JINGLE BELLS TELETHON- The History, The Tradition
For more than 64 years the Alexandria Jaycees have been involved in an effort to make the holidays better for families across Central Minnesota. Back in 1949 a gentleman named Ken Bechtel brought the idea to Alexandria. He told his fellow owners of KXRA radio that this “telethon” could really help out people in need during a tough time of the year. The president of the Alexandria Jaycees at the time, Julian Newhouse, made the commitment for his organization to help the radio station run it and as they say, the rest is history.
Since that first year of raising close to $500, to last years’ total of more than $115,000, close to $2,000,000 worth of food and toy donations have been donated. That translates to 10′s of thousands of people being helped over the years.
This is very much a community effort. In addition to generous donations from businesses and their employees, countless other groups and organizations contribute and help to make the telethon and food deliveries happen.
It is a very simple concept. Invite people to donate money, ask others to entertain those wonderful people and lastly, use that money to buy food and gifts for families in need during the holidays. Although the whole idea is simple…actually going from point A to point Z involves a lot of planning and a lot of effort.
The Alexandria Jaycees are the backbone behind all of the planning. Over the years, they have gone from a telethon on radio that served Douglas County to a live telethon on television that encompasses communities in a 60 mile radius around the Alexandria Lakes Area.
The Broadcast- In the first ten years of the Jingle Bells Telethon, the radio waves provided entertainment and encouragement to thousands. KXRA radio was very generous with their time and resources, and the Alexandria Jaycees were as well. The telethon moved to television in 1958 with the creation of a local television station (KCMT). In order to accommodate the live audiences that longed for the entertainment, the Jaycees and KCMT/KXRA held the telethon in the State and Andria theatres. The telethon eventually made its way back into the KCMT studio. Dozens of hosts led the charge and hundreds upon hundreds of talented people came into your living rooms for one night a year.
For the 50th anniversary of the Jingle Bells Telethon, it was brought back into a setting where not only the people at home could watch, but also those who wanted to see it “live” and in person at the AAAA Theater. Shortly after that, KCCO-TV ceased local operations and the telethon found a new home in KSAX-TV. Celebrating our 60th anniversary, we moved our location once again, this time to the Lake Geneva Christian Center. This facility provides us with ample room for audiences to watch the live production and allows for more space to accompany 30+ acts, a dozen phone bank groups, volunteers and all that’s needed to run a telethon of this magnitude. In June of 2012 the Jaycees learned that KSAX-TV was no longer able to provide local programming.
With that news the telethon faces more change. Although the location where we hold the actual event will not change (Lake Geneva Christian Center), how everyone is able to hear and see it will. Stay tuned, informed and interested, because we don’t plan to keep our next move a secret…..for long.
One thing that has remained constant through it all, is the need families have each Christmas to provide enough food for the table and gifts under the tree.
The Food & Toy Baskets- In the beginning, donations were gathered and food packages were delivered on the night of the telethon. Because of the huge volume of donations and the overwhelming need in the community, that has become impossible. Now it takes weeks to collect the money and two full days to coordinate and deliver the food and toy baskets. In addition to more than 30 Jaycee members (and their families), hundreds of people donate their time and talents. It would take a book to describe all that has to happen to make the Jingle Bells program work; however, each year it is not only a success, it’s a reminder that the spirit of giving is a very powerful unifying tool.