Martin Tigar’s two-fisted bell-ringing technique is unique.
While he trains others in the fine art of drawing attention to those familiar Salvation Army red kettles without being brash or annoying, some things – like Tigar’s instinctive ambidextrous and agile wrist flicks – are pure instinct.
“It’s a very unique style,” said Capt. Tim Simeroth of the Salvation Army Casper Corps, adding that Tigar is “the only one I’ve ever seen who does two bells.”
That’s because Tigar, 63, is so passionate about ringing his bells that he brings his musical background as a percussionist to his mission of filling those kettles.
“Yeah, I’m the only double bell-ringer,” the Casper resident said. “I grew up playing the drums, so I have a little rhythm. And I have the same old bells I’ve been using since I started. I fix them up every year.”
Best Of The Bell-Ringers
And he’s had to do a lot of redneck engineering to keep those bells ringing for nearly a decade.
Now in his ninth holiday season manning a red kettle for the Salvation Army, Simeroth said Tigar is more than a volunteer, he sets a high bar for Casper’s other bell-ringers.
Simeroth said Tigar’s smile, warm personality and desire to help the local community is second only to his unrelenting dedication. He’s at his usual spot outside the Albertsons store on Second Street from 10 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m., six days a week.
He’s not just gung-ho about stuffing the red kettle, he’s gung-ho-ho-ho.
The $100,000 Man
Tigar’s technique delivers results. He’s perennially at the top of kettle collections and estimates he’s brought in more than $100,000 over the past eight-plus seasons.
One secret, he said, is not just haphazardly or erratically ringing his bells.
“I like to play different melodies with the bells,” he said, adding that “my favorite song is ‘Jingle Bells.’”
Although Salvation Army groups around the state muster a small army of bell-ringers each holiday season, in Casper Tigar’s the belle of the ringers.
“Last year, he did about a third of our total (bell-ringing) income on his own,” Simeroth said. “He doesn’t seek out recognition, he’s just always there and it makes him happy to help others who are less fortunate.”
And while all the money collected in local kettles stays in those communities, there is some friendly competition among bell-ringers, Tigar said.
“I’ve done quite well with donations in the kettle. I’m usually the leader in Casper,” he said. “I want to be the best. I get challenged (by other ringers) all the time and it’s lots of fun.”
His top day in more than eight years of ringing bells for the Salvation Army came last year when Tigar collected $1,600 in a single shift. That included a $1,000 check someone put in the kettle “out of nowhere,” he said.
A Mission Of Service
Having been in financial straits himself, Tigar said he knows what it’s like to need a little help.
“I just really like helping people,” he said. “I’ve been down and out myself, and the Salvation Army is able to help many people.”
There’s also a moral and spiritual part of his motivation.
“I’m so fortunate I’m able to serve, and the Salvation Army serves Jesus Christ and people,” he said. “It’s God’s money and God’s giving it back out to people when they ask for help.”
Tigar has become so ingrained with bell-ringing in Casper that people actively seek him out to make sure their donations go in his kettle, Simeroth said.
“Everybody says they hear him from two blocks away, and you couldn’t ask for anybody better,” he said. “Martin was calling a month early saying, ‘When do we start?’”
Seeing the same familiar faces at his regular post is one of the emotional payoffs, Tigar said.
“I do have regulars, and sometimes they’re back and forth from the store two and three times a day,” he said. “I have a lot of people who come up and give me big hugs. I love telling people how much I love their big smiles, and you wouldn’t believe how much people perk up.”
‘As Long As I Possibly Can’
Now in his early 60s, Tigar said the 48 hours a week on his feet is catching up to him, but he has no plans to slow or stop his volunteer mission anytime soon.
“I hope to be back for another season after this,” he said. “I’ll do it as long as I possibly can, as long as I can keep ringing, keep my hands going, keep my arms going.”
Money Stays Local
As with the other Salvation Army offices around Wyoming, money raised in local communities stays there, Simeroth said.
“Whatever community they’re in in the state, it stays local in their community – 86 cents of every dollar goes back to the community for whatever they need.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, demand for services from nonprofits like the Salvation Army has skyrocketed, Simeroth said.
Add this year’s ongoing inflation, donations are down and the money raised doesn’t go as far, he said.
“We’ve seen the needs,” he said. “We were doing 35 families in Casper with our food pantry, and we’ve gone from 35 families in February of this year to now we’re at 90-110 per day. That’s a huge difference.”
The red kettle drive is by far the Salvation Army’s largest fundraiser, and this year the Casper office has an anonymous donor who has pledged to match kettle collections up to $10,000.