By Shawn Chitnis
DENVER (CBS4)– A family of bell ringers keep up the tradition of volunteering for the Salvation Army each holiday season. On Friday, the group celebrated 63 years of supporting the Red Kettles by collecting donations along the 16th Street Mall.
“It’s been a great experience because the Army is so prudent with the use of your money,” said Merrill Fie. “More of the money gets to where it’s intended to go then with virtually any other organization.”
Fie, 90, started in 1956 as a bell ringer with the Kiwanis Club. His family and friends would soon join him and as more spouses and children entered the picture, more volunteers became part of the annual day of service. He is also on the advisory board for the charity.
“You know it gets in your blood, there’s a certain satisfaction that comes from helping others,” Fie said. “It grows on you, once you’ve helped others, it’s contagious.”
He remains loyal to this nonprofit because he believes they are good stewards of the donations they receive and have an important role in the community.
“They serve such a cross section of life,” he said. “Whether you’re homeless, whether you’re in the rehab program for drugs or alcohol, they have a program for virtually anything.”
Fie has two daughters and six grandchildren. He even has great grandchildren. The commitment to the Red Kettle donation drive now spans four generations. One of the youngest members of the contingency is only four years old.
“I don’t even know how I remember how I learned because the first bell ringing experience I was two years old,” said Brady Anderson, 19, one of Fie’s grandchildren. “It’s great every year, quality time before the family before the holidays.”
The newer generations have promised Fie this tradition will reach 100 years. They have already shown their commitment to a cause that means so much to him. One grandson found a place to ring a bell for the Salvation Army while in college studying abroad in London. Another was stranded in Vail one year and found a local grocery store to keep his promise even though he couldn’t make it Denver.
“It’s the biggest family tradition we have and it’s a tradition that does good for others,” Anderson said.
While Fie was on a stool with his own container to collect donations, Anderson was beside him and a traditional Red Kettle standing on Republic Plaza. Located at several other intersections along the 16th Street Mall, relatives and friends had their own red kettles.
“There’s probably about 30 or so people in our family, we’re all down the street right now,” Anderson said.
Fie says he gets a lot of satisfaction from supporting this charity year after year. The dedication he has shown inspires his own family to do the same.
“When you commit to something, you commit to it no matter how long it takes and he’s committed himself to doing good for Denver,” said Anderson.
There was only one year Fie thought he may not get out to ring the bell for the Salvation Army. A snowstorm kept him confined to a specific area but did not stop him from volunteering.
“If you don’t give back, you’re missing out on a dimension of life.”
Not much has changed in the more than six decades he has served as a bell ringer. But instead of coins, he notices more dollar bills in the can these days. A sign of increased generosity, Fie said.
He has kept the same bell since the beginning. It is his own and a family heirloom. The bell dates back to 1896, a cow bell that belonged to his grandfather. The routine he has developed is one he does not plan on stopping anytime soon.
“As long as I am physically able, my knees have warn out but my mind hasn’t warned out yet at least,” he said. “I’m very blessed.”
The contingency of bell ringers spent two hours on the mall collecting donations and hoping to inspire others to volunteer like them. The red kettle drive continues at several grocery stores across the Denver Metro Area through Christmas Eve.
“I urge people to try it,” Fie said. “Volunteer to ring bells for the army and see if you get the same satisfaction I do.”
The time given to the Salvation Army has retuned dividends far beyond his service over the years for Fie. It has also taught him and his family to see the best in others and never underestimate the generosity of strangers.
“People come up, some that you least suspect are the ones you expect to put money in the kettle,” Fie said. “It’s a study in human nature.”