My Turn: A story worth repeating time and time again

Virtually everyone has read or heard a Horatio Alger story from that 19th century spinner of tales.

The stories are invariably heart-warming tales of triumph starring a young boy who travels the road of rags-to-riches by advancing from poverty to wealth and acclaim.

Alger penned more than 130 books before his death in 1899, selling some 40 million copies. Several of his boy wonders appeared in series, including “Ragged Dick,” “Luck and Pluck,” and “Tattered Tom.”

Hollywood has picked up on some of the finer yarns spun by Alger, splashing them across the silver screen to the delight of audiences yearning for something worthwhile to see.

Perhaps the pandemic, which has the potential to cast many from riches to rags, will spawn a slew of modern-day tales of those who have succeeded a second time in Horatio Alger fashion.

Some 18 years ago, the final chapter in a 21st century Alger story was written when hamburger-pitchman Dave Thomas passed by the scene. His rise to fame at the helm of fast-food Wendy’s has been well documented, of course, and he was generous in his support of adoption causes that were close to his heart. Of those in need of adoption, Thomas was fond of saying, “These children are not someone else's responsibility. They are our responsibility.”

Alger, a Massachusetts native, was a forerunner of Thomas when it came to good causes, spending much of his time and money in his twilight years on helping establish a home for orphans and runaway boys in New York City. Biographers believed that Alger used his experiences with the disadvantaged youngsters as material for many of his novels.

Several months before the death of the eminently likeable Thomas there was another Alger-type story that rated far less media attention. It revolved around a woman who left a legacy that students at Western Kentucky University will enjoy for years to come.

Her name was Mary Hutto and, according to published reports, she was “so frugal she slept in the hallway of her boarding house so each room had a tenant.”

According to a 2001 article by the Associated Press, “She saved money because she never thought she’d have enough to live on.”

So said Ron Beck, the former director of planning giving at WKU.

“She lived in a little cubicle in the hallway with a little sheet around her so she wouldn’t take up one of the bedrooms,” Beck related in the AP article.

Hutto reportedly graduated from Western Kentucky in 1927 and immediately moved to the Sunshine State to teach English. It was in Florida where she met her husband, an appliance salesman, who was killed in a car crash in 1953. Mrs. Hutto never remarried and the couple had no children.

When her father died in 1957, Mrs. Hutto returned to Bowling Green, Ky. and ran the family’s boarding house near the university, renting out rooms primarily to students.

While she was alive, Mrs. Hutto had contributed $250,000 for a scholarship fund at Western Kentucky, insisting on anonymity so as not to draw unwanted attention.

When she died at the age of 95, Mrs. Hutto left another gift to her alma mater – a tidy $3.5 million, money that she reportedly amassed through shrewd stock investments.

“She was a multi-millionaire,” said Beck, reflecting on the magnitude of Mrs. Hutto’s generosity to WKU. “It’s a phenomenon of some of these people who grew up in the Depression. Some of these older folks don’t realize the true value of their savings.”

My suspicion is that she did indeed know the scope of her holdings, but preferred to shy far away from the temptations of life’s excesses, opting instead to make a difference in lives other than her own.
A priceless thought indeed.


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