Sixteen-year-old Julie stands on the makeshift platform her grandfather has made and plays her second set of Christmas tunes. Today the Minnesota winter isn't cold enough to freeze the valves on her trumpet. For that she is grateful. Grandpa Jerry Hanggi stands to her left, cheerfully ringing a bell at a Salvation Army red kettle.
"Thank you," he enthusiastically calls out to donors. "And always remember that Jesus loves you."
A middle-aged woman stands nearby, intently watching Jerry. He had noticed her but diligently continued to apply himself to the business at hand. After a while, she walks over and puts money into the kettle.
"Thank you," Jerry says. "And always remember that Jesus loves you."
The woman stops and turns slowly to look Jerry in the eye. Her face brightens.
"I just needed to hear you say that to me," she says.
Sharing love with others and having an avenue to use the name of his Savior, Jesus Christ, is the fuel that stokes Jerry's burning devotion to holiday bell-ringing.
It started simply enough. A year after Jerry retired in 1992 as an elementary school teacher in St. Paul, Minn., a local police captain came to speak to a men's group at his church. The officer was also a member of the local Salvation Army Christmas committee. He suggested that the men's group ring bells for The Salvation Army.
Selling kettle work
"I thought, 'Well, I can do that,' " Jerry said. He also began telling others why they should too.
"The Salvation Army is a church of Jesus Christ," he said. "They are not afraid to proclaim the name of Christ."
That was all Jerry needed to know about the Army. He didn't need details about the many services it provides. Nor did he need to see a breakdown of how much of each dollar given is spent on program vs. overhead.
"I trust the Army 100 percent," he says. "You don't hear a negative word about the Army from people."
Jerry has turned bell-ringing into an art.
"If a good salesman is a talker, then that is me," Jerry says. "You can't be a great bell ringer [by] just standing there numbly ringing that bell. You have to be bubbly."
Jerry prepares for the coming kettle season with an enthusiasm that would exhaust most people.
"I only have one speed," he says, "and that's fast."
Beginning in late September, each Sunday morning he sets up his recruitment table in the narthex of the Woodbury, Minn., Lutheran Church. He is determined to get himself some "ding-a-lings," his pet name for the ringers he recruits to cover Fridays and Saturdays—240 hours all told—at the local Cub Foods store.
His recruitment effort is as much of a show as is his bell-ringing. He sets up a red kettle stand, dons an apron, and begins ringing his bell.
"Would you like to be a campanologist?" he asks, to get attention. He had learned from a radio show that it means "one skilled in the ringing of bells."
The bell-ringing, the recruitment efforts, and the devotion he has for his wife, now suffering the ravages of Alzheimer's, are all part of Jerry's witness.
"I can't do anything less," Jerry says.
When Jerry is ringing the Salvation Army bell, shoppers who drop dollars or just a few coins in the kettle will hear him say, "Always remember that Jesus loves you."