The north wind shows no mercy outside the Wal-Mart on Barry Road off Interstate 29, but Harold Hepfer pays no heed. His mantra—“Good to see you this morning!”—rises above the wind, accompanied by the energetic clanging of a small brass bell in one gloved hand.

Christmas is coming, and Harold Hepfer is at his post. The 73-year-old stalwart of Salvation Army bell-ringers grins into that wind, radiates warmth for consumers hustling inside, and doles out a heaping helping of “Thank you!” with every dime and dollar they drop into his trademark red kettle. It’s a familiar routine for Hepfer, who has volunteered in most every Salvation Army program you can think of. But as the holidays unfold, the red kettle holds a special place for this tireless volunteer.

“Bell-ringing, for me, is a ministry,” he says inside, during a break from the chill. His cup of coffee, unattended, sheds BTUs as Hepfer starts talking about the Army. The retired accountant has done duty with alcohol and drug counseling, mentoring kids, emergency services after fire, flood and tornado—he was on the scene in Greensburg, Kan., for a week—and even train derailments over his 54-year history as a Salvation Army volunteer.

But the bells—man, they’re special. Special enough to get him in front of the Wal-Mart six days a week, for more than 10 hours at a crack, from Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. He’s been in that routine for the past 30 years, logging 60 hours a week on the business end of a bell. He’s pulled shifts in Kansas City, Kan., Blue Springs, North Kansas City and Lee’s Summit, always with the same result. “I’ve been told I’m one of the top three in the nation” for aggregate kettle donations, he says, somewhat sheepishly.

The biggest contribution he can recall came from a man in Leawood who once wanted to donate $1,000 anonymously. The secret to a bell-ringer’s success, Hepfer says, is “eye contact—you have to look at people. And you have to have courtesy, and tell them thank you when they donate.”

Hepfer is not only an ambassador for the Army and its wide range of social-service programs, he’s involved closer to home as long-time president of the Rosedale Neighborhood Association in Wyandotte County, and with the Rosedale Development Association’s leadership council.

“Anybody can make a difference if they don’t care who gets the credit,” he says. “You can offer your help to your local church, to Harvesters, the Salvation Army, Cross-Lines—any number of agencies.” You don’t have to work 60-hour weeks to help make that difference, Hepfer says; all you need is a willing spirit.

“I just say, ‘Here I am: Use me wherever you can, in whatever way you can.”

Story By: Ingram’s