Cancer can’t stop 80-year-old bell ringer
For more than a decade, Andrew Benjamin has rung bells four weekdays a week, four hours a day, for the entire kettle season.
“I take Wednesdays off for a break,” the 80-year-old admitted. “Helps me warm up.”
Unfortunately, this year’s ringing season is proving to be much more difficult: For the second time this year, Benjamin has been diagnosed with cancer.
“I have melanoma in my lungs,” said Benjamin, who earlier this year overcame a different form of lung cancer after undergoing 23 radiation treatments.
Incredibly, Benjamin is not letting cancer stop him from ringing. He has scheduled 18 ringing shifts outside the Walgreen’s on Randolph Avenue in St. Paul, having already completed six of them.
His first four-hour shift was last week. On his second day of ringing, he stayed five hours.
“The person who was supposed to ring at 2 p.m. didn’t show up, so I stayed another hour,” said Benjamin, who juggles ringing with weekly doctor visits, including immunotherapy treatment. “I brought a stool in case I needed to sit down for a while. But I didn’t need the stool. I stood and rang the entire time.”
Why does Benjamin ring?
Simple: He loves The Salvation Army.
“I’ve always been partial to the Army,” he said. “I know what the Army does. I’ve gotten more involved over the years.”
So involved, that he requested a Salvation Army theme for his 80th birthday party last December (pictured). The open-house celebration, held at Fairmont Ave. Methodist Church in St. Paul, included a red kettle that raised nearly $1,200 from more than 100 guests.
“It was awesome,” Benjamin said. “Probably one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
He also rings because he likes to see old friends, meet new ones, and thank them all for giving to The Salvation Army. He’s been ringing at the same Walgreen’s for so long, people recognize him all the time.
“People say they look forward to me ringing, that they only give when I’m there ringing the bell,” Benjamin said. “I’ve got quite the following.”
Benjamin admits that this year’s mild weather has made ringing easier than normal. Nonetheless, he is well prepared for temperatures to make their inevitable nosedive.
“I’ll be wearing a big pair of Red Wing boots, four pairs of socks, liners in my mittens, and hand warmers,” he said.
The Salvation Army treasures Benjamin.
“He is a gem,” said Major Jeff Strickler, Commander of the Twin Cities Salvation Army. “He is making the most of his remaining time on earth, being as cheerful as possible. He is an inspiration and a great model for living.”
Benjamin agrees, in his own humble way.
“For an old codger, I’m not doing too bad,” he said.
Be a bell ringer
Join the 16,000 volunteer ringers who have already signed up. In just two hours, you’ll raise an average of $60 – enough money for The Salvation Army to serve a hot meal to more than 30 people.
Register to ring now in Minnesota or North Dakota.