Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Top bell ringer charms donors with his angelic voice

JACKSONVILLE — Harold Pierce rings a mean bell and sings with a voice of an angel.

That and a charming gift for gab routinely rank the white-bearded, retired Jacksonville science teacher among the top fundraisers for the regional Salvation Army Red Kettle Christmas campaign.

Pierce, 77, stood outside several area Publix stores last week singing a repertoire of about 15 Christmas songs in a deep, lovely baritone voice he has used as a bell ringer for nine years. The longtime church choir singer also offers various blessings and other friendly messages.

"I was kind of drawn by his vocals," said the Rev. Richard Madison Sr., a St. Augustine pastor while shopping. "I just felt the need to respond."

Nicknamed by his fans as the Singing Bell Ringer, Pierce's favorite tune is I'll Be Home for Christmas. He also specializes in songs such as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Silver Bells, and throws in an occasional Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.

"It's a God-given talent," said Pierce, who also sings at weddings and funerals. "I feel like I wouldn't be truthful to him if I didn't sing."

The international Red Kettle fundraising campaign began in 1891 in San Francisco when Salvation Army Capt. Joseph McFee set up a collection crab pot at Oakland Ferry Landing to feed 1,000 of the poor on Christmas Day. The first time a Red Kettle volunteer rang a bell was in 1900.

Pierce, a tall, thin man with soft blue eyes, can be found on stage outside area Publix supermarkets from just before Thanksgiving to Christmas, for as many as eight hours a day five days a week.

The campaign by the Salvation Army's Northeast Florida Area raised $845,000 last year — about 8 percent of the organization's budget. The money is initially used for a variety of Salvation Army Christmas programs, and leftover dollars go to other year-round services.

Pierce, who has raised between $15,000 and $15,400 in the past two years, said he is especially fond of a Christmas toy giveaway program put on by the Salvation Army with money raised in the small red buckets of the Red Kettle campaign.

"If you care anything about people at all, all you have to do is stand back and observe as the families come out of there with bicycles, tricycles, scooters, dolls and all kinds of other toys," he said. "It's worth it."

Pierce volunteers for the nonprofit organization at other points in the year and is seen as one of its ambassadors, said Kelly Belich, a Salvation Army spokeswoman.

"He's just bursting with joy, and that's why he's so magnetic and good at this bell ringing thing," Belich said. "Who doesn't want to be like that?"

Here's a taste of that magnetism:

"Merry Christmas. Have you been a good girl?" Pierce said to 4-year-old Camille Buss before she and her mother shopped at a Publix.

"Yes, because I ate my broccoli," Camille squeaked.

"You ate your broccoli?" Pierce said with a clap and smile.

"Yes, and my cauliflower," she replied.

"That's a good girl. You're going to be grow up and be very healthy," he said.

Moments later, Pierce began ringing his bell and belting out another song.

Top bell ringer charms donors with his angelic voice 12/25/15 [Last modified: Friday, December 25, 2015 10:02pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Florida Times-Union.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Shooting sends man to hospital in St. Pete

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — Police were investigating a shooting that occurred around 4:40 p.m. on Tuesday and sent a man to the hospital.

  2. Police: Man tries to lure child with puppy in Polk County

    Crime

    Times staff

    HAINES CITY — A man was arrested Sunday after he tried to entice a young girl into his camper to view a puppy, according to police.

    Dale Collins, 63, faces a charge of luring or enticing a child under the age of 12. [Photo courtesy of the Polk County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Editorial: Coming together to reduce car thefts

    Editorials

    The simple, knee-jerk response to the juvenile car theft epidemic in Pinellas County would be to crack down on offenders with an increased police presence and stiffer sentences. Thankfully, local community leaders did not stop there. As detailed in a recent Tampa Bay Times follow-up to its 
As detailed in a recent Tampa Bay Times follow-up to its "Hot Wheels" investigation into youth car thefts, a variety of ideas from multiple directions increases the odds of actually solving the cause and not just treating the symptoms.

  4. Editorial: Floridians' health care now at risk in Washington

    Editorials

    The health care for millions of Floridians is now at risk. The U.S. Senate's dramatic vote Tuesday to begin debate on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act with no idea what will happen is a dangerous gamble with American lives and the national economy. Barring an unexpected bipartisan compromise, a handful of …

    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., dramatically returned to the Senate for the first time since his brain cancer was diagnosed and cast the key vote that enabled Vice President Mike Pence to break the 50-50 tie and allow the health care debate to proceed.
  5. Former Marine from Florida dies fighting for Kurdish militia

    ORLANDO — A former Marine who secretly traveled to Syria earlier this year to battle the Islamic State was killed while fighting for a Kurdish militia, his father said Tuesday.

    David Taylor, with his father David Taylor Sr., was killed earlier this month in Syria while fighting for a Kurdish militia.