Man rings bell for Ogden's Salvation Army as final wish
Riverdale • Doug Holladay thinks this is probably his last December, and he'll count himself lucky if he sees Christmas.
A "good day" is a relative concept at this point. But Thursday, after three days bedridden, he mustered the strength to sit outside a Riverdale Wal-Mart amid a snowy mist on a gray morning with low-teen temps and jingle The Salvation Army's iconic bell for perhaps the last time.
Holladay, 53, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer about two years ago, and now chronic obstructive pulmonary disease has taken the driver's seat in his speeding decline. His liver and kidneys are starting to fail. But the frail man vowed not to leave his post Thursday until three red kettles were filled with crinkled bills and coins.
There's no sign to announce "Dying man's last wish." It's just a man, sitting beneath a heap of linen in a wheelchair, ringing away as two Salvation Army workers make sure he's comfortable. An early crush of news media led some passersby to ask about his story and, upon hearing, to reach for their wallets.
"I think that's a beautiful last wish to have," said Ogden's Anne Ludlow after donating. "To go out and do something for others."
An official later told The Tribune that one man drove up and handed Holladay $100 in one-dollar bills, and Wells Fargo donated a vat of coins. By 1:30 p.m., kettle No. 3 was almost full.
Holladay was a "renegade" at a young age, said his mother, Dorothy. By his late teens, he began to abuse alcohol and methamphetamine, and at 28 he was sentenced to four years in prison on drug charges. Although he was clean when he got out, he quickly fell back into longtime habits.
The Salvation Army's Adult Rehabilitation Center in Salt Lake City gave him hope. They didn't end his addiction, but "they taught me to love myself so I could love other people," he says. "When everybody else turned their back on me, they took me in at no charge."
His struggles with addiction continued about 20 years ago, when his dad asked him to come over and pick up a car's transmission from his yard. "I was too busy getting high to go over there," Holladay says, and they argued about it. A month later, his dad died. Thursday was his late dad's birthday.
Holladay says that was a turning point for him, as he began to think about how he affected the lives of others. He's volunteered for The Salvation Army for 15 years running, and he was an employee for a spell about 12 years ago. Cousin Renay Camp says he was also a no-cost, do-it-all handyman for friends and family.
"He fixes everybody's car, whatever car problem they have," she says. "He's just a loving, carefree guy who made a few poor choices."
Holladay has four children, now adults. A few weeks ago, he moved from a Salt Lake City hospice to the house of a former companion in Ogden.
He's contracted pneumonia more than a handful of times in the last six months and is so brittle that he recently broke his right foot walking not falling down some steps. When he asked a doctor if he'd make it to Christmas, he was told that at this point, that's out of their hands.
"If he eats anything, it turns to poison," Camp said. "He's sicker than a dog."
So after hearing about a volunteer shortage in Ogden, he asked The Salvation Army if they would allow him to pay back some of his debt to the organization, which provides social services to more than 30 million Americans each year.
They agreed. Thus, Thursday, workday shoppers were stopping a few seconds to better the lives of others, even as the lure of industrial heating lay a few feet beyond.
One customer bought Holladay an extra blanket, and Wal-Mart even plugged in a space heater, fresh out the box.
But he hardly seemed daunted by the chill, and handlers had to beg him to take a short break.
"He's always given 110 percent." Lt. Sam LeMar said. "Today, he's giving 150 percent."