing,” he said. “I just convince myself that I’m not cold.”
But he’s glad there’s been no snow.
“If I’m dry, then I’m good,” he said. “I don’t want the rain or the snow. That makes my bones hurt.”
Bowers spent eight years in the Air Force and served in Vietnam. He’s also been an General Motors auto worker in Fremont, Calif. He’s worked at the Oakland International Airport driving fire and rescue equipment and he’s been a dining supervisor at a residential home. Four years ago at age 60, he retired and moved to Bremerton.
When he first rang the Salvation Army bell three years ago, he was located outside a state-owned liquor store.
“Those customers were very giving,” he said. “I don’t know if they were just naturally that way, or if it was because they were feeling bad about buying liquor.”
Now, having been outside Penney’s for the past two years, some people recognize him.
“They know me and they’ve seen me before,” he said. “They give cheerfully and they call me by my name.”
Bowers never looks at what is given, “only that it goes in the kettle and isn’t hanging out,” he said.
“That’s between them and the Lord,” he said. “I know they’re giving whatever they have to give.”
He’s never come across any gold coins or headline-making donations.
And he’s not aiming at setting any records. (A bell ringer in Colton, Calif. set a new record recently by ringing the bell for 105 hours straight.)
“I’m happy just being alive and being here each morning to do my part,” he said. “I’ve got an inner peace that keeps me going no matter what. That’s all I need.”
As for his Christmas list, he’s hoping for a new recliner chair to help him rest his arthritic knees. But he’s more focused on being “Santa” for his granddaughters.
“They’re all getting something from me,” he said. “Probably money in a card because girls are hard to buy for. But I know women and women like money.”
This year in Kitsap County, there are 81 people employed as bell-ringers working for the Salvation Army, said James Baker of the Bremerton Salvation Army.
Each is paid the state’s minimum wage of $9.19 an hour. The total number of hours put in each season is about 8,000 he said, with bell ringers manning 45 sites throughout Kitsap County and Belfair. The fundraising goal this year in Kitsap County is $240,000.
According to Abe Solomon, bell ringer supervisor for the Bremerton-Silverdale area, the bell ringers work in four-hour shifts and can work as many shifts as they want to.
The Salvation Army “over-hires” he said, so that they are sure to have enough bell ringers to staff all locations from the day after Thanksgiving throughout Dec. 24.
While there is no set goal for any individual bell ringer to bring in, Solomon said “we’re here to get all we can.”