Grocery store Santa out for one last bell ring
COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — It’s not hard to see why people call Bill Conner, Santa. He comes around, the same time every year, has an infectious laugh, and he takes pictures with the children. His big white beard and age don’t hurt either.
However, instead of toys, Bill gives his time, his smile and a warm handshake. It’s something he’s been doing for more than a decade as a Salvation Army bell ringer. Unfortunately, this is Bill’s last year wearing the red apron.
Bill’s spot for ringing each year is the Fred Meyer in Coeur d’Alene. He knows the people who shop there. He knows their children. And every year, he makes new friends.
“The most unexpected people to give, are the ones that give,” said Bill.
In the years he’s volunteered at Fred Meyer, he’s seen a lot of things, he’s learned a lot about people and he’s been able to give a lot.
“People have a need. You can see it.”
In the last decade of ringing for the Red Kettle drives, Bill has collected more than $50,000. People stop to take pictures with him, or have their children pose next to ‘Santa.’ Some parents even hand over their babies for the photo-op.
“And she handed me her baby, a really new one,” said Bill, recounting one of his more memorable situations behind the kettle. “The minutes seemed like hours. When you gonna take it back? And it’s smiling and cute.”
Unfortunately, Bill won’t be holding anymore babies or ringing any more bells. Terminal cancer is forcing Bill to hang up his red apron for the last time. But before he does that, he wanted one more shift with the bell.
“Losing tomorrow, that’s OK. I’ve had a great life,” said Bill.
Bill doesn’t know when his tomorrows will run out but when we asked him why he wanted to spend his days greeting shoppers in a cold foyer, his response was quick.
“Ohhh, that’s easy. It’s been a part of my life for actually more than 10 years and it’s been so rewarding.”
That’s just who Bill is. He’s a volunteer, a Korean War vet and a grocery store Santa all rolled into one.
“It’s been wonderful. That’s all I can say. A wonderful time,” said Bill, as yet another person drops cash in Bill’s kettle, earning themselves that contagious smile.
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