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Ryan Johnson, Forum Communications Co., Published November 29 2010

Seven generations of Salvation Army

GRAND FORKS - Even as a 7-year-old, Brenden Woodard was a natural bell ringer for The Salvation Army.

“He wanted the bell right away,” his father, Tim, said. “He rang it with vigor and just had a lot of energy.”

Now 19, Brenden still volunteers each holiday season – and he represents his family’s seventh generation of involvement with The Salvation Army across the United States and Europe.

When he’s not busy working at the organization’s thrift store in Grand Forks, Brenden is asking for donations outside Walmart as The Salvation Army holds its annual holiday season fundraising drive.

“It’s our family heritage,” he said. “It just keeps getting passed down from generation to generation.”

‘A family tradition’

More than a decade after his first attempt at being a bell ringer, Brenden still feels “really blessed” to watch people come up to the kettle and give what they can to help the Salvation Army carry out its mission.

He prefers to be stationed outdoors rather than being at a warmer post inside a shopping mall, even if that choice requires him to brave the harsh elements that come with the holiday season.

“You get a lot more money that way for The Salvation Army by standing out there in the cold and just ringing the bell,” he said.

Brenden might change his mind this winter – he’s only lived in Grand Forks since June, when his father was transferred to serve as a Corps Helper at the local Salvation Army.

His hometown of Ottumwa, Iowa, had much milder winters, but Brenden said the chilly weather here won’t be enough to keep him from helping out.

“It’s such a blessing just to keep ringing that bell so that people can hear it everywhere,” he said.

Brenden’s involvement with the organization doesn’t end after Christmas. He helps out year-round and said he plans to go into ministry with the Salvation Army to fulfill a calling he realized when he was 16 years old.

But it’s not uncharacteristic for a member of the Woodard family to dedicate his or her life to the mission of The Salvation Army.

“My father has done it, and my grandfather has done it, so it’s kind of a family tradition,” he said.

‘A way of life’

Brenden’s father, Tim, got his start as a bell ringer when he was about 8 years old. It was a natural next step, considering that he grew up in a family with a history that “goes clear back to the founding days of The Salvation Army.”

Tim’s father volunteered with the organization. And he had Dutch ancestors on his mother’s side of the family who were involved with The Salvation Army for several generations.

“It’s just been a part of our family, not only the bell ringing, but every aspect of The Salvation Army,” Tim said.

Tim said he continues to be involved with the organization because he’s drawn to The Salvation Army’s mission to perform evangelical and social work to bring the Christian message to the poor and hungry.

“It comes from a deep-rooted thing within me that is just part of my life,” he said. “It becomes a lifestyle; it becomes a way of life.”

Even after decades of asking holiday shoppers to donate to The Salvation Army, Tim said he still likes hearing the bells because it’s become a family tradition for the season.

“When the bell starts ringing, it just reminds you that the season’s here,” he said.

Ryan Johnson is a writer for the Grand Forks Herald