Bonnie – A Bellingham Belle – and Bass
Bell Ringer Rings in Holidays with Style
by Ernest A. Jasmin –
The Bellingham Herald – Reprinted with permission
Bonnie Brown Bishop sits near the entrance of the Fred Meyer Store, wearing gloves and several layers of clothing under her red Salvation Army jacket.
Her holiday arsenal is at hand. She sits behind a Casio CTK-100 keyboard. Next to her, an alto trombone rests on the bench. The bells aren’t visible. She keeps those tucked safely away in her pockets. That is, until a toddler glances her way or coyly approaches to drop a coin into the red fundraising bucket. Bishop, 65, then invites the wide-eyed youngster to ring them. At one point, Bishop greets an elderly man who approaches. “Hi, Eric.”
“Don’t blow too hard,” he replies, smiling “You’ll blow this place away.”
Bishop chuckles at the reference to her tuba. “Well, I’ve got the little, toned-down one now. I had the tuba before when you came by.”
“Well, I’ll see you later.” He is just one of the many who have gotten to know Bishop by name. She’s a familiar sight as she fingers her keyboard or blows her tuba. And, though she’s played music since she was a child, she never claims to be a professional.
Reaching out to other people is what the holidays are about, she says.
She can recall at least 500 names of people she met during her days working for The Salvation Army in various capacities. Since retirement five years ago, she decided she wanted to come back as a volunteer bell ringer, but to do it her way.
Nowadays, she has a full holiday schedule, between raising money at Fred Meyer, visiting retirement homes and playing Christmas carols with the Bellingham High School Alumni Band.
Some encounters stand out in her mind. For example, there’s the time a few years ago when Bishop was stationed at Fairhaven Red Apple, equipped with an accordion, that trouble arose. The source: a group of about six boys skateboarding in and out of parking lot traffic.
“And they decided they were gonna take my bucket,” Bishop says. When she didn’t allow this, one of the boys sarcastically suggested that they needed the money. Then an indignant Bishop pointed to their expensive Nike tennis shoes.
“There are kids who are gonna get a Christmas because people give their nickels, dimes or quarters or little dollar bills,” Bishop explained. “Some of these kids have never, ever had a new pair of shoes.”
After the lecture, the kids were soon helping her by picking up change they found in the parking lot. “They came back over and over again, bringing those ‘pennies from heaven.'”
“When you give, you really receive,” she says. “It does more for you, really, than the other person.”