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Mitchell woman rings Salvation Army bells for 67 years

Granger first volunteered with organization in 1952

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Corrine Granger, 84, has been volunteering as a Salvation Army bell ringer since 1952. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Corrine Granger was greeting shoppers Thursday morning at Cabela's as one of the thousands of people across the country who volunteer for the Salvation Army during its annual holiday fundraising campaign. But while there are many Salvation Army bell ringers around the world, few can claim to have put in as much time as she has benefiting others in need.

Granger has logged 67 years as a Salvation Army volunteer, providing holiday cheer to Mitchell area residents and inspiration to others looking to make a difference in the lives of others.

“I’ve been ringing bells since the 1950s. I started in 1952 with the Salvation Army on Main Street (in Mitchell),” Granger said after returning from a recent shift greeting holiday shoppers with her bell and donation kettle.

Granger, 84, is one of several volunteers who stand in front of local retailers, offering seasonal greetings to shoppers and welcoming donations as they enter or exit the stores as they do their Christmas shopping. And over the many years she has braved the often cold and windy conditions with a smile in the name of benefiting an organization that supports others in their times of need.

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She recalls the earliest days of her bell ringing, when volunteers would stand on Main Street in Mitchell encouraging donations. In those days, resources were a little more scarce and keeping warm in cold conditions could be a challenge.

“We rang them on the street before we had the little kettle houses. The city got kettle houses and the city let us have electricity for a little heater in them, but they didn’t furnish the heaters,” Granger said.

She, her husband and their nine children would volunteer yearly for bell-ringing duty and other tasks with the group. And though it was a family affair, Granger said it would sometimes take encouragement to get everybody excited about their shifts.

“It was just something you volunteered for, you know? That’s what I did. Then when the kids got old enough to help, they didn’t have a choice. They were volunteered,” Granger said.

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Corrine Granger uses her own bell, which reads "Ring for a Smile," while volunteering as a Salvation Army bell ringer at Cabela's in Mitchell on Thursday morning. Granger has been volunteering as a bell ringer since 1952. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Ann Miller remembers those times well. As one of Granger’s children, she remembers the family nights spent trying to keep the winter cold at bay while spreading some holiday warmth at the same time.

“I’m going on 60, so I would say I was about 7 or 8 when I started. We all got to go out and ring bells,” Miller said. “The only thing we got was a cup of hot chocolate to warm up. But at that time you appreciated it.”

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Miller said the family also appreciated the Salvation Army as an organization for how it helped them during a rough time. A fire destroyed the family home, and the Salvation Army was instrumental in helping them get back on their feet. The gesture inspired a strong loyalty to the organization, and many members of the family continue to volunteer or work for the group, including Miller.

“When we were younger our home burned down to the ground. The first ones there were the Salvation Army. They made sure we had a place to stay and clothing to wear, because we had nothing,” Miller said.

Granger has rung bells around Mitchell at many stores and greeted customers from all walks of life. She can recall her time spent in front of Shopko, Walgreens, Coborn’s as well as newer stores like Walmart and Cabela’s.

Giving back to the organization that gave to her family has only continued to enrich her life. With Mitchell on a major interstate highway, she has come across people from around the world.

“Oh, you meet a lot of different people from a lot of different states. I had one couple from Korea about four weeks ago when we first started, and they wanted to know all about the Salvation Army,” Granger said. “And I told them.”

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Corrine Granger sits in her chair with a Rudolph outfit while volunteering as a Salvation Army bell ringer on Thursday morning at Cabela's in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Bill Middendorp, auxiliary captain for the Salvation Army in Mitchell, said bell ringers are essential to the annual holiday campaign, and having volunteers like Granger is a blessing. He said she is well-known in the community for her long-running work with the organization.

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“I had a couple of volunteers sign up last week, and they said they were signing up because she was such an inspiration. It’s really cool when stuff like that happens,” Middendorp said.

Middendorp said it can be difficult to find and keep bell ringers during the busy Christmas season.

“Here in Mitchell, we only have seven kettles, and I have not had enough volunteers, so I’m hiring people to ring bells. And it pays because it helps them get some money up for Christmas and helps us raise money, but volunteers are obviously a better way of doing things.”

Without people like Granger manning the kettles, the local branch of the Salvation Army could not perform its duties as an organization, Middendorp said.

“For us, it’s one or our only fundraisers of the year, so it’s highly important in meeting our goals for the season in order to do our programs and ministry year round,” he said. “It funds our food pantry, our feeding programs, our rental and utility assistance and emergency disaster services. It has a big impact in that area.”

Middendorp said because of donations brought in through the efforts of Granger and other volunteers, 1,334 people have been able to use the Salvation Army food pantry, 8,000 meals have been prepared through its Compassion Kitchen, 155 kids have received donated coats, 90 kids have received donated back-to-school clothing and 315 families have received Christmas food boxes in 2019 alone.

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Corrine Granger shares a laugh with patrons heading into Cabela's while volunteering as a Salvation Army bell ringer on Thursday morning in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

He’s thankful for people like Granger, whose compassion for others has kept them returning to support the group over the years. He said there are a handful of others who have worked with the organization for a comparable amount of time, but Granger has become somewhat of a local fixture, known for her smile and friendly greetings.

“She’s kind of a legend, but we have others, too,” Middendorp said.

Miller agreed that giving back through groups like the Salvation Army can go a long way in making a difference in the lives of people who find themselves in need.

“I think if people are able to sit in a comfortable house and don’t have to worry about the bills being paid and kids having presents and food on the table, then think of those who don’t have that option,” Miller said. “That’s what they need to remember. Some are way less fortunate, and that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to help, but we can’t do it by ourselves.”

Granger said she recently retired from working at the Salvation Army kitchen, but she plans to keep up her work ringing bells and other assignments if asked. Even after 67 years, she rings her bell and greets people Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the holiday season. She even picks up additional hours when other volunteers are running late or unavailable.

It’s something that has become a part of her, she said, and she can’t imagine stopping now.

“I’m kind of used to it,” she laughed. “I’d be lost if I didn’t go out and do something.”

Related Topics: PEOPLE
Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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