For many years The World-Herald ran a contest asking readers to write letters telling what they are most thankful for. The prizes were modest, but the lessons were lasting.
Many of the winning entries revolved around people finding silver linings in otherwise difficult positions, including survivors of polio, the Holocaust and a shooting, to a widow fortunate her late husband maintained life insurance and a mother happy to have a full table of her children who once were all in deployment.
9-year-old burn victim happy to be home
George Allen Stuart, age 9 in 1949, was burned when a playmate threw a burning kerosene-soaked rag on him. He spent 18 consecutive months in the hospital and had eight skin grafts. Despite having to return to the hospital for more treatments, he was able to spend Thanksgiving dinner at home with his family, who had roasted duck for their meal.
Stuart was one of 1,308 letters to the contest editor. He said he’d save his $5 prize for a new bicycle.
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Holocaust survivor fulfills Thanksgiving dream
Alex Sonnenwirth, a Romanian, was taken prisoner by the Germans with 26 of his family members in 1940. About half of his family was executed in gas chambers, and the others died of the privations of forced labor. He was the lone survivor.
In November, 1943, I was in a German prison hospital with three American pilots. This was the first time I had ever heard about Thanksgiving. Since then I never ceased dreaming about it. This year will be my first opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving in the land of the free. I shall thank wholeheartedly and sincerely Our Lord for everything I met here: Freedom from fear and hunger, equal opportunity to succeed, friendly and understanding helpfulness.
“Thanksgiving should be, for old and new Americans alike, the day of remembrance thanking for the happiness of the past and the day of prayer asking for the continuation of prosperity and success for all of us in this best of all countries.
Sonnenwirth ultimately wound up in the American zone. After getting a visa, he earned his degree at the University of Nebraska.
Other winners in 1949 included Gay Keating of Dunlap, who wrote that her father was coming home from the hospital and did not have to have his hand amputated after a serious infection, and Hilary Lassek, who was happy for the health of her family.
Child recovers from polio
Charles Goll contracted polio when he was 4. He suffered a rare second attack at age 8 when the left side of his body was paralyzed. At age 9, he wrote the winning letter.
“I have more to be thankful for than other boys and girls,” Charles — or “Chizzy,” as his family called him — wrote. “I prayed to Jesus to get me well and I am getting well. I can not go to my school but a homebound teacher comes to my house and teaches me my work. I am glad that they have teachers to come to boys and girls’ houses.”
Rehabilitation and exercise made Charles’ limp unnoticeable to the untrained eye. What did he plan to do with his winnings?
“I’m going to buy some Christmas presents for my wonderful Mommy and Daddy.”
One mother sits with a full table, another stands again
Frances Quinn never walked without crutches after contracting polio as a child. However, she was thankful to take her first steps just before teaching her child how to walk.
“The March of Dimes made it possible for me walk without the aid of crutches,” she wrote. “Through them I received a brace which I couldn’t afford. Now I carry my daughter without any trouble. Every mother knows what a wonderful feeling that is.
“I found out months ago and could never express how thrilled I was. When I sit down at the table this Thanksgiving, I will thank God for giving me strength to walk on this brace and also the March of Dimes for their wonderful work.”
Another mother, W.E. Lewis of Crete, was excited to be joined by her six sons and four daughters, the first time since 1942 that she’d have a full table.
Only one son couldn’t attend, as he was still deployed; the others had all returned from their service.
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Nov. 19, 1940: Clerk Elmer Kern with the materials for Thanksgiving dinner.
Nov. 23, 1962: Brigadier Garfield Dalberg, left, offers pumpkin pies to some of the 275 men who enjoyed the Salvation Army's dinner.
Nov. 21, 1964: A second grade student at Hillside School writes a letter for what they are thankful for.
Nov. 24, 1966: Mr. and Mrs. Grant Middaugh donate to the "Golden Harvest" displayed at Wheeler Presbyterian Church.
Nov. 25, 1966: Sebastian Enzolera carves a turkey for his granddaughter, Theresa Monestero, in Bellevue.
Nov. 23, 1967: Betty O'Neill, left, and Eunice Johnson get Thanksgiving food baskets from Brigadier Helen Rutledge.
Nov. 26, 1968: Garland T. Thompson, executive director of the Island of Hope, and chef Kyle Forney inspect turkeys to be served at the Open Door Mission.
Nov. 26, 1969: Hundreds of classrooms in the Omaha area reenacted the first Thanksgiving, including these chefs in action at Karen Western School. Clockwise at the table are Scott, seated in the lower left, along with Terri, Marc, Deborah and Desirous.
Nov. 26, 1969: First grade children at Long School ride a cardboard Mayflower.
Nov. 26, 1969: Norma White helps pack Thanksgiving packages.
