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Helen McCombie is Salvation Army's baddest bellringer

Last year Salvation Army bellringer Helen McCombie, center, came within $2,000 of goal to raise $30,000 in 30 hours. She had the support of family like daughter Catherine, right, and Hudson Mayor Dean Knudson, left, as well as friends and strangers. This is the fourth year McCombie will be outside County Market ringing for 30 hours straight. She begins her effort at 5 a.m. Dec. 16 and rings through to noon on Dec. 17. Star-Observer file photo

Helen McCombie is becoming something of a holiday tradition in Hudson. This year marks the fourth time McCombie will man a Salvation Army red kettle outside of County Market in an effort to "raise $30,000 in 30 hours."

She will begin at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 16 and finish at noon on Dec. 17. "But it all depends on how close I come. Last year we held out for a couple more hours hoping we could raise a little more," said McCombie.

Last year, she came within $2,000 of the goal, a little less than she collected in 2006 but she hopes to hit the mark this year. "I know it is harder for people give these days but if it is hard for them, think of what it must be like for the folks who need their help, this year more than ever. It would be great to get to the goal this time," said McCombie.

The idea came to McCombie when she and a friend were talking four years ago about how the Salvation Army needed more bellringers to raise more money. "We batted around a lot of ideas about how to draw attention and hit on 30 hours for $30,000. It seemed doable and a good way for me to 'pay it forward.'"

McCombie said she has needed help occasionally over the years as she has raised her children and she knows how important that help was to her family. She rings for 30 hours to help ensure that the same kind of help is available to others. She has been joined by her daughter Catherine in recent years and hopes that the effort inspires others to find a way to give back.

"We would especially like to see more younger people get involved. I think if they knew how good it feels to give something back, they wouldn't hesitate," said McCombie. To that end, members of her son's seventh-grade class from Hudson Middle School will be helping her ring during this year's event.

As for the nuts and bolts of 30 hours of bellringing in the winter weather, McCombie is sorry to see the 30 degree temperatures disappear but she has learned how to manage the elements. Her mother provides hand-warmers, friends and family provide meals, hot chocolate and Christmas cookies. She dresses in layers and brings extra clothes and sings and dances to keep warm.

Her largest single donation was $2,000. And she loves it when people drive up, waving money or checks out their window at her. "I just love running over and getting it. People are happy to give and it is great to see their faces."

McCombie chokes up a little when she talks about why she does the marathon every year. "It is hard to put into words. But everybody needs a little extra help now and then, and if I can do this, well why not. Somebody did it back when I needed a little help. And selfishly, it feels good doing it. This is a good organization. The money stays right here to help our friends and neighbors and anything I can do to help, I will."

For more information about the Salvation Army in St. Croix County call (715) 247-2944.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

(715) 808-8604