KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Susan Dahl had spent four months homeless in Colorado and just been on a harrowing 10-hour bus trip through sleet and snow. Hungry and broke, all she wanted to do was get back to family in Minnesota.
That’s when a tall man in a red coat and red hat sat next to her at the downtown bus station, talked to her quietly and then slipped her $100 on that recent December afternoon.
The man was doing the work of Larry Stewart, Kansas City’s original Secret Santa who anonymously wandered city streets doling out $100 bills to anyone who looked like they needed it. Stewart died of cancer at age 58 earlier this year. But his legacy lives on.
“He said `Here’s a $100 bill … and this is in memory of Larry Stewart,'” said Dahl, 56.
Over about a quarter century, Stewart quietly gave out more than $1.3 million to people in laundromats, diners, bus stations, shelters and thrift stores, saying it was his way of giving back at Christmas for all the wealth and generosity he had received in his lifetime.
For years, Stewart did not want his name known or want thanks or applause, but last December he acknowledged who he was and used his last few months while battling cancer to press his message of kindness toward others. He even trained some friends in the ways of Secret Santa.
This Christmas, a friend who told Stewart in the hospital that he would carry on for him is out on the streets, handing out $100 bills, each one stamped with “Larry Stewart, Secret Santa.”