KC’s Secret Santa spreads holiday cheer

Thursday, November 30, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:46 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

CHICAGO — Dressed in white overalls, a red turtleneck and a red cap, a once-secret Santa spread holiday cheer and crisp $100 bills to residents of Chicago’s southwest side Wednesday.

Larry Stewart, a 58-year-old from the Kansas City suburb of Lee’s Summit, Mo., made headlines this month when he came forward with his identity, nearly 26 years after he anonymously began handing out cash to strangers during the holidays.

“I’m just passing on a little of what the Lord left me,” Stewart said as he pressed money into the hands of convenience store workers near Chicago’s Midway airport.

The businessman began giving out $5 and $10 bills decades ago. As Stewart made millions in cable television and long-distance telephone service, Secret Santa began passing out $100 bills — sometimes two or three at a time.

By Stewart’s count, he’s anonymously given out about $1.3 million over the years.

But the Santa stint may be coming to an end, because of a recent cancer diagnosis that comes with costly medical bills and energy-sapping treatments.

Stewart said he decided to reveal his identity in the hope that his story will inspire others.

On Wednesday, Stewart, along with an entourage of elves and a police escort, visited a disabled Chicago police officer in Shorewood, near Joliet, and then headed for Chicago’s southwest side.

One man, who said he didn’t need the donation, promised to pass on the cash to someone else in need.

But for Beatrice Gray, the money was an early Christmas gift that she planned to spend on her daughter.

“That was a blessing,” she said. “Something never happened like that before, so thank you a lot.”

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