Oseola McCarty

A laundress turned philanthropist keeps on reaching out to others

The washerwoman who in 1995 donated $150,000 of her life savings to finance scholarships for African-American students at the University of Southern Mississippi is finally ready to let someone else do the cleaning—and the cooking too. Last May, Oseola McCarty, 90, who in the past year has undergone successful colon cancer and thyroid surgery, moved to an assisted-living community for the elderly in Hattiesburg, Miss. “You don’t have to worry about nothing here,” she says. “They wash your clothes, they clean everything, they got meals.” Gravy-smothered pork chops, corn bread and spice cake have added 25 pounds to her five-foot frame. And, she says, “everybody’s been so nice.” Some adjustments, though, weren’t so easy, such as learning how to use a shower for the first time. “It came over my head and in my mouth,” says McCarty. Adds her friend Cynthia Eiland, 45, who visits frequently: “She kept saying, ‘You’re drowning me, Cynthia.’ ”

McCarty, who had to quit school after the sixth grade to go to work, says she always believed “you can’t do anything unless you have an education.” As business leaders in Hattiesburg matched her donation and 600 contributions came in from 30 states, the scholarship fund grew to $448,065. McCarty’s gift so far has changed the lives of seven students, including Stephanie Bullock, 21, the first recipient of a $1,000 scholarship, who is studying marketing and management-information systems. “T owe her so much,” says Bullock. “She was a blessing.”

McCarty’s life has changed as well. Once so shy, she says, that she “hardly spoke more than six words,” McCarty found herself, dressed in new shoes and a smart gray wig, talking with Jesse Jackson and posing for pictures with Oprah. She collected more than 150 awards, including the Presidential Citizens Medal and an honorary doctorate from Harvard University. Strangers send her cards and teddy bears. “One day we went to Kmart, and she was autographing bags,” says Eiland. “Children came up and said, ‘Can I touch her?’ ”

“When Miss McCarty was younger,” says Jewel Tucker, 50, an administrative assistant who has become her traveling companion, “she didn’t have any playmates.” Now friendly with all her scholarship recipients, “she has all kinds of kids to play with. She’s making up for what she didn’t have.”

McCarty pays her $l,800-a-month rent with her remaining savings and royalties from her book, Oseola McCarty’s Simple Wisdom for Rich Living. “You give it because you want to give it,” she says of her largesse. “I wanted to share it with somebody.”

Lynn Schnurnberger

Ellise Pierce in Hattiesburg

Mike Marshall

The unsung hero of the Chowchilla school bus kidnapping survived addiction and anonymity


Mike Marshall wasn’t supposed to be on the school bus. If the Chowchilla, Calif., 14-year-old hadn’t infuriated his mom by breaking into the liquor cabinet the night before, she would have picked him up from summer school as usual. Luckily, she didn’t. On July 15, 1976, three kidnappers hijacked the bus and drove Marshall, driver Ed Ray and 25 other students, most of them between the ages of 5 and 8, to a remote gravel quarry, where they forced them into a makeshift underground prison. (An unsent $5 million ransom note was later found.) When the kidnappers left, Marshall surveyed their cell, actually a moving van with a hole in the top that had been buried six feet belowground and covered with an iron plate. Then he stacked several mattresses that were covering the van’s floor, climbed up and started prying his way out. “Ed Ray had basically given up and was mumbling, ‘We’re all going to die,’ ” recalls then-6-year-old Larry Park, now a mining foreman. “Mike said, ‘I’m not going to die without a fight.’ ”

Eighteen hours later the kids were all free, but the credit for the rescue went not to Marshall but to Ray. “It was weird how he jumped in,” says Marshall, now 37. “At the time, I didn’t really care. Now it makes me mad.” Although Ray, 78, denies Marshall’s claims (“Oh yeah, he done it all, I cried boo-hoo and didn’t do nothing,” he scoffs), the other victims confirm Mike’s account. “To the kids, Mike’s the hero,” says Dr. Lenore Terr, a San Francisco psychiatrist who has interviewed and kept tabs on almost all the rescued children for a 25-year study of posttraumatic stress.

“The kidnapping changed me,” Marshall says. “I didn’t care about anything. I just lived for the moment. I was totally crazy.” After high school he joined the pro rodeo circuit as a steer wrestler but was suspended because of problems with alcohol and drugs. Marshall’s then-girlfriend, with whom he had a daughter, Kasey, in 1993, dumped him. But his love for Kasey, now 5, prompted him to seek treatment for his addictions and, finally, to take credit for his role in the Chowchilla rescue. “The best thing I can do for her is be honest,” he says. “It’s a big closure to set it straight.” Sober for the past two years, Marshall now works as a bartender at the Cooler Lounge in Las Vegas and is taking another crack at rodeo. “I always knew deep down I would straighten out,” he says.

