HURON — If you weren’t watching or listening last night, you may have missed it. Although, with the sheer number of people involved in all aspects of the Salvation Army’s Christmas Basket Program, somebody you know likely heard it and shared it with you.
Ken Lindblad, the man who for many is the personification of Christmas Basket, announced on Monday night’s program, that he is stepping down from the organization which he has helped grow for the past 40 years.
“Helped is the key word there,” Lindblad said when visiting about his retirement. “I am part — a small part — of Christmas Basket. No one person can do this thing on his or her own. You gotta have good people.”
Lindblad is quick to point out that he announced his retirement solely because he needs time. Time to help find and groom some person or persons to step into his shoes.
“The fire is just dwindling,” he said. “Honestly, I am just tired. And what better time to step away when I can still help and share what I have learned in my 40 years with the fantastic program. My close friends, many of whom have worked alongside me for many, many years to make this annual event possible, know that I have considered walking way for several years, all while hoping that someone or some group would step up and take over the leadership of this event for the hundreds of individuals who benefit from it each year.”
At the present time, Lindblad said no one has expressed an interest in keeping the 70 year tradition of the Christmas Basket going.
“It’s time for me to force the issue, so to speak, and the only way to do that is to walk away and hope that someone with a fire and a passion inside such as I’ve had, will really want to do this and will step up to the plate. I’m not gonna beg anyone. Deep down inside, it has to be something you WANT to do.”
For a large number of people, Lindblad is Christmas basket, but he is quick to dispel that notion.
“I’ve always said that I’ve been given too much credit for the success of the Christmas Basket Program,” Lindblad said. “But this is far more than a one-person project. Each year it starts with the applications for baskets and it ends weeks later with the actual distribution of the food — purchased with the donations from the telethon. I could never, ever do this on my own.”
The Salvation Army Christmas Basket program began 70 years ago, as a radio telethon, with the goal of gathering potatoes for those in need. Lindblad got his first taste of Christmas Basket — which had moved from the radio station to the the crowded confines of the Salvation Army — in 1978.
“I went at the invitation of my boss at the radio station, Milt Herrick,” Lindblad recalled. “When we left I told Milt, ‘This is pretty cool!’ His response was, ‘Good, ’cause you got it next year.’”
And the journey began
Linblad said the first couple of years the program raised $500. During the mid-80s, Lindblad said he told some board members he was setting a goal of $5,000. “Helen Habicht said, ‘Well, it’s okay to dream.’ In 1989, we reached that goal.”
He said that each year the primary goal is to top the previous year’s total. The highest amount raised to date is the $57,855 raised in 2014.
He steps aside with an armful of happy memories and one goal left uncompleted.
“I always had a personal goal to reach $1 million in donations in my time with the program,” Lindblad said. “After this year, that total will be around $900,000 when all is said and done. Which is something I am very proud of!”
He is also somewhat disappointed — not in the program — but at himself. “I’m disappointed that I’m doing this,” he said with a shrug. “But I have done this for 40 of the 70 years that Christmas Basket has been around. Not many people volunteer for 40 years. That’s half a lifetime.”
When someone does find it within themselves to step forward, he or she can expect to have the guidance of a tutor with 40 years of experience, and an existing army of volunteers. For several years, Lindblad has had a variety of sidekicks as co-hosts for the four night telethon.
“There are too many people that I should thank,” Lindblad said, “but I don’t want to do that here because as soon as I do, you know that I am going to forget someone.”
Lindblad is confident that someone will step in.
“We have a unique situation here,” Lindblad said. “There are other Christmas Baskets, but there is no Christmas Basket like ours here. It is one of a kind and Huron is a one of a kind place. I told someone once that the difference in Huron and the rest of the country is that everywhere else people look over their shoulder to see who is following them. In Huron, people look over their shoulder to make sure that nobody is being left behind.”
People are invited to watch the program in person at 6:30 p.m. nightly at Huron High School Auditorium.