David Bruce: Money Anecdotes

• In order for Milton Ochieng’ to go to the United States to attend college, he needed money. He got it: His neighbors in the Kenyan village (with a population of about 1,100 people in 2008) known as Lwala sold chickens and cattle to raise $900 for his plane ticket to the United States, where Mr. Ochieng’ attended and graduated from Dartmouth College and then attended and graduated from Vanderbilt University Medical School. His brother, Fred, followed him to the United States. Together, they raised $150,000 to build a health clinic in Lwala. The Blood:Water Mission, a Nashville-based nonprofit that was founded by Christian rockers Jars of Clay, contributed money to help build the clinic. Its program director, Barak Bruerd, says, “It’s not common to have a couple of village boys come to the U.S. and advocate for a clinic to be built in their country. The fact that they were able to bring so much support to their community is amazing.” Dr. Milton Ochieng’ remembers when he was young he saw ill people being pushed in wheelbarrows to reach a paved road they could travel on to get medical treatment. In Africa, the American dollar goes far. In its first year of existence, the clinic treated 20,000 patients. Cost: just under $100,000. Dr. Milton Ochieng’ says, “There’s such a sense of love and people feeling they’ve gained so much from the health center. It keeps me going. … It makes you realize how great it is to be a doctor, how great it is to be serving humanity.” The clinic is named the Erastus Ochieng’ Lwala Community Memorial Health Center in honor of the brothers’ father.

• Opera tenor Enrico Caruso became a coin collector through his old friend Mr. Amedeo Canessa. During a conversation, Mr. Canessa showed Mr. Caruso a gold coin on one side of which the head of Queen Arsinoë was engraved. Mr. Canessa said, “That little thing costs 500 francs.” Mr. Caruso replied, “It’s beautiful. I like it. But what is the use of one? I don’t want one coin.” Mr. Canessa said, “There is only this one. It is a very rare specimen.” Mr. Caruso really liked the coin. He said, “Very well, then. It’s mine.” He then began to collect coins — more than 2,000 of them — as well as antique glass, bronzes, enamel, furniture, pottery, and watches. Mr. Caruso was generous with his wealth. A street cleaner — an elderly Italian — once saw him stopped on a street in a car. The old Italian shouted, “Carus!” Then he jumped on the car’s running board. Enrico engaged in conversation with him in the Neapolitan dialect, and he shook his hand. As the old Italian turned to go, Enrico stuffed some money into one of his pockets.

• People sin, but they can repent. For example, someone stole a hammer decades ago from Central Contractors Supply Co. in western Pennsylvania. Eventually, the thief repented and sent an envelope containing money and a note to the owners —the Gramling family — of the supply store. The note stated that the writer had stolen a hammer from the family-owned supply store 25 or 30 years ago. The note also stated, “I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway. Enclosed is $45 to cover the hammer plus a little extra for interest. I’m sorry I stole it, but have changed my ways.” Lots of things have been stolen from the store over the decades, said co-owner Lynne Gramling, but this was the first time that a thief paid for what was stolen. She took the money to her father, also a co-owner of the store. He was ringing a bell for the Salvation Army, and she put the money in his kettle. She said that the money was “really a lot more than a hammer would cost. He was very generous.”

• Garry Trudeau became an adult in the 1960s. He says, “It was the cauldron, the late 60s, when I began to think as an adult. All hell was taking place, the Black Panthers were on trial, students were shot in the Kent State protests, war was waging on the other side of the globe, it was very hard not to be swept up in all of that.” He made his comic strip, Doonesbury, topical. In order to write about very current events, he kept pushing his deadlines back, thus making many printers, who were paid overtime for their work on his comic strip, happy. Supposedly, one printer made so much money by working overtime because of Trudeau that he bought a yacht and named it Doonesbury.

• In the minor leagues, fans can sometimes get very close to the players and even give them gifts. Alan Trammell played 20 years with the Detroit Tigers, and he remembers playing a minor-league doubleheader for the Montgomery Rebels in which a fan got to use the loudspeaker. In the first game of the doubleheader, the fan announced over the loudspeaker, “The first Rebel to hit a home run gets fifty bucks.” No one hit a homer in that game, so in the second game of the doubleheader, the fan announced, “The first Rebel to hit a home run gets a hundred bucks.” Mr. Trammell hit a home run, and the fan leaned over the dugout and gave him a $100 bill.

• The operating room is a serious place, but funny things happen even there. One surgeon kept complaining that the air conditioning in the operating room was too strong. When he finished the operation, he turned to walk away, and fell — he had not realized that shortly after he had begun the operation his pants had fallen down. And one patient needed an operation after a bullet had hit some coins in his pocket, embedding pieces of money in his body. The patient looked at the surgeon, who was wearing a surgical mask, and said, “Well, I guess it’s only normal to wear a mask when taking someone’s money.”

• Willie, the son of the great 19th-century actor Joseph Jefferson, once cabled him to send £200 at once. Mr. Jefferson cabled back, “What for?” His son sent back the reply, “For Willie.” Mr. Jefferson sent the money.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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