By FRED KRONER
Chances are you’ve seen Ike Hatter.
There’s probably a pretty good chance you’ve spoken with him as well.
You just might not know his name.
Hatter is one of the more active bell ringers that serve annually for the Salvation Army.
From mid-November until December 24, they are manning the red kettles that are placed at a variety of area locations.
“I go all over, anywhere in Champaign County,” Hatter said. “Five or six days a week. It varies. They find somewhere for me everyday.”
Last Saturday — and again on Tuesday — he was positioned outside the Mahomet IGA. He expects to be back again before the kettles are taken away on Christmas Eve. He just doesn’t know exactly where he will be from day to day.
This is Hatter’s 20th year with the Salvation Army.
“It just happened,” he said. “I walked in. They gave me a bell and I’ve been with them ever since.”
A Chicago native, Hatter now calls Mattoon home.
He doesn’t mind the 50-mile commute.
“It’s nothing to me,” Hatter said. ”I’m used to it. I love to drive.”
He’s easy to spot as he approaches his destination.
He’s the guy driving the two-tone car with brown antler ears on the side and a red Rudolph nose on the front grill.
A retired chef, the 67-year-old Hatter is a willing worker.
“I wasn’t sitting around,” he said. “I had to find something to do.
“It’s all about helping. Everybody needs somebody sometimes. I fit into that equation.”
For many, he helps by offering a smile and a greeting on a bleak day or by engaging in conversation.
“I meet different and interesting people and learn a lot,” Hatter said. “Coaches from the UI, newscasters, people I probably never would have met otherwise.
“I talk to everybody. Most of the time, they start the conversation and I join in. If I know something, I will socialize with them.”
Hatter doesn’t just talk. He also listens.
“The more I think I know, the more they teach me,” Hatter said.
There’s just one area that’s off limits. Don’t ask Hatter to sing a Christmas carol.
“I don’t think I’d better be doing that,” he said.
There’s never a shortage of topics.
“Everybody talks about something different,” he said.
Lately, one particular topic keeps resurfacing.
“This year, everybody’s been hating on Trump,” Hatter said. “I don’t deal with negativity.
“I tell them, I’m just a bell ringer. There’s nothing I can do about it. I don’t let it bother me. It is what it is.”
Hatter never anticipated spending two decades as a bell ringer, but said it wasn’t a difficult decision to remain involved.
“I like what I do,” he said. “I like the people. They’re friendly.”
His shifts usually last eight hours — “you get used to it,” he said — and he has worked most Champaign County locations where the kettles are set up.
He has been to the Walmart in Rantoul, the County Market in Champaign at Duncan and Kirby and the Walmart in Savoy. He is usually on site by 10:30 or 11 a.m.
“My preference is Mahomet,” Hatter said. “They try to get me there as often as they can.
Practically everybody knows me and is nice. They say, ‘Oh, you’re back again.’
“Brooks Marsh (IGA owner) and his family are some of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.”
Bell ringers such as Hatter — who work multiple hours at a time — are allowed breaks, but that’s not the way he operates.
“I very seldom take breaks,” he said.
The expectation, as the bell ringers work, is that folks will donate money.
Sometimes, there’s something in it for Hatter.
“I’ve had people give me hot chocolate or doughnuts,” he said.
He doesn’t know the amount of donations, but from his view, the number of givers is declining.
“It’s not as good as they were,” he said. “Situations and circumstances change.
“Some people can afford it and some can’t. Some people say, ‘I’m sorry.’ and I tell them there’s nothing to be guilty about.”
Hatter is proud of his association with the Salvation Army.
“They do so much stuff, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “They do a lot of stuff for kids, and help people with electric bills.
“Just being there, I can’t explain it, but it’s a privilege for me.”
Once the Salvation Army donation period ends, Hatter’s routine will change.
He will spend more time in front of the television.
“I watch WWE,” he said, “and I love Judge Judy.
“It’s like a day without sunshine when I miss Judge Judy.”
Some people feel the same way about Ike Hatter and his perpetually sunny disposition.
“There’s no sense being miserable,” Hatter said. “If you’re miserable, it makes everyone around you miserable, too.”