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Tag Archive: Larry Stewart

Dec 09

Thank you Secret Santa (Local traditions of Christmas, Part 2)

“The Lord loveth a cheerful giver. He also accepteth from a grouch.”
— Catherine Hall, British historian

Sometimes we are grouchy givers aren’t we?

When we are stingy or reluctant givers we are a far cry from Kansas City’s legendary Secret Santa. Remember him?

The late Larry Stewart, a Kansas City businessman and philanthropist, quietly and cheerfully gave hundreds of folks a grand total of more than 1.3 million dollars over a 26-year span.

He was no grouch, in fact, he was a right jolly old elf.

Times are tough right now, and the world needs more than ever a jovial and generous Secret Santa, such as Larry. Thankfully, Stewart’s benevolence continues through the work of the Society of Secret Santas. You can find more about them as well as the history of the original Secret Santa, Larry Stewart, on the Internet at secretsantaworld.net.

After researching this society and learning more about it, I am sold. However, they had me at “has a Secret Santa touched your life”. A long time ago, one did.

If we are honest with ourselves, we probably all have a story in our lives in which a Secret Santa, a good benevolent soul, helped us at just the right time.

I know I have such a story and have never forgotten the kindnesses bestowed in my time of need.

Here is what happened to me.

Once upon a time (which seems like a hundred years ago now), I was a single mom desperately trying to keep all the balloons in the air.

My home, small business and the pretense that everything was just fine.

The only problem was I did not have a dime to my name. Somehow, I kept the doors of my business open, paid my loyal staff and never allowed my son to know that we lacked for much of anything.

Family and friends stepped up to help and the balloons stayed in the air, for a while. That is, until the cost of doing business became impossible to manage. I sold everything I had that was saleable, including our furniture in our three-bedroom split foyer located on a tree-lined street in a lovely neighborhood.

Everything looked perfect from the outside.

However, we had little food, no television and only my son’s bunk beds for the both of us. I slept on the bottom, he on the top.

Enter Larry, and how coincidental is his name? My own Larry Stewart, if you will.

Larry, who has long since passed away, was a local pharmacist who invested in small businesses, usually ones going under so he could get the tax write-off. This is important to note, however, he was also a generous and kind giver, ready to help those in peril, as long as the beneficiary kept it to himself or herself.

I barely knew him, but Marilyn, one of my steadfast employees and dear friend, suggested I tell him of my plight. No, she didn’t exactly suggest, she pushed. Frightened to death because I would sooner have died than ask anyone for a handout, I called him.

To my surprise, he cheerfully agreed to help. He gave me a generous small-business loan, which was really a grant because he knew I could not pay it back. More importantly, he counseled me on how to run a successful business.

Long story short: the business survived, the employees were paid, my family provided us with used furniture and a television and nearly everyone around us invited us to Christmas dinner. After awhile, I was able to sell my business, pay my bills and move on to another career.

My own Secret Santa had only one request – that I keep his anonymity, and I have, sort of. You know his first name now, but not his last.

His joy was in the giving, ours in the receiving and in learning how important it is to pass on the tradition of cheerful giving.

It doesn’t seem enough to say, but “Thank you Secret Santa” anyway.

“At Christmas, a man is at his finest towards the finish of the year;
He is almost what he should be when the Christmas season’s here;
Then he’s thinking more of others than he’s thought the months before,
And the laughter of his children is a joy worth toiling for.
He is less a selfish creature than at any other time;
When the Christmas spirit rules him he comes close to the sublime..”.?– Edgar Guest?

Dec 30

Learning how to become a Secret Santa

Haven’t you always wanted to be a Secret Santa but have no idea how to begin, and perchance, are you afraid of doing it all wrong anyway?

Enter Larry Stewart, Kansas City’s famed Secret Santa, someone with a very big heart who is showing us how to help those in need.

The legend of St. Nicholas is alive and well in the heartland because of this out-of-the- ordinary Secret Santa who calls Kansas City home.

It was a noble calling Larry Stewart answered 26 years ago when he decided to spread his joy and cash around the Midwest. Eventually, he took his mission nationwide.

Like St. Nicholas, Stewart gives to those in need as he hands out $100 bills, sometimes by the handful, to complete strangers during the Christmas season.

After more than a quarter of a century of anonymous giving, Kansas City’s now celebrated Secret Santa revealed his identity in November of 2006 in order to teach others how to perform random acts of kindness.

Larry Stewart, currently battling cancer, is committed to cloning other Secret Santas while he can. His website (secretsantausa.com) tells us how.

As the old Chinese saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.”

Are we students ready?

How does Larry Stewart do it anyway?

Come to think of it, how does any ordinary person learn to become St. Nicholas, aka Larry Stewart?

How do we give to those in need without committing acts of foolish generosity or engaging in reckless spending that could hurt worse than it helps?

I have heard some say that whenever they have enough money to hand out hundreds they will do it gladly. Others say that when they have enough funds to buy a complete turkey or ham dinner with all the trimmings, they will surprise a needy family.

The truth is that by waiting until we can do things in a big way, we often end up doing nothing at all.

Mother Teresa once said “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

Buy a jug of milk, not a turkey dinner. Buy a pair of shoes for one person. We do not have to outfit an entire family. Give $5 bills instead of hundreds to random strangers. We do not have to wait for the holiday season either, any time will do.

Although we may not have Larry Stewart’s cash, we can have his big heart.

In order to learn how to become a Secret Santa, we have to start small.

Larry Stewart emulates St. Nicholas himself so some perspective on the first Santa Claus might be in order.

The story of Santa Claus begins with the tale of a young man named Nicholas, who in the third century followed the credo of sharing whatever little he had with the poor. Throughout history, stories tell of how he became a generous benefactor and helper of those in need.

Nicholas lost everything as a young man. His wealthy parents died, and with their passing, his secure and protected lifestyle was gone.

Raised to be a devout Christian, Nicholas used his entire and meager inheritance to help the needy and anyone who was sick or suffering.

Over time, legends grew about the wondrous deeds of St. Nicholas, eventually earning him sainthood.

Sailors adopted him as their patron, Catholics and Orthodox venerated him, and Protestants honored him.

Stewart, just like Nicholas, lost his parents. Orphaned and without inheritance, Stewart was raised by his grandparents.

Kindly strangers who helped Larry Stewart along the way taught him by example how to give anonymously and without expectation of reward.

The teacher is here, are we students ready?