He rang in the morning. He rang at night. He rang in the sunshine. He rang in the snow. For 36 hours, Salvation Army Corps Capt. Kyle Smith stood by his red kettle and rang his bell. By doing so, he shattered the previous world bell-ringing record of 30.5 hours.
Smith took his post at 5 a.m. Friday in front of the Northpointe Walmart store and didn’t leave until 5 p.m. Saturday. He borrowed his 12-year-old son’s insulated boots and spread a carpet remnant next to the kettle to provide warmth and cushion for his feet from the cold concrete.
Eight hours into his stint, Smith said, “I thought the sound of the bell was going to drive me crazy, but it hasn’t, yet.”
To topple the record Smith had to ring continuously, even while in the restroom. He showed off his clever solution to what could have been a delicate problem. He’d clipped a bell to his coat cuff. “I’ll jingle while I tinkle,” he said.
He’d asked friends and supporters to come keep him company throughout the day and the long dark hours of the night. Smith predicted the halfway point would be the most difficult stretch for him.
As he chatted with a reporter, a little girl carefully put a handful of coins, one at a time, into the kettle. She even tried to slip in her Christmas cookie, but it didn’t fit. “Thank you very much!” Smith said. “God Bless!”
In tough economic times, every penny helps and donations have been down this holiday season. That’s what prompted Smith to launch his record-breaking attempt. He said: “We’ve always got a waiting list for shelter and housing. The need is far greater than all of us together can meet.”
His perpetual grin faded as he talked about the economic forecast. “I think things are going to get worse,” he said. “If there’s ever a time when we need support it’s now.”
Smith’s smile returned when a fellow wearing a Korean veteran cap slipped a couple of large bills into the kettle. The generosity of so many moves him. He noted that often those who give the most look like they don’t have much to spare.
Earlier in the day several children had stopped by and put money in the kettle. “Then their mom pulled up with them all in the car and they all sang ‘Jingle Bells’ to me.” Kindnesses like that kept him motivated.
On Sunday afternoon, after soaking his feet and a night of rest, Smith reflected on his experience. As he’d predicted, the worst hours occurred at the halfway point. Around midnight the Salvation Army brass band showed up and buoyed his spirits. But Smith made the mistake of asking for the time. “Someone told me it was 12:30, but it was only midnight.” That half-hour difference sank his spirits for a time.
The band left and his son, Landon, 12, who’d vowed to stay the night, bailed at 2 a.m. “It was miserable from then until the light came up,” admitted Smith. “It was pretty lonely out there.”
The falling snow didn’t help, either. Though Walmart managers said he could move his kettle inside the doorway, Smith declined. “I thought it wouldn’t be right,” he said. “I started outside and I wanted to finish outside.”
When the sun came up, Smith’s spirits lifted. His son returned, saying, “If you’re going for 36 hours, I’m staying with you. I won’t wimp out on you.” He kept his word and got to see his dad shatter the record at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Smith said the Salvation Army motto of “Heart to God, Hand to Man,” is what inspires him. “When people support us, they also are the hands of God to our community.”
And the community responded to Smith’s efforts. While the final count had yet to be tallied, Smith said he’s confident that he raised at least $7,000 during his bell-ringing marathon.
While he’s pleased with the result, Smith is in no way ready to rest on his laurels. Next year, he not only hopes to break his own record, but he has set his sights even higher. Smith wants to launch a national bell-ringing competition. Think of it as Survivor: Salvation Army style.
“I want to challenge Salvation Army captains in America,” he said. “Everyone will start at the exact same time and the last ringer standing wins!”