Each year, American Profile asks readers to share stories about thoughtful and compassionate deeds that they experienced or witnessed during the last year. Here are a few of our favorites.
When Karie Martens died at age 25 in Greeley, Colo., she left behind a legacy of love and a lot of yarn that has warmed the hearts and heads of 400 children whom she never met.
“My daughter did a lot of knitting and crocheting. She always had several projects going at a time,” says Tami Martens, her voice cracking while talking about the young mother who died suddenly of a virus in 2010.
Left with boxes full of yarn in a rainbow of colors, Tami, 50, eventually searched online for a knitting enthusiast who could put her daughter’s needlework supplies to good use. The quest led her to Liz Gardner, 56, a disabled woman living in nearby Evans who wanted the yarn for charitable knitting projects.
When the women met outside of a Walmart store in Greeley, Tami shared stories about her daughter’s love for both children and knitting. Tami also talked about her work as a librarian at Mountain View Elementary School, in Longmont, Colo. (pop. 86,270), where 70 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.
“Because I have recess duty at the school and I see that so many of the children don’t have hats, it always has been my wintertime dream to have a hat for every child,” she confided to Gardner, who suddenly found her new knitting mission.
Six months and 400 hats later, Gardner was invited to a school assembly to watch teachers hand out her warm, colorful hats-each lovingly woven with Karie’s yarn.
“This is a way that I can give back to little kids who don’t have nothing,” Gardner explains.
Karie would have approved, says Tami, who attended last January’s assembly, along with Karie’s daughter, Mae, then 3.
“Karie loved kids,” Tami says. “And to see her yarn on each of the kids’ heads, well that brought two of her loves together.”
A gift for Lucille
Living in a nursing home and battling cancer, Lucille Johnston, 85, dreamed of attending Christmas Eve worship services at her church, though she knew that she could not be exposed to crowds since chemotherapy treatments had compromised her immune system.
A longtime member of First Christian Church in Kerrville, Texas (pop. 22,347), the widow told the Rev. Jay Dozier during a pastoral visit in 2010 that “she just wanted to be with her church family one last time.”
To Dozier, 42, Johnston’s request was one Christmas gift the congregation could find a way to deliver. So, in between preparing his sermon for the service, he worked on Dec. 23 to sanitize the “cry room” adjoining the sanctuary and designed for nursing mothers to worship through a one-way glass.
On Christmas Eve, friends brought Johnston to church, pushing her wheelchair through a secluded rear entrance and into the isolated room. During the service, the pastor made a special point to administer communion to Johnston in person.
Remembering that happy moment, Johnston wrote American Profile last Jan. 13, describing how Dozier’s compassionate deed had “changed my sadness to happiness” on Christmas Eve.
She died Feb. 15.
To Sinda Craige, 65, of Carville, La. (pop. 701), ladling food is like “spreading love.”
So Craige wasn’t about to hang up her frying pan when she retired after 30 years of cooking for patients in a local residential hospital.
“She feeds everyone,” says neighbor Daisy Goodlow, 72, who with husband Palmer, 85, are among the beneficiaries of Craige’s love for cooking. “We live just down the street and she’s brought us pork chops, chicken, turkey, everything on Sundays and holidays for the last 14 years.”
When she retired in 1996, Craige looked around her neighborhood for people who needed a little help. “I just chose to do something good,” she recalls.
“Every Sunday I get up in the morning around 4 o’clock, and I cook before going to church,” she explains. After church, she heaps food onto plates and makes her door-to-door deliveries.
Craige also dishes out food during the holidays, from New Year’s Day to Christmas, and even on Super Bowl Sundays. When there are leftovers, “I open the door so anyone can come in,” she says. “I always got plenty. “
After more than five years of working toward a college degree while battling a brain tumor, Cindy McSwain Lovelace, 45, was devastated when a record snowfall forced Western Carolina University to cancel its graduation ceremony in Cullowhee, N.C. (pop. 9,428), for the first time in the school’s history.
One of 600 students scheduled to receive her diploma on Dec. 19, 2009, Lovelace, who lives in Dallas, N.C., was staying with her husband, Robert, in the Dillsboro Inn, about 10 miles from campus, when they learned the disappointing news on the eve of her scheduled graduation.
Moved by Lovelace’s determination to earn her degree, innkeepers T.J. and Terry Walker made a quick phone call to university Chancellor John Bardo’s office, asking about alternatives and sharing that Cindy had finished college with a 4.0 grade point average, in spite of a tumor that had left her face partially paralyzed.
When the chancellor called back to ask if they could reach the snowbound campus, the Lovelaces piled into the Walkers’ all-wheel-drive car and plowed through the powder to the administration building, where the chancellor waited in a boardroom. There, during a half-hour graduation ceremony for one, Bardo presented Lovelace with her diploma while her husband and the Walkers watched proudly.
“When my name was called, it was over-whelming,” recalls Lovelace, who now is employed by Gaston College in her hometown. “One of the things that leaves you speechless is to know there are still such kind people in the world.”
Bardo, who since has retired as chancellor, says he was honored to be part of the impromptu ceremony. “This woman had worked too hard; her life had been difficult enough without having this disappointment,” he says. “It truly was a special day.”
Coffee shop compassion
When Roberta Daniels, 61, sat down at an empty outdoor table at a coffee shop in Augusta, Ga., she actually hoped the server would not approach her.
“I was so sad and broke. I didn’t even have enough money for a cup of coffee,” writes the former educator who, after suffering a stroke in 2004, retired from her job in Washington, D.C., and moved to Augusta.