Cynthia Sanz

Megan McCaslin in Las Vegas

Nicholas Green

His grieving parents turned his death into a clarion call for organ donation

When Reg and Maggie Green’s 7-year-old son, Nicholas, was shot and killed by would-be robbers during a family vacation in Italy in 1994, the Bodega Bay, Calif., couple donated his organs to Italians in need of transplants. In a country with one of Europe’s lowest organ-donation rates, the gesture was almost too generous to comprehend. “Here were two parents who came from abroad on vacation, lost a son and had big enough spirits to donate his [organs] in the same country where he was killed,” Francesco Mondello, 43, a salesman who can see again thanks to the gift of one of Nicholas’s corneas, said in an interview at the time.

The six other recipients—Nicholas’s heart went to Andrea Mongiardo, 15; islet cells from his pancreas to Silvia Ciampi, 31; his liver to Maria Pia Pedalà, 19; his kidneys to Anna Maria De Ceglie, 14, and Tino Motta, 11; and his other cornea to Domenica Galletta, 30—were equally grateful. “I can’t help but think about Nicholas all the time,” says Pedalà, who last May gave birth to a son she named in his honor. “Besides the life he gave back to me, he gave life to this new little boy.”

The Greens’ decision had another dramatic effect: In the year following Nicholas’s death, organ donation in Italy nearly tripled. “It was a grand gesture,” says Egidio De Luca, president of the Italian branch of TRIO, an international organization that works to promote organ donation. “It woke up the consciences in Italians.” To keep Nicholas’s legacy alive, Reg, 70, publisher of a mutual-fund newsletter, and Maggie, 37, a homemaker, have become international spokespeople for organ donation, giving lectures around the world. Their Nicholas Green Foundation, a trust they began with donations and speaking fees, as well as the money they received from a 1998 TV movie about their lives, now helps train Italian doctors in transplant surgery and offers scholarships to gifted children.

Although the loss of Nicholas “is there always, a kind of weight in the heart,” says Maggie, she finds joy in watching his sister Eleanor, 9, bond with twins Martin and Laura, 2, who were born after the tragedy. And the frequent letters from those whose lives Nicholas saved bring comfort-as well. “One of his teachers said Nicholas was the most giving child she had ever met, that he would probably have done something quite remarkable,” says Reg. “On the other hand, he did.”

Cynthia Sanz

Penelope Rowlands in Bodega Bay and Sarah Delaney in Rome

Daniel Huffman

A teen gave up a dream to help his beloved grandmother

Perhaps it’s just as well that Daniel Huffman, 20, is walking around with only one kidney. It leaves more room for a very big heart. A star defensive tackle on his Rossville, Ill., high school team, Huffman had always dreamed of being a big man on the gridiron at top-ranked Florida State University. But pigskin was small potatoes compared to his grandmother Shirlee Allison. “I love her to death,” he told PEOPLE in 1997. Huffman’s parents split up when he was 5. For Daniel and his sister Kristina, now 18, the one oasis of stability was provided by Allison, 63, and her husband, Danny, 56, who helped raise them. When Allison’s diabetes forced her onto dialysis in 1995, Huffman insisted on giving her one of his kidneys, though it would mean an end to playing contact sports. Nearly three years post-transplant, Allison says, “I’m feeling fine.” So is Huffman. When news of his good deed became public, FSU football coach Bobby Bowden arranged for a scholarship and a job as a team trainer, dispensing Powerade and taping injured wrists and ankles. “I love it here,” says Huffman, a sophomore majoring in English education. “Looking back, it all seems like a movie.”

Marissa Ayala

Bonded by bone marrow, two sisters live happily ever after

Eleven years ago, Abe Ayala, then 43, and his wife, Mary, 40, thought the baby business was long behind them. In fact, Abe, owner of a speedometer-repair business, had had a vasectomy 16 years earlier, after he and Mary decided that with their son Airon, who had been born in 1970, and daughter Anissa, who came along in 1972, the family was complete.

But at age 16, Anissa was diagnosed with a form of leukemia that doctors said would kill her in three to five years. Her only chance of survival—1 in 20,000—was to find someone with matching bone marrow. Doctors tested Anissa’s family first and came up empty-handed. During a year-long search a match was found, but the donor backed out. Finally, in desperation, Abe had his vasectomy reversed, and the couple resolved to have a baby in the hope that Anissa’s new sibling might prove a lifesaver.

At every turn the odds were against the Walnut, Calif., family, but Marissa (named for her mother and sister) was conceived and proved a match. Nearly eight years after her bone-marrow transplant, Anissa, now 26, is considered cured by her doctors. “I prayed that if I survived, I would do whatever I could to help others going through the same process,” says Anissa, who married building materials salesman Bryan Espinosa in 1992 and works for the American Red Cross in Santa Ana as a recruitment specialist for the National Marrow Donor Program.

Because her cancer treatments may have left her sterile, Anissa has connected deeply with her sister. “It was very devastating for me to know I couldn’t have children,” she says. “But Marissa has fulfilled that dream.” Anissa takes Marissa to nearby Disneyland and serves as her soccer mom. “We depend on Anissa to do the things I really don’t enjoy much anymore,” says Mary. But the Ayalas relish their roles as older parents. “I have time to notice the little things Marissa does,” says Abe. “I look forward to coming home and having her greet me. I would be bored without her.”

