Sulphur Springs native Rick Cowan has been helping the Hopkins County community for almost 20 years with the Salvation Army. Dressed as Santa Claus with a bright white bell in hand, he and his fellow volunteers have paved the way for more than 300 local families to have Christmas this year.
Cowan’s story with the Salvation Army began in 1995 while he was working at Taco Bell. He decided he wanted to do something for others and happened to read an advertisement for the Red Kettle campaign by Salvation Army.
“During a work break, I walked down and talked to Jo Marie Neal at the Salvation Army,” said Cowan.
Cowan and Neal talked about what it meant to ring the bell and how many people are effected in Hopkins County. The day after Thanksgiving, he starting ringing the bell outside Walmart.
“I would ring the bell all morning until 2 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays,” remarked Cowan.
In between donating all his free time at Salvation Army, Cowan eventually started working at Morningstar, which is now Saputo.
Working the 4 p.m. to midnight shift at Morningstar, Cowan would then get up early to ring the bell as long as he could before returning to work.
“Neal would drop me off at VF Mall so that I could work at my shift at Morningstar,” said Cowan.
Every year, Cowan continued to volunteer long hours to work for Salvation Army during the holiday season. Hopkins County Salvation Army Treasurer Tammy Flemming said that every chance Cowan was free, he was ringing the bell in whatever weather Mother Nature had in store for him.
After 16 years, he took a year off in 2011 when a health problem left him unable to stand out in the cold during the month of December.
“I have so many great memories,” said Cowan with a big smile on his face. “One year, a grandmother who recognized me from previous years asked me to look after her 3-year-old granddaughter while she tried to find her car in the parking lot at Walmart. The girl had a tricycle and rode in a circle around my stand.”
In 2012, Cowan was over his health issue and immediately wanted to continue helping raise money to benefit community members.
“I hope to continue doing this next year and the rest of my life,” said Cowan. “I hope that we get more help in the future.”
Cowan says that he likes working the long hours, but volunteers are always welcome. He spent 42 hours in front of Walmart this season and is ready to help the campaign in the future.
“Sometimes we start early in the morning and continue ringing the bell until 7 or 8 p.m,” said Cowan. “People will tell me that they don’t have much money but they give what they can. Every penny adds up.”
For 2014, in the spirit of Christmas, Cowan grew out his beard and dressed up like Santa Claus.
“Seeing the kids smile when they donate a hand full of change into the bucket gets me tickled. They drop in each coin one at a time,” said Cowan. “Seeing people happy is the reason I ring the bell every year.”
The Salvation Army’s motto is “doing the most good” and Cowan says this is a mission that he takes to heart. The Salvation Army operates 7,546 centers that provide food distribution, disaster relief, rehabilitation centers, anti-human trafficking efforts and a wealth of children's programs. For more information or to volunteer, contact Tammy Flemming at 903-348-9543.