Minnie M. Kershner
Minnie "Marie" Kershner was known by many locally for the 50 years she was a bell ringer for The Salvation Army, the majority of those years at Kmart. She is greeted by an unidentified woman in this photo. (Submitted photo / July 27, 2013)
She started ringing the bell in downtown Hagerstown near McCrory’s, and kept ringing the bell for 50 years.
Marie later was moved to the entrance of Kmart at Valley Plaza, where she became a fixture.
“Many people, when they think of bell ringers in Washington County, they think of Marie. The Kmart employees just loved her,” said Salvation Army Sgt. Maj. Larry Miller of Hagerstown.
Miller said for about 15 years, he would pick Marie up at the Alexander House, where she was living, so she could attend Sunday school at The Salvation Army. To let her know he was there, Miller would push the intercom button, and Marie invariably would tell him the number of days until she would get to ring the bell again.
“She loved ringing The Salvation Army bell at Christmastime,” Miller said.
Miller often was responsible for counting the money in the kettles at the end of the day, and Marie’s kettle often yielded the largest collection.
“The people that’d go into Kmart, she’d say ‘hi’ to everybody,” said sister Betty Crawford, who lives near Downsville.
“She made friends while she rang the bell,” said Betty’s son, Earl Crawford.
Marie liked chocolate-covered cherries, and would buy small boxes to give to some of the regulars who dropped money into her bucket. If you didn’t make a donation, Marie might “fuss a little,” saying something like, “You’re supposed to put something in,” Betty said.
Marie’s wooden booth had a small heater, but she also received small gifts from Kmart customers and employees, including gloves and hats to keep her warm.
She hadn’t been able to ring the bell for about seven years due to medical issues, Miller said.
Earl said his aunt would come for Thanksgiving dinner and would be anxious to get back home so she would be ready for bell ringing the next day.
“She would never let that bell out of her hand,” Earl said. “That was a big thing for her. She thought that was her job for that time of year.”
Marie was one of 10 children, born and raised in the West End of Hagerstown.
“We all got along real good,” said Betty, who is the last surviving sibling.
In addition to her smile, Betty said her sister had “pretty blue eyes.”
Marie attended Winter Street School, and Betty said that none of the children graduated from high school. Marie would clean houses and baby-sit to earn money to help the family out.
Marie never married. She had two sons, both of whom are mentally challenged and have lived in group homes or facilities since they were babies, said Betty’s son, David Crawford.
Marie’s joys were simple. In addition to ringing The Salvation Army bell, she loved to walk, listen to Christian music, go to church and wear the color red. She was a big fan of fried potatoes and onions, coffee and tea.
She often could be seen walking through downtown Hagerstown. Her family said she volunteered at United Cerebral Palsy, and a previous Herald-Mail story said she was a frequent guest of Soup Line at the Union Rescue Mission and would “cheerfully help clean tables” afterward.
“She enjoyed walking, visiting with people and loved going to church,” Earl said.
Marie grew up attending the Brethren church on Winter Street, and later attended The Salvation Army for worship services, as well as other churches, Betty said.
The day before she died, Marie “begged them” to wheel her to the church service held at the nursing home where she was living, Betty said.
Marie and her sister, Mildred, lived with their mother until she died, then lived in the family home until Mildred’s death about 20 years ago. Marie then moved to the Alexander House, where she lived for about 15 years.
Betty, who is a year younger than her sister, cared for Marie until she no longer could. Marie then lived in a couple of adult homes.
She was bedridden for the last few years. Near the end of her life, Marie was at Julia Manor Health Care Center in Hagerstown, where she died of congestive heart failure.
Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Minnie M. Kershner, who died July 10 at the age of 82. Her obituary was published in the July 12 edition of The Herald-Mail.