A Yuletide Gift of Kindness

Seventy-five years later, Ted Gup learns the astonishing secret about his grandfather’s generosity during the Great Depression

In 2008, Ted Gup was handed a battered suitcase by his mother; it contained conceled checks and old letters addressed to "B. Virdot". Thus began a search for the stories behind the letters. (Bradley E. Clift)
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I again thank you on behalf of the family and an earnest wish is that you have a most Happy New Year.

But George Monnot would never again attain economic or social prominence. He spent his final days as a clerk in a factory and his evenings in the basement among his tools, hoping to invent something that might lift him up once more. His tool chest is now in the hands of one of his eight grandsons, Jeffrey Haas, a retired vice president of Procter & Gamble.

In some ways, Monnot was one of the lucky ones. He at least had a place to call home. Many of those who reached out to B. Virdot had been reduced to living as nomads. Worse, many parents gave up their children rather than see them starve. A woman named Ida Bailey wrote:

This Xmas is not going to be a Merry one for us, but we are trying to make the best we can of it. We want to do all we can to make the Children happy but can't do much. About 7 years ago Mr. Bailey lost his health and it has been nick & tuck ever since but we thank God he is able to work again. We all work whenever we can make a nickel honest. Three years ago this Depression hit us and we lost all our furniture and had to separate with our Children. We have 4 of them [out of 12] with us again. There are three girls working for their Cloaths & Board. I do wish I could have my children all with me once again. I work by the day any place I can get work...you know the wages they get don't go very far when there is 6 to buy eats for...I think if there were some more people in Canton like you and open up their Hearts and share up with us poor people that does their hard work for them for almost nothing (a dollar a day) when the time comes for them to leave this world I would think they would feel better satisfied for they can't take any of it with them....

One of the children the Baileys placed with another family was their son Denzell, who was 14 in 1933. His daughter, Deloris Keogh, told me he had moved more than two dozen times before he reached the sixth grade. He attended nearly every school in Canton at least once. He never had a chance to make friends, he said, or get settled or focus on his studies. He dropped out of the sixth grade and later worked as a bricklayer and janitor. But he vowed that his children would not endure the same rootlessness—that they would know but one home. So with his own hands he began to build a house of stone, gathering blocks from quarries, abandoned barns and a burned-down schoolhouse. Everyone knew of his determination, and friends and neighbors contributed stones to the house. A minister brought back a rock from the Holy Land. Others brought back stones from their vacations. Denzell Bailey found a place for each one. It took him 30 years to complete his house, a monument to his resolve. He died in it on November 23, 1997, at age 78, surrounded by his four children. It was the only home they had known. Denzell's house of stone remains in the Bailey family to this day.

When Edith May wrote to B. Virdot, she was living on a hardscrabble farm at the edge of town.

Maybe I shouldn't write to you not living right in Canton, but for some time I have been wanting to know somebody who could give me some help.

We have known better days. Four years ago we were getting 135 dollars a month for milk. Now Saturday we got 12.... Imagine 5 of us for a month. If I only had five dollars, I would think I am in heaven. I would buy a pair of shoes for my oldest boy in school. His toes are all out & no way to give him a pair.

He was just 6 in October. Then I have a little girl will be 4 two days before Xmas & a boy of 18 months.

I could give them all something for Xmas & I would be very happy. Up to now I haven't a thing for them. I made a dolly for each to look like Santa & that's as much as I could go. Won't you please help me to be happy?

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