From friends and neighbors in need, to people who find thoughtful strangers when they least expect them, American Profile readers each year share heartwarming stories about ordinary people doing thoughtful deeds without expecting recognition or acknowledgment in return. Here is our annual tribute to random acts of kindness across the nation.
Colonel Evan’s troops
Brenda Bowen knew she could help as soon as the weeping woman, seated next to her on the airplane from Memphis, Tenn., told her how much her cancer-stricken 6-year-old son loves “Army guys.”
But Bowen, a civilian employee at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., had no idea her actions would ignite an international GI crusade, with top brass and frontline troops signing up to help Evan Pertile be “Army strong” in his battle against brain cancer.
Bowen, 51, a single mother of two grown kids, listened intently as a tearful Rachel Pertile, 39, described her need to return home to Columbia, S.C., to see her other three sons, ages 11, 8 and 2, while husband Alex, 43, filled in for six days at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, where Evan was being treated. Pertile told Bowen that Evan was weak and not eating much because of his radiation treatments and brain tumor.
When the conversation turned to Bowen’s job with the U.S. Army, Pertile’s eyes lit up. Evan worships “Army guys,” she shared, noting that he loves seeing soldiers from Fort Jackson, near his home in Columbia.
After their plane landed, Bowen called Col. Bob Burns at Fort Leavenworth and shared Evan’s story. Burns, 48, quickly dispatched a package to the hospital containing an extra-small Army uniforma little large for Evan, but not if he kept eating well and growing strong. Burns included his own colonel’s eagle patch and notes from fort commanders declaring Evan an honorary colonel.
Once back at Leavenworth, Bowen told other soldiers how Evan has them on a pedestal but also was turning away food. Word spread through the ranks and on the Internet. “Soldiers from all over the world began sending him messages telling him he’s in the Army (and) he had to buck up and eat so he could be Army strong,” Bowen says.
Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular, identified with “a 6-year-old fighting for his life,” Burns says. “It kind of puts it in context.” Even Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Central Command and perhaps America’s best-known soldier today, sent an autographed photo.
Now, Evan, who had dropped from 62 to 52 pounds during treatment, weighs 57 pounds. He returned home in July after eight months at St. Jude.
“He’s doing great,” his mom says. “We can’t say he’s in remission, but there’s no evidence of cancer on his MRI.”
As for Evan, now more than ever, he dreams of growing up and being a soldier. “I want to be an Army guy,” he says, “’cause they are cool. And they helped me.”
A fresh coat of hope
Jack Jordan, 50, was concerned when he encountered a shaky Ruth Davis, 82, standing by their mailboxes late last year in their neighborhood in Medford, Ore. (pop. 63,154).
The widow had just opened a notice from the managers of Whispering Pines home park giving her 30 days to paint her house, and she simply could not afford to hire someone to do it.
“I’ll take care of that for you,” Jordan assured his neighbor of 13 years.
Soon after, he borrowed a pressure washer, bought paint and supplies, and gave Davis’ home a fresh coat of light gray paint with dark gray trim-all during his hours off as home-based mortgage broker.
No big deal, Jordan says. “She couldn’t do it. She didn’t have the ability to pay for it,” he says. “She’s a wonderful lady, and it just needed to be done.”
Davis, however, says Jordan went beyond being a good neighbor. “I don’t know how I can ever repay him,” she says.
Home for the holidays
Joan Horbert’s voice breaks when recalling the Christmas gift that greeted her and her husband, Lenny, when they returned home last December to St. Matthews, S.C. (pop. 2,107), after his bone marrow transplant.
The couple had spent the month at Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C., while their two teenage sons stayed with friends. The family had made peace with the fact that there would be little time to decorate and prepare for the holidays.
But when they arrived home on Dec. 23, their house was sparkling and fully decorated, inside and out, thanks to their fellow worshippers at Willow Ridge Church in nearby Lexington. “It was awesome,” says Joan, 50.
The Horberts knew that their closest friends from church had planned to give their home a thorough cleaning, which was gift enough. “After a bone marrow transplant, you don’t want to pick up any kind of germs,” says Joan, noting that Lenny, 51, was in his second battle with lymphoma.
About a dozen friends, led by Johnny and Karine Cobb, fixed a leaky commode and loaded the freezer with casseroles. Then holiday cheer took over, and the group found the Horberts’ Christmas tree and decorations and trimmed the entire home.
“We love them,” Johnny, 47, says with a shrug. “God told us to love God and love others.”
Fuel of kindness
Roy Lott, 32, had stopped for a soda at a gas station in Jackson, Miss., when he noticed a woman wearing a nightgown and robe frantically searching for her purse in the trunk of her car.
“I’m stuck here 100 miles from home, and I don’t have any money to get some gas,” a panicked Elizabeth Nail, 69, told Lott, a warehouse manager.
Released from a Jackson hospital before her family could bring her street clothes, Nail was so anxious to get home to Grenada (pop. 14,879) that she got in her car wearing her hospital garb.
No sooner had she hit the road when she noticed the fuel gauge on empty and pulled over at the next gas station, forgetting that her sister had taken her purse home from the hospital for safekeeping.
Lott was empathetic but hesitant at first to offer aid to Nail, who is white, because “I’m a young black guy and I thought I might frighten her.” In the end, however, he not only bought her enough gas to get her to Grenada, he pumped it for her as well. “I was always raised to help anyone,” Lott says. “It’s a blessing.”
Wood for the winter
Both the home and heart of Mary Ann Beaver, 77, are warmed by neighbor Harlan Mason, 71, in Floyd, Va. (pop. 432).
Mason, a woodworker who makes lawn furniture and storage buildings in a workshop by his house, provides wood for Beaver’s stove to heat her home all winter long. In addition to providing dried pine scraps for kindling, he stacks wood on her front porch from trees he cuts on his 7½-acre property.
“I’m totally dependent on it,” says Beaver, whose husband, Howard, died two years ago.
Mason is slowed by arthritis but still manages to stack the wood for Beaver to retrieve from her wheelchair or while leaning on her walker. “They are good neighbors,” says Mason of Beaver and her daughter, Ruth Junger, 52, who lives with her. “They don’t have a heckuva lot. The less they spend on wood, the better off they are.”
Tell us about those good deeds
Has someone performed an unexpected act of kindness for you lately? American Profile wants to hear stories about the generous, humane and compassionate acts that you’ve experienced in the past year. Mail a brief letter, 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.