Acts of Kindness 2004

Hometown Heroes, People
on December 19, 2004

American Profile gets hundreds of letters from readers each year describing the generous acts of friends, neighbors and anonymous individuals. This year, readers once again nominated Good Samaritans whose selfless deeds renew one’s faith in humanity.

Holiday spirit
A kind stranger brightened a sad Christmas for Zona Shreves and her four children 11 years ago.

Shreves was struggling to get into the holiday spirit after her husband’s death. She got home late from work on Christmas Eve to decorate their small tree but realized she had failed to buy tinsel—her daughter Meri’s favorite part of trimming the tree.

The only store open in Akron, N.Y. (pop. 3,085), was out of tinsel, Shreves and her 15-year-old soon learned.

“Meri started to cry, and my shoulders sagged as we headed out of the store,’’ Shreves recalls. Then, a woman behind them spoke up.

“I have an extra box if you’d like it,’’ the stranger offered, writing down her address and handing it to them.

“We went to her house, and not only did she give us tinsel, but a small plate of gingerbread cookies, too,’’ Shreves says. “Her little act of kindness gave us hope that everything would work out all right for us.”

Need a lift?
Sheri Woody, a hairdresser, often discussed her sister’s struggles with multiple sclerosis with Sara Cody, her client in Fort Worth, Texas. Cody offered sympathy, as well as her own disabled sister’s telephone number, suggesting that she could help Woody’s sister, Cindy Alexander, learn what resources—such as transportation assistance—were available in Texas.

When doctors told Alexander it was time to stop working because her symptoms from the disease had worsened, Woody mentioned to Cody that her sister could keep her powered wheelchair (provided for work) but didn’t have a lift on her car to carry it.

“She started asking questions about what kind of lift she needed and what did it cost, and then she said she was going to see what she could do,’’ recalls Woody, who lives in Burleson, Texas (pop. 20,976). Within three months, Cody raised money for the lift from friends, colleagues and out of her own pocket, Woody says.

“I was overwhelmed that she would do this not knowing my sister, just knowing her need,’’ Woody says.

A helping hand
When Wayne Clem offered to take over her trash collection after her companion died, Marge Killmon thought it would be temporary.

More than two years later, he still takes her trash to the curb every Wednesday.

“It makes me feel respected and valuable and lucky that I have such a kind-hearted neighbor,’’ says the 71-year-old Annandale, Va. (pop. 54,994), resident. “He comes home tired after a long, hard day as a diesel mechanic. He’s not 20 years old.”

Clem, 60, is modest about his weekly good deed.

“She doesn’t have a lot of trash,’’ he says.

Good medicine
Ernestine “Tina” Hutter’s world got a little brighter the Thanksgiving Day her doctor showed up with a kitten—and so did her son’s.

Dr. Sara Loetscher brought a black kitten, along with a carrying case, food, litter and a scratching post to Hutter’s home in Albuquerque, N.M.

“The cat was such a godsend for my son and now is a godsend for me,’’ says Hutter, explaining that she had cancer and her son was battling depression and never spoke. That soon changed.

“I could hear him in the bedroom talking to the cat (named Neeko),’’ Hutter recalls, adding that her son has since recovered and moved to Orlando, Fla., for work.

The doctor did not forget Hutter the next year, either. “She came with Thanksgiving dinner, complete with two pieces of pie—cherry and pecan,’’ Hutter says.

Hutter, who beat glandular cancer, recently learned she has lung cancer but remains upbeat—thanks to her cat and her doctor.

“I still can’t believe how wonderful it is to be thought of.”

And, the winner is . . .
Brandon Teel’s selflessness in allowing Trevor Howe, a Lincoln (Neb.) East High School wrestler with Down Syndrome, to pin him at a high school wrestling match last year attracted plenty of attention, including that of Robert McTygue of Overton, Neb. (pop. 646), who wrote to praise the youth even though he didn’t know him.

Howe’s coach said the 15-year-old with the genetic disorder loves wrestling but struggles with coordination difficulties and cannot safely compete in just any match. So Marty McCurdy asked fellow coaches at Kearney (Neb.) High School if someone could wrestle Howe.

Teel agreed to keep the match going for three periods, then pin Howe.

“All of a sudden instead of pinning Trevor, he let Trevor turn him over and pin him. He did that on his own,’’ McCurdy says.

Teel says he knew it would mean a lot to Howe to pin him.

“I knew it was the right thing to do,’’ Teel says, adding that he’s been amazed at the media attention that the match has received.

McCurdy also praises another teenager, Casey Dahlke, captain of Lincoln Southwest’s wrestling team. “I spoke with Trevor’s mother, and we thought he needed to understand it wasn’t all easy,” McCurdy says. So a few weeks after Howe’s match with Teel, Dahlke wrestled him and pinned him.

“I think that was even harder,” McCurdy says.

Life-saving assist
Clarence W. Brown and his daughter, Judi, were riding their motorcycles on a sweltering summer day when traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike slowed to a crawl.

“Pop began shutting off his BMW’s engine and restarting it when traffic inched forward a few feet. I could see my father’s stamina declining as rapidly as the heat was rising. He needed shade and water quick,’’ recalls Judi Brown, who mistakenly thought her father, then in his mid-80s, was behind her as she made her way to the turnpike shoulder.

“Pop’s bike stalled and wouldn’t restart. How was I going to help him get out of there?” she wondered with rising panic.

Suddenly, two brawny bikers came to her father’s rescue.

“One begged for passage through the snarl of traffic, while the other pushed Pop on the heavy K-100 BMW toward the side of the road,’’ Brown says. Once clear of traffic, they pushed the bike to jump-start it, then disappeared back onto the turnpike.

“Without the wonderful kindness of those two anonymous bikers, I dread to think what might have happened to Pop on that very hot and humid July afternoon,’’ says Brown of Rising Sun, Md. (pop. 1,702).

Neighborly chores
Finding time for yard work was tough for Nancy Ramsey of Morris, Ill. (pop. 11,928), as she juggled a full-time job with caring for two young children after her divorce.

Her neighbor, Frank Kulig and his wife, Georgine, came to her rescue.

“Many times over the last 25 years, this very kind and loving couple have trimmed my shrubs and trees, cut my grass, raked my leaves and shoveled snow from my sidewalks, never asking anything in return,’’ Ramsey wrote of her neighbors, who are now in their 80s. “You’ve got to have a real heart to do something over and over.”