Davis was exhausted as she took a seat that autumn day in 2010 while running errands around town by foot.
“After I had been sitting there for a few minutes, I saw a young man exit the coffee shop and walk toward me,” recalls Daniels, who feared he was an employee who would shoo her away.
Instead, the stranger handed her a $5 bill.
“I thought you might need this,” he said quietly, before walking away.
The money bought her a bottle of water and a much-needed snack.
“My spirit was completely lifted,” Daniels says.
A neighbor for all seasons
Snow piling up on her driveway was the last thing Sandy Kanger, 59, of Council Bluffs, Iowa (pop. 62,230), needed to deal with after her husband, Raymond, 63, suffered a stroke shortly before Christmas 2009.
So neighbor Roger Frieze, 47, went to work.
“I’d come home after working all day and then going to see my husband at the hospital or nursing home, expecting to have to get the snow blower going, and my driveway and sidewalks would already be cleared,” recalls Kanger, a bookkeeper.
When the thaw came and the grass needed mowing, Frieze took care of that, too.
Kanger tried several times to pay her neighbor for his labors, but he wouldn’t accept payment.
“It just makes me feel good to help,” says Frieze, a self-described handyman who works as a maintenance supervisor for a local food company.
“That’s what neighbors are for.”
When Gary and Lauren Wallace rounded a curve on their motorcycle and saw a deer jump directly in their path, the Clinton, Ohio, couple took a rough-and-tumble detour from their planned holiday ride through West Virginia’s New River Gorge.
Their bike collided with the deer during the weekend of July 4, 2010. Lauren, 52, a passenger on the motorcycle driven by her husband, landed on the animal, which helped to break her fall. On the road in front of her, Gary, 58, was “being tossed like a rag doll.”
Witnessing the crash from behind were two strangers–Lori Ward, of Nallen, W.Va., and an Army medic, whose name they never learned. Both drivers pulled off the road and sprang from their vehicles to help.
“Good Lord sent them to us,” Lauren says of their rescuers.
After an ambulance arrived, Ward insisted on staying with the dazed couple and contacted a friend to retrieve the wrecked bike. She carried their helmets and camera to the hospital and watched over the Wallaces to make certain they understood everything the doctors said.
Gary suffered rib and neck injuries and a punctured lung. Lauren broke her right big toe and had crushed ligaments in her right knee.
“The next day, some treasured friends traveled all the way from Ohio in their RV to bring us, our truck and our trailer with wrecked bike back home–another huge blessing,” Lauren says.
The repaired bike has since been sold, but the Wallaces hold dear the roadside compassion they experienced that day.
“We will never forget the kindness of those West Virginia strangers who treated us like family in our time of need,” Lauren says.
With his 20-year-old car stuck in a snowdrift on a road in Topeka, Kan., Richard L. Sallman, 68, had about given up on reaching his oldest son’s house across town for a Christmas Day family get-together.
Gifts, the turkey pan and lots of trimmings were stuck with him in his sedan after a storm dumped 10 inches of snow on Topeka in 2009.
“I literally fervently prayed ‘Father, please, I don’t know how to get out of this mess. Please help me.'”
Within minutes, a red pickup truck pulled behind Sallman’s car, and a cheerful man in his 20s emerged.
“I told him I just prayed for help,” recalls Sallman, 68, to which the stranger replied, “Hey! It’s Christmas. You’re stuck; I’ve got a four-wheel drive, cable and hook.”
Working together, they freed the car from the snowdrift and got Sallman back on the road. Not only did he arrive in time for the festivities, he shared the story of a Christmas prayer answered with everyone sitting at the holiday table.
The experience has become his favorite Christmas story.
Lost and found
Excited about a family road trip to Disney World from their home in Tamaqua, Pa., Ron and Donna DeBellis and their two sons, Raun, then 21, and Ryan, 14, were on the road for less than an hour in 2001 when they stopped at a convenience store to fill up their gas tank and ice cooler.
But after the gas pump malfunctioned, spewing gasoline from their Jeep’s tank, a rattled Donna, now 57, forgot she’d placed her wallet on the roof of their vehicle, just inside the luggage rack. The family drove on.
Hours later, during a stop at a Walmart in Maryland, Donna realized her blunder. She pictured her missing wallet lying somewhere along the highway.
“I went into the store with that pit feeling in the heart and stomach,” recalls Donna, who spent the next hour at a pay phone canceling her credit cards.
“We did end up having a great vacation,” says Donna, noting that the family fortunately was able to use Robert’s banking card to access money. Still, they worried what they’d find on their credit reports and bank statements back home.
Two weeks later, the DeBellises pulled into their driveway and found an unexpected welcome-home gift.
An anonymous truck driver had placed Donna’s wallet between the storm door and front door, along with a note saying he’d found it along the interstate, a few miles from where they purchased gasoline, and used the address on Donna’s driver’s license to try to locate her. When no one was home, he stashed the wallet between their doors.
The experience helped the family renew their faith in humanity.
“Our hearts tend to get hardened, and we tend to think the worst,” Donna says. “But every day, angels are doing their good deeds all over.”
Tell us about those good deeds!
Has someone performed an unexpected act of kindness for you lately? American Profile would like to hear stories about the compassionate acts that readers have experienced during the last year. Mail a brief letter describing the event, along with your full name, address and telephone number, to: Acts of Kindness, c/o American Profile, 341 Cool Springs Blvd., Suite 400, Franklin, TN 37067.