Each year, American Profile invites readers to share stories about the compassionate and generous acts of kindness performed by family, neighbors, co-workers and even complete strangers. Here are some our favorites shared this year:
Soon after the shock of finding his auto repair shop demolished by a deadly tornado in Ringgold, Georgia, Cotton Perry, 66, received perhaps a bigger surprise when a nearby competitor contacted him with a proposal.
“He said ‘Hey, man, I’m really sorry about what happened. Why don’t you bring your guys down, we’ll make room, and you can work out of our place,’” says Perry, recounting the no-strings-attached offer from Mark Teter, 55.
Teter & Co., a 13-bay service station operating one block from Cotton’s Service Center, had escaped the April 2011 storm unscathed. After hearing about his competitor’s misfortune, Teter felt compelled to extend a hand.
“Cotton Perry’s a good guy,” Teter explains matter-of-factly.
Perry gratefully accepted, and Teter’s daughter, Lindsay, 27, quickly reorganized the front office and placed a desk for Perry next to hers. Three bays were set aside so Perry and his three employees could continue to serve their automotive customers.
“It was the right thing to do,” says Lindsay, who manages the service station and body shop that her dad started in 1982. “Yes, we are all in business and we have to make money, but in the end we are all human beings and we are family.”
Thanks to the Teters’ generosity, Perry didn’t have to close his business. A retired drag racer who is a member of the National Hot Rod Association Hall of Fame, Perry rebuilt and opened his new auto repair shop in 2012, eight months after the twister hit.
“I call it a miracle,” he says.
April 25th had become just another day on the calendar to Francesca McCullough, 80, of Benicia, California—until her observant mail carrier decided to make sure that the widow’s birthday didn’t go unnoticed.
“I was having another birthday and staying home, treating it like just another day, when my mailman brought a balloon bouquet to my front door, tied it to my watering can, rang the doorbell and left,” McCullough recalls. “It was so sweet. It lifted my spirits and made my day special.”
That was in 2007, and Gil Del Rosario, 51, has continued to bring her a bouquet of birthday balloons every April 25th since.
“She’s got the same birthday as my mom,” explains Del Rosario, who has worked the mail route for 11 years and learned about the coincidence one day while chatting with McCullough. “So I feel like—here’s my mom, she lives by herself, she’s not feeling well and she’s a nice lady.”
While Del Rosario downplays his annual gift, McCullough weeps when describing the kindness of her mail carrier.
“It’s the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me,” she says.
A ruptured stomach and complications from surgery kept Clara B. Johnson, 75, from enjoying one of her favorite spring pastimes at her home in Riverdale, Utah.
“Spring is the time for planting and making the yard look good for the summer, and we had always prided ourselves in trying to make our yard look its best,” she says.
But when warmer weather arrived in 2012, her yard looked barren as she laid in the hospital, while her husband, Calvin, 83, stayed mostly at her bedside. Their son, Cary, kept the yard mowed.
“We hadn’t worried about planting flowers, since my illness was all we could cope with at the time,” recalls Clara, who spent eight weeks in the hospital and rehabilitation center.
One day, however, Calvin came home to find a glorious array of purple petunias and red geraniums in their front yard—a timely gift planted by Mike and Nancy Hales, their neighbors across the street.
“It just needed to be done,” Mike says.
For Clara, however, the neighborly gesture made her eventual homecoming all the more special. “What a welcome sight to see those beautiful flowers in my yard,” she says.
When Thelma Turek, 65, needs reassurance or help, she turns to the Bible and her faith.
That’s literally why she now has a good-as-new garage on her property in Dixon, Illinois, where she was ordered “to repair or tear down my dilapidated one-car garage, or the city would tear it down and charge me for it.”
Disabled due to diabetes and living alone on a limited income, neither prospect was affordable—a dilemma she shared with her Bible study class at Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church. Classmate Jennifer Immel, 41, listened with concern and later shared the need with her husband, Scott, 41, a land surveyor with building contractor experience.
Turek “was pretty distraught and concerned and she didn’t know what to do about it,” recalls Scott, who took charge and obtained a building permit from the city, then recruited other men from their church to help. Together in June 2011, they tore off the garage’s roof; replaced rafters, sheeting and shingles; and hauled away truckloads of brush and debris.
“It was something that needed doing, because Thelma was in need,” Scott explains.
Today, Turek’s garage is dry, safe and clean—an “amazing gift” that she credits both to God and her church family.
“This is God’s way of taking care of me,” she says.
Vernon Hague, 64, has a simple explanation for fixing sprinkler heads, cleaning gutters, trimming hedges and doing whatever needs to be done for his widowed neighbor in Fairfield, California.
“Because I can,” he says.
Hague, who retired after a career in the military and civil service, says being able to help people such as Toni Brokloff, 72, is his dream come true.
“I didn’t want to work anymore,” says Hague, explaining how retirement has given him the chance to be a full-time Good Samaritan. “As goofy as it is, I’m handy at certain stuff. I help family or friends.”
Brokloff says Hague and his wife, Kathy, have been a godsend since the couple moved next door three years ago, two years after her own husband, Robert, died.
“There is no way I could list all the things Vernon has done for me,” Brokloff says, “but everything he has done has made my life as a widow so much easier.”
Smells of Christmas
When Mary Cady, 86, welcomed two grown nieces for a December visit to her home in Winona, Minnesota, the women surprised their aunt by carrying in armfuls of baking ingredients, bakeware, and their mother’s Scandinavian cookbook.
Lynn Harstad, 57, and Laurie Bale, 58, soon were mixing and baking cookies and goodies of all kinds—just as Cady had done for decades as part of a family Christmas tradition that began with her own mother and two sisters.
For Cady, the joy of Christmas always had included baking, packaging and giving away holiday treats. But the challenges of age and arthritis had forced Cady to end the tradition several years ago.
Her nieces’ timely visit last year—reintroducing holiday aromas from her childhood—revived her spirits just in time for Christmas.
“We all got our holiday memories stirred up. It was so much fun!” Cady happily recalls. “The table was soon piled with Christmas goodies as I sat watching in my chair and partaking of stories—complete with that wonderful smell of Christmas in the air.”
First-grade teacher Tracy McQuay, 44, had tried to keep the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, from impacting her work with students at Mark Twain Elementary School in Carson City, Nevada, in those dark days following the tragedy last December.
“I’ve always felt it was my job, no matter what is going on, to smile and comfort the children,” she explains.
Still, staying upbeat and focused was challenging. “When the students were doing their activities and making things for their parents and the joy they felt around the holidays, it made it bittersweet for me because I kept thinking about the kids from Sandy Hook [Elementary School in Newtown] and the joy they should have been feeling,” she says.
When the final school bell rang to signal the beginning of her holiday break, the veteran teacher cleaned up her classroom and walked to the parking lot, where she found an envelope tucked under the windshield wiper of her car. She noticed that every teacher’s car had such an envelope, labeled with the words “Merry Christmas.”
Opening her envelope, McQuay found a $5 Starbucks gift card, along with a note that said: “Dearest Teacher, Enclosed is a small token of my appreciation for you! Thank you for watching over, teaching and protecting my little ones each day and every day.”
The note asked recipients to “pass it forward” with “one simple act of kindness” dedicated to the victims of Sandy Hook. It was signed “Sincerely, A very grateful Mother.” Listed below were the names and ages of the 20 first-graders and six educators killed in Newtown.
“All the emotions I had been holding back surfaced,” McQuay remembers. “I sat in my car and cried.”