CANTON, Ohio — The event was a reunion for people who were never supposed to meet, commemorating an act of charity that succeeded because it happened in secret.It is always those who escape poverty who give back, not those of inherited wealth. Read the rest of the piece HERE.
Helen Palm sat in her wheelchair on the stage of the Palace Theater and read her plea for help, the one she wrote in the depths of the Great Depression to an anonymous stranger who called himself B. Virdot.
“I am writing this because I need clothing,” Ms. Palm, 90, read aloud on Friday evening. “And sometimes we run out of food.”
Ms. Palm was one of hundreds who responded to an advertisement that appeared Dec. 17, 1933, in The Canton Repository newspaper. A donor using the pseudonym B. Virdot offered modest cash gifts to families in need. His only request: Letters from the struggling people describing their financial troubles and how they hoped to spend the money. The donor promised to keep letter writers’ identities secret “until the very end.”
That end came last week at the city’s famed 84-year-old Palace Theater, at a reunion for families of B. Virdot’s recipients. About 400 people attended. For the older people, it was a chance to remember the hard times. For relatives of the letter writers, it was a time to hear how the small gifts, in the bleakest winter of the Depression, meant more than money. They buoyed the spirits of an entire city that was beginning to lose hope.
Of the 150 people in Canton who received checks, most for as little as $5, from B. Virdot, Ms. Palm is the only one still alive, and the only one to learn the anonymous donor’s true identity. “I thought about B. Virdot a lot” in the years after 1933, Ms. Palm said. “I was really surprised when I learned his real name.”
His secret lasted 75 years. Then, in 2008, a Canton native named Ted Gup received a suitcase stuffed with his late grandfather’s papers, including letters addressed to one B. Virdot.
Mr. Gup, an investigative journalist formerly with The Washington Post, discovered that B. Virdot was his grandfather, Samuel J. Stone, who escaped poverty and persecution as a Jew in Romania to build a successful chain of clothing stores in the United States. He created the name B. Virdot by combining the names of his daughters, Barbara, Dorothy and Mr. Gup’s mother, Virginia.
The story did my heart good on this cold, dark evening.
And so it goes.