Nov. 27, 1970: Mrs. Dorothy Auffart, a childcare worker, supervises, from left, Charles, Tony, Terry, Allen and Randy.
Nov. 25, 1971: The Northwestern Belles drill team at Omaha Northwest High spearheaded a drive which collected more than 700 cans of food.
Nov. 20, 1972: Linda Gill of Papillion gives a friendly wave to a balloon dragon at Crossroads. She's perched on the shoulders of her dad, John Gill.
Nov. 24, 1972: Many members of the Council Bluffs First Congregational Church dressed up for Thanksgiving services.
Nov. 16, 1973: Millard's Cody Elementary served up beans, among many other dishes. Vicki Karnish, left, and Wanda Baker were happy to devour the food after helping prepare it.
Nov. 21, 1973: A turkey from the "live room" at Westside High Schoo helped children at the Meyer Rehabilitation Institute get the Thanksgiving spirit. Here Kira Gibbs sizes up Tom, who returns the stare.
Nov. 23, 1973: Larry Scalise admitted his "eyes are as big as my stomach," and he intends to prove it.
Nov. 23, 1973: From left, Alisa, Noah, Jason and Kathy Williford enjoy Thanksgiving dinner on the lawn of WOW radio at 3501 Farnam Street. Noah was the manager of Froggie Beaver, a pop-rock musical group.
Nov. 27, 1975: Mrs. Rogers serves dinner to the family's guest, Wilmer R. Blackett, with, from left, Kristen, Ralph, Lisa and Matt looking on. Blackett, a Spanish-American war and World War I veteran, visited the family through a program that placed 30 senior citizens at the home of Omaha-area families.
Nov. 21, 1978: Omaha Northwest High School home economics student prepared the budget, planned the menu, designed the table settings, addressed the invitations, shopped for food, stuffed the chickens, mashed the potatoes, baked the rolls, mixed the fruit salad and, finally, sat down to eat an early Thanksgiving Dinner.
Nov. 24, 1978: Creighton University alumni filled St. John's Church on the school's campus for Thanksgiving Mass.
Nov. 23, 1979: Sitting from left, Ann Stuhr, Paul Stuhr, Margaret Stuhr and Jerry Venger are served dinner by Mike Milone.
Nov. 26, 1980: Students at many Omaha-area schools collected canned goods to be distributed to local families.
Nov. 27, 1980: Students at Lothrop Elementary School, including Alnetta Wagner, couldn't wait to dig into the pies they made.
Nov. 28, 1980: Thanksgiving dinners, like the one Forysteen Jackson enjoyed, are not always easy to come by. But volunteers helped provide meals to senior citizens.
Nov. 26, 1981: John Fidler and Barb Krejci, members of the Halo Club of Mutual and United of Omaha, pack boxes of food to be distributed to need families.
Nov. 26, 1981: Fifty-seven fifth graders at St. Thomas More School look longingly at lunch.
Nov. 24, 1982: About $6,300 of donations meant many Omaha families in need of help were able to have a Thanksgiving dinner.
Nov. 26, 1982: Church workers deliver Thanksgiving dinners to area families.
Nov. 22, 1984: Jenny Zoucha's thoughts on Thanksgiving.
Nov. 22, 1984: Michael J. Bastian's thoughts on Thanksgiving.
Nov. 22, 1984: April Snider's thoughts on Thanksgiving.
Nov. 19, 1989: From left, Jason Wallace, Amy Rezac and Marcy Simmons get into the Thanksgiving spirit at Wheeler Memorial Presbyterian.
Nov. 23, 1993: Carol Ratekin of Millard, left, and Tammie McCue of Glenwood, fill up boxes of food that will be distributed.
Nov. 25, 1993: Keith Penwall enjoys dinner at the Salvation Army.
Nov. 21, 1995: The Allenville community had 25 students participate in a three-week study on pilgrims.
Nov. 16, 2011: Helen Wade, 83, is hugged by UNO Gerontology professor Dr. Lyn Holley. A group of Blackburn Alternative Program students, in cooperation with a UNO gerontology class, prepared and served a Thanksgiving lunch to senior citizens at the Adams Park Community Center.
2012: A hay bale turkey sits in St. Boniface Catholic Church.
Nov. 12, 2013: Several of the Hettinger family members, from left, Robert, Garrett, Nick, Breana, Andrew, Cadence, Anthony, Preston Struckmeyer, Makenzie, Hannah, and Caitlyn gather at their dinner table to talk about what they are thankful for. They ate before the Thanksgiving dinner, played games and sang in their Papillion home.
Nov. 12, 2014: Students of several grades read a poem before a Thanksgiving luncheon. From left, Joyce Mackey, Cristina Ruiz, Kelly Mischke and Kirsten Ketelsen took part in reading the poem for their school.