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Anderson column: Shedding a tear as the bell went silent

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A column by JOHN ANDERSON

As I entered Tops with my camera and notepad, there was silence at the Salvation Army Red Kettle. My heart sunk. Where was Bob Perkins?

I decided to shop a little, and then erased any bad thoughts from my mind. I realized, “John, the man doesn’t ring the bell 24/7, I’m sure his shift is later.”

Boy, it does seem he rings it that long.

Bob and I became friends while members of the Grant Duke Hose Company No. 1 in Wellsville. We were volunteers. But he knew how actions not words worked when it came to being a volunteer. If you’ve ever sat in a meeting for any organization, you know how hard it is to find someone to do the important jobs that receive zero recognition.

Bob was the one who raised his hand every single time. I know Art Havens is smiling as he reads this in Heaven. Art would say what was needed, look at me, shake his head and then smile when Bob volunteered!

Like everyone else, we knew Bob from his 40-plus years working at Bells and Giant Food Mart. After he retired, he was back at supermarkets, ringing the bell for the Salvation Army.

Last week, Bob sat bundled up in the foyer at Tops, ringing the bell. He looked tired, but he looked determined.

“John,” he said, tilting his head and making eye contact with you, “I missed raising $10,000 by $40 last year. I have to get it this year. I need your help.”

I saw the scan code on the poster. Bob assured me if you went to the website or scanned the code, you can put in your information and the money stays at your local Salvation Army. We decided to do the story this week.

With a camera and notepad, I didn’t see Bob. And he wasn’t there when I left the store, either.

That night I saw a simple Facebook post about a “Bob” passing away. I didn’t even have to read the comments.

I knew it was my friend.

How badly did Bob want to raise $10,000 for others in need? At age 69, he was out ringing the bell in public during a pandemic. He died as a result of Covid complications. The new c-word which is up there with cancer, was the reason he couldn’t see his wife, Bonnie, or his daughters.

You can scan and make a donation to help Bob Perkins reach the goal he gave his life for.

I can’t think of a better time or reason to donate to the Salvation Army. The plea is even in his obituary. He doesn’t want flowers. The family would like memorial donations in his name to the Red Kettle Fund. Also, the fire department. Which one? It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s a volunteer fire department.

As I was thinking of Bob and his life, I thought of the family farm up on the hill. His neighbor recently passed, Ronald Freeman, at the age of 82.

Bob was known for his work with the Elm Valley Harvesters, which was started by Ron Freeman’s dad, Louis. Later, it became a 4-H group. Bob was then very active and kept the Almond Grange going. He was dedicated sending in press releases to the newspapers in Hornell and Wellsville on an index card.

Suddenly, Ron and Bob were no longer just neighbors, but “fair” partners. Bob loved the rich tradition of farming and agriculture at the county fair.

Ron was a proud member of the 4-H starting in 1966 and as a member of the fair board, his fingerprints were on everything. From the mini-theater to the main stage. From the horse barns to easy entrances. Stalls, entertainment, memorial benches. He worked so well with former fair board president, Martha Roberts. Watching a small but dedicated group put together the biggest entertainment of the year was incredible. During the winter months they would dedicate the fair book and have everything ready to go.

Meanwhile, Ron Freeman was also driving the school bus. When he passed, we heard about his coaching championship Little League teams and his 4-H dedication.

However, we also learned at the Wellsville Bus Garage, no one ever filled their name next to the trips that said “Wellsville Marching Lions.” The other drivers could have the sports teams and field trips. Ron was their unofficial driver.

Ronald Freeman who passed away at 82.

Directors of the band changed over the years. So did the size of the band. However, the incredibly talented musicians knew one thing, Ron was the friendly face they needed to see when getting on the bus. It didn’t matter if he was driving the team to win a New York State Championship at the Syracuse Carrier Dome or to a parade in Jamestown. The band directors and the children felt it was not a trip without Ron.

His jacket reflected that. He had pins, thank you letters and ribbons.

Meanwhile, the paths crossed again.

As Ron was turning off 417 to the school, he waved to a familiar face wearing a blaze orange vest holding a stop sign. Yes, it was Bob Perkins. There was a shortage of crossing guards so Bob stepped up once again.

Bob Perkins, left, receiving the Top Bell Ringer Award in 2019 from the Salvation Army and Lieutenant Derrick Purvis.

At night, the two would see each other at Grange meetings. They talked about their love of family and the Bible.

I would do anything to hear them brag about their grandchildren. But I have a strong feeling they are swapping stories right now.

I never thought the silence of a bell would cause me to get emotional. But today it is. If Bob Perkins had $10 in his wallet, I know $5 went to his grandchildren and $5 went to the Salvation Army and zero to him. I’m quietly taking out my phone and making a donation to the Salvation Army. It’s under the umbrella of the United Way. It’s the least we can do to tell Bob and Ron thanks.

You both made this county a better place to live. You educated us in the benefits of agriculture and farming. And you are the reason so many in this county raise their hand to volunteer.

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Robert Daniel “Bob” Perkins, 69, Wellsville

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