Santa Rings in the Season of Giving

Story by Jeannie Stone

Holiday shopping just wouldn’t be the same without the familiar sound of bells ringing in good cheer and proclaiming the heart of Christmas. Richard Ruble — known locally as “Santa Claus” — has been a volunteer ringer for the Salvation Army since 1979. He rings because he has seen the receiving end of that kettle. 

Ruble, his wife Barbara, and their first two children were living in Harrison when a flood washed the town away. Eighty-five percent of the creek rose over the bank.

“The Salvation Army was giving everything away for free, unlike another disaster relief agency,” he said. “We wouldn’t have had drinking water without the Salvation Army.”

Ruble was an employee of AP&L during that May of 1961. He sent his wife and two young boys to stay with his wife’s family in Grant County.

“I was walking on one of the bridges in town when I felt a shudder. I thought it was all going to come down,” he said. “Houses, freezers and cars hurled into the side of the bridge and washed it away too. I barely escaped. So many people lost everything. The mud lasted forever.”

In 1979 Ruble and his family relocated to Russellville where he worked as the Business Development and Security Officer for Simmons Bank. That December, he first rang the bells for the group he’d witnessed at disaster scenes.

“We had tornadoes, ice storms, and a huge snow during the time we lived in Harrison,” he said. Time after time, Ruble noticed the first one on the scene was the Salvation Army.

“And they didn’t leave until they had nothing left.”

Ruble remembered that winter of ringing: “I stood in front of the old Wal-Mart in the sleet ringing that bell,” he said.

Helping fill the coffers – or kettles – is his sweet duty according to Ruble.

“I can either make a cash donation or give others the opportunity to give, too. I choose the latter.” He has also served on the Salvation Army board for 30 years.

During his “off” season Ruble gives his time to several other charitable organizations, most notably the United Methodist Church. Ruble has held leadership positions in the church, is chairman of the Wesley Foundation Board at Tech, and has served on regional boards. He is a member of Wesley United Methodist Church.

Ruble felt called to serve on the Arkansas Hospice River Valley Hospice Campaign Committee because he saw, firsthand, how hospice impacts patients and families. Both his mother and his firstborn son benefited from hospice care before they passed away.

Ruble was instrumental in helping form the Arkansas Children’s Hospital’s River Valley Circle of Friends after his daughter and son- in-law adopted a Chinese girl who required major surgery. The girl is now a walking miracle, Ruble declared.

Alzheimer’s awareness, the March of Dimes and the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation also vie for Ruble’s time.

Dressed as Santa, Ruble makes dozens of appearances every year for school programs, community events, church Christmas parties, nursing homes and hospitals. His first gig was an accident. He was asked to fill in during an emergency. He played Santa to the children gathered at Sequoyah Elementary School who were attending a pancake breakfast benefiting Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

“I was hooked,” he said.

Although he sends the Santa suit to the cleaners between jobs, Ruble knows he’s “on duty” 24/7, and he’s bound to be spotted by youngsters. He hears their mothers caution them to be good because ‘Santa is watching,’ so he is sure to make a production.

The animated Ruble will wink at the child or secretly secure their name from the parent only to startle the child with a truly memorable encounter. With his flowing white beard, it’s easy for the doubting child to believe.

During a recent visit to a school, a seven year old told his mother, “He’s the real thing. He has a beard and everything.”

Santa Ruble feels that he receives blessings from his charitable giving.

“The Lord says to love your neighbor. During this holy season it’s especially important to give, and with Salvation Army, I know it all goes where it’s needed most,” he said. Ding-dong, ding-dong, help us. Ding-dong, ding-dong, love us.

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