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Life and times of a veteran Salvation Army bell ringer

The Daily Independent - 12/25/2017

Dec. 22--The cold, desert air carried his voice clear across the Stater Brothers parking lot on Tuesday evening. Salvation Army officer Major Turnie Wright sang, ironically, "Silent Night" in a tone so loud and crystal clear that many shoppers may have thought it was a professional recording coming over the grocery store's speaker system.

"I prefer singing over using the bell," Wright said. "I've found out that my voice holds out through all the weeks of us doing this better than it would if I was just ringing the bell."

The Salvation Army red kettle bell ringers have become a staple of the holiday season. As the winter season starts, they post at the entrance of participating stores next to their traditional red kettles where those passing by can place a donation for the Salvation Army. Rather than approaching busy people to ask for donations, the Salvation Army bell ringers simply ring their bell -- or in Wright's case, sing -- to invite donations from any who wish to give.

It's an event in which Wright has about as much experience as anyone could. He said that he has 52 years of experience with Salvation Army bell ringing. For anyone wondering, he's also 52 years old. He explained that his mother was also a Salvation Army bell ringer, and she would head out to her post with Wright as a baby in tow.

It goes deeper. Wright said that his mother got into Salvation Army bell ringing because his grandmother was a bell ringer. He said that his grandmother grew up in a rough neighborhood of Denver. She knew she had to do something to help support her children, so she found out how to work part time as a Salvation Army bell ringer.

"The older kids would take care of the younger kids at the house, and when my grandmother was done she would jump on the bus and go home," he said.

His mother saw how it worked out for the family, so she also started working with the Salvation Army. As soon as Wright could work on his own, he did. And in those days, it was quite soon. Wright said he began taking a post as a bell ringer at the age of 12, and has continued doing so almost every year ever since.

Now, he takes the post as a volunteer. His part-time generational interest in the Salvation Army became a full-time career when he became a Salvation Army officer 20 years ago, but he still likes to volunteer to take up a post next to a red kettle every year. His wife, Evadne Wright, is also a Salvation Army officer and has been for a couple years longer than he has. He said their careers as officers have taken them to Arizona, Alaska, and even overseas.

Alaska was home most recently for Wright and his family, who just moved down from Sitka, Alaska to Ridgecrest, California this year. They moved at the request of the Salvation Army, as they are now the co-leading officers of Ridgecrest'sSalvation Army church.

Moving from Alaska to the Mojave Desert took some adjusting, especially because they moved in the middle of the summer.

"The heat was stifling when we arrived in the summer, but we dealt with it. Thank God for air conditioning," he said. He said they've done a bit of traveling with the family and they've enjoyed exploring the area. He added that the kids are excited to live closer to Disneyland.

Some of the bell ringers around town do it as a part-time paid position, however many of them are volunteers, according to Wright. He said that they're typically out there about four to five hours, though he has had shifts for a full eight hours.

"My wife and I call it 'kettle mode.' You just go go go go go, and then you crash," he said. Management techniques he's learned over the years include simply shifting weight from foot to foot, helping out shoppers get groceries to their cars, and of course, singing. Additionally, he laughed as he said that he does notice when shoppers do their best to avoid awkward eye contact. He said he doesn't judge at all while at the post.

"Oh yes, I notice it all the time," he said. "It doesn't bother me one bit. They're doing it for their reason, and I don't worry about it."

The best thing about taking up a post as a Salvation Army bell ringer? For Wright, he said that it's seeing the excited faces on children and interacting with the community, whether it's praying over someone who needs help or singing with someone who stops by for a song on their way to the store.

The Salvation Army may be most visible during the holiday season, but it's plenty active throughout the year. Wright said that aside from its service projects, Salvation Army is first and foremost a church. As co-leaders, Wright said that sometimes he leads the Sunday sermon and sometimes his wife does.

He said that the Salvation Army tries to make itself available for helping out with whatever the community may need. As an example, he said that while working with the Sitka Salvation Army church, there was a terrible landslide. He, along with other Salvation Army employees and volunteers, went out to help provide supplies and assist with the emergency responders.

The local Salvation Army also has an annual summer camp for kids. Wright said that they provide for about 100 kids to go to a summer camp in the Santa Cruz mountains where they learn outdoor skills like how to make a fire and how to cook over a fire, and also social skills as they interact with other kids and learn to accomplish goals together.

He said that the camp comes at a cost, and the Salvation Army is hoping the community can help raise funds so they can continue hosting the event.

Additionally, he said that if anyone is interested in getting involved with the Salvation Army, it's possible to become a Salvation Army officer. He said that the Salvation Army actually has its own college to train its officers. Wright said that the college trains on how to give sermons, or even to improve musical skills if the officer is so inclined. He said at the end of the program, graduates come out with an Associate's Degree, and Salvation Army encourages officers to continue their education.

For those who may not be interested in being an officer, but may want to join the local Salvation Army church, volunteer, or take a post as a bell ringing, Wright said all are welcome to stop by the church at 151 N Downs Street or to call at 760 -- 371 -- 7575.

Note: This article was edited on Friday, Dec. 22 at 9:51 a.m. to show that the Salvation Army address is 151 N Downs St. A previous version of this story listed the address as 151 S Down St.


(c)2017 The Daily Independent, Ridgecrest, Calif.

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