ST. PAUL, Minn. - The spirit of Christmas emerges just after sunrise from apartment 209.
Michael Gorr rolls his motorized wheelchair past the Christmas tree in his building’s lobby, then is lifted into a Metro Mobility bus.
“It’s going to be a good day,” the 67-year-old says. It’s always a good day, when Gorr is headed to his favorite place.
Though legally blind and living with cerebral palsy, Gorr has become the Salvation Army’s top volunteer bell ringer.
Ten hours a day, six days a week; whenever the Salvation Army is collecting kettle donations, Gorr is ringing a bell.
“I never get tired of helping people,” Gorr says.
Gorr first rang a Salvation Army bell 31 years ago at the former Brookdale mall. In recent years, he’s been stationed at the east entrance of Mall of America, just off the parking ramp. This year he worked the MOA’s third level entrance.
Roughly 10,000 people – some volunteers and some paid – ring bells for the Salvation Army throughout Minnesota and North Dakota. Not one of them works more hours than Gorr.
“He plans this months ahead of time,” says Leah Okongwa, Gorr’s personal care assistant. “He’s got a very pure heart of gold.”
During his shift, Gorr refuses to take breaks. He’s afraid someone might see an unmanned kettle and walk by without giving.
Earlier this month the Salvation Army’s northern division attempted to recognize Gorr at its employee Christmas party.
Gorr politely declined. He didn’t want to abandon his post.
Robert Doliber, a Salvation Army major, tried to change Gorr’s mind. “I said, ‘Well, we've got a gift for you, to present to you,’ and he said, ‘Well, thank you, but I can't leave.’”
Gorr smiles, recalling the conversation. “Notoriety is nice,” he says. “But helping is better.”
Instead of Gorr coming to the Salvation Army, Doliber hand delivered a hat and scarf to Gorr at the mall. “And he says, ‘The best Christmas present you could give me is letting me ring,’” Doliber says.
Gorr’s road has never been easy. As a child, he was cast out of his elementary school after fourth grade. “They didn’t know how to teach me,” he says. “I just stayed home. It was hard for me to stop going to school because I enjoyed school.”
Still, Gorr insists he harbors not an ounce of bitterness.
“I’m alive,” he says. “I just enjoy my life.”
Gorr says he’ll continue ringing bells as long as his hands remain strong enough to hold a bell.
“To give people Christmas is a gift,” he says.
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