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Home » News » Community » The Secret Santa Tradition Continues

The Secret Santa Tradition Continues

The Secret Santa Tradition Continues

December 22, 2012

Pat Herrington,Sammy Rhoades
Hy-Vee Meat Market Manager
Corey Gittings.
Tribune Photo/Linda Ahern

By Jessica Root

Intern Reporter for the Tribune

The late Larry Stewart, Lee’s Summit telecommunications millionaire who, disguised as Santa Claus, gave out some $1.3 million over 27 years before revealing his identity, started the Secret Santa Tradition years ago.

Today in Lee’s Summit, an Original Larry Stewart Elf keeps the tradition alive.

Sammy Rhoades, with the help of Pat Herrington (Owner of Herrington Automotive), donates turkeys to Lee Haven Retirement Home as an act in honor of Secret Santa.

They started this annual act of kindness seven years ago.

“The people at Lee Haven are good people,” Rhoades said.

Rhoades, a good person himself, travelled up to Missouri from Arkansas in the 1950s and ended up in Lee’s Summit. He had $14.50 in his pocket when he arrived in town and he didn’t know anybody.

From raising honey (that’s how he met Stewart for the first time, although he didn’t know about Secret Santa at the time) to renovating and constructing apartment buildings, Rhoades has become a successful man who acts kindly with a humble soul.

“I gave Stewart honey seven years before he asked me to give out his Secret Santa money in Lee’s Summit,” Rhoades said. “I had no idea it was him. Since then I have been part of the Secret Santa Tradition.”

On December 18, 54 turkeys were delivered to Lee Haven. Two boxes contained 11 pound turkeys and the other boxes contained 14 pound turkeys.

“I stuck around to wish people a Merry Christmas,” Rhoades said. “When they’re happy, I’m very happy.”

Kindness is, in fact, contagious. The Secret Santa tradition has spread across the nation since Stewart started handing out $100 bills in 1979. From Lee’s Summit to both coasts and everywhere in between, Stewart’s kind heart lives on.

In January 2007, as Stewart lay dying of esophageal cancer, a friend vowed to take the reigns of the Secret Santa Sleigh.

“I put my hand on his and told him Secret Santa would do rides coast to coast,” the current Secret Santa said (courtesy of the PEOPLE magazine article from December 19, 2011).

The Secret Santa tradition inspires people to believe in Santa Claus whether they’re rich or poor, old or young, or anywhere in between.

That’s what Christmas is all about: sharing hope for the future.

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