NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) - "Hello, honey. Merry Christmas. God bless."
Carroll Prittle has a twinkle in his eye when he greets people. He especially likes seeing "women dressed like women," in pretty dresses. He said telling them that and paying them compliments makes their day - and his.
All this occurs outside whatever Lee County store Prittle, 78, is stationed to man The Salvation Army's Red Kettle.
He's been doing it for 44 years, so the soft-spoken, jovial North Fort Myers resident is no stranger to greeting people, nor thanking them for their generosity.
"The Salvation Army is my church," he said recently while seated outside Publix at The Shops at Verandah. "I've seen what the Army does to help people."
Prittle's wife, Virginia - "we call her Ginger because she's so spicy" - used to volunteer at the Army's thrift store in Fort Myers, and both attend the Army's church services.
But this is the first year Prittle has had to accept help himself. The Army brought the couple Thanksgiving dinner.
During his 44 years of service, Prittle was sidelined by cancer and a heart attack, and he can't drive, so Virginia has to take him wherever he goes. The couple gets by on Social Security checks and Prittle's income of $7.90 an hour from bell-ringing. He said he and Virginia were floored when a woman stopped to drop money in the kettle recently - and handed him $100 to keep, which the couple will use for bills.
Russell Reider, the Army's resource management director, called Prittle a gentle soul and good representation of what the Army is about.
"His love and nurturing attitude toward mankind is exceptional," Reider said. "He exemplifies what everybody should be, and that is wanting to help those who are less fortunate."
Born in Detroit, Prittle moved around quite a bit before settling in Lee County. He said he racked up 2-million miles driving various rigs. Even as a bell ringer, he's been all over. "Wherever they say go, I go," he said, grinning.
Reider said Prittle will be at one of two locations today and Tuesday: Publix at Eagle's Landing on Bayshore Road in North Fort Myers, or Publix at The Shops at Verandah on Palm Beach Boulevard.
Prittle said another reason he's a bell ringer is because the Salvation Army shares his beliefs.
"I believe in helping people," he said.
His mind isn't as sharp as it used to be, a result of his cancer treatment, but his good humor and optimism shine through. He said he has no plans to give up bell-ringing any time soon.
"I love what I'm doing and doing what I love. I'll do it 'til I leave this Earth."
Information from: The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press, http://www.news-press.com
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