At the time of the transplant, some people faulted the Ayalas for bearing one child just to save another. The criticism still stings. “Do you know what it’s like to watch your child die?” asks Abe. And how does Marissa feel about being born as her sister’s special gift? The 8-year-old points to a refrigerator magnet listing a roster of emotions. “This way,” she says, pointing to a big word: ecstatic.

Patti Szuber

She died following a car crash, but her final gift saved her father and launched a family crusade

After waiting four years for a transplant, Chester Szuber was thankful to finally be able to have his own badly damaged heart replaced. But his gratitude was shadowed by grief: The donated heart doctors restarted in his chest in August 1994 came from his youngest daughter, Patti, 22, who had been fatally injured in a car accident four days earlier. “When I woke up from surgery, I couldn’t believe how well I felt physically,” says the 63-year-old Berkley, Mich., Christmas-tree farmer and father of five other children. “But it was also the saddest time in my life.”

In tribute to Patti, who had signed her donor card when her father was put on the transplant waiting list in 1990 and whose corneas, liver and kidneys were donated to others, Szuber and his wife, Jeanne, 62, a retired secretary, became prominent promoters of organ donation, addressing legislatures, medical groups and even schoolchildren. “Speaking out has been like a healing process,” says Jeanne. Chester points to his own restored health as proof of the benefits of transplant surgery. “It’s the greatest miracle this side of heaven,” he says. And as a father who lost a child, he tries to convey the comfort organ donation can bring. “Patti’s not dead, because she gave life to others,” says Chester. “It’s the little sliver of good in what is otherwise life’s worst tragedy.”

Arlette Schweitzer

A medical trailblazer gave birth to her own grandchildren

We’re all one big happy family,” says Arlette Schweitzer, 50, beaming as her blond twin grandchildren, 7-year-old Chelsea and Chad Uchytil, play with their mom, Christa, in the living room of the Uchytils’ cozy Rapid City, S.Dak., home. “We count our blessings every day,” adds Christa, 30. A happy family, yes. But certainly not an average one. In 1991, Schweitzer, the mother of two grown children, became the first U.S. woman to give birth to her own grandkids, acting as a surrogate for her daughter, who was born without a uterus. Doctors at the University of Minnesota, where Christa had gone for treatment, surgically removed her eggs, fertilized them with sperm from her husband, Kevin, a grocery store manager, and implanted them into Arlette. The pregnancy “was a breeze,” says Schweitzer, who was 42 at the time. “I never felt healthier.”

When the story became public, some ethicists expressed discomfort with the arrangement, saying that Christa should have adopted and predicting that Arlette would want to usurp the mother role. It didn’t happen. “Not for one moment has there been a problem,” says Schweitzer. “Christa is totally Mommy. These are my grandchildren like my son’s three boys are my grandchildren.” But she is very much a hands-on grandma. Schweitzer, who lives half an hour away from Christa with her husband, Dan, a retired sales representative, is the librarian at Chelsea and Chad’s elementary school. “They like having me here, and I love seeing them during the day,” she says. “I truly believe that any mother would have done what I did. It has been like a fairy tale.”

Lenny Skutnik

A bystander’s quick leap saves a life

Just after 3:45 p.m. on Jan. 13, 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 struck a span of Washington, D.C.’s 14th Street Bridge moments after taking off from Washington National Airport. The plane hit a truck and several cars before nosing into the ice-clogged Potomac River. Seventy-eight people were killed, but the figure might have been 79 if not for Lenny Skutnik. The Congressional Budget Office assistant, then 28, was crossing the bridge with his car-pool group and stopped to see what had happened. He saw crash victim Priscilla Tirado, 22, repeatedly losing hold of the rescue tow from a hovering helicopter.

“I couldn’t just sit there and watch,” says Skutnik, who threw off his coat and cowboy boots and dived into the frigid water, grabbing Tirado and easing her to the embankment. “Lenny Skutnik is my angel,” Tirado, who lost her husband and infant son in the crash, said at the time.

The next day, President Reagan called to say “good job,” and Skutnik was seated next to the First Lady at the State of the Union address two weeks later. He received a standing ovation when the President cited him for his valor. “I felt red, white and blue all over,” says Skutnik, who has been married to wife Linda for 21 years and has raised Mitch, 25, Linda’s son from a previous marriage, and their son Glen, 17. But his life soon returned to normal. “A few days after I go to the Capitol for the State of the Union, I’m back there running errands. It puts it in perspective.” His perspective on events, 17 years later? “I often wondered if I had it in me to help someone,” Skutnik says. “I felt good that I did.”

Jimmy Carter

The ex-President attacks poverty with passion and a ready tool belt

When Jimmy Carter was President, cynics mocked his toothy grin and turn-the-other-cheek optimism. But since what he calls his “involuntary retirement” from politics in 1981, Carter has proved his moral stance was no act. “I think Jimmy Carter has always been convinced that it’s a Christian’s job to help make the world a better place,” says his friend former U.N. ambassador Andrew Young.

No one can say Carter hasn’t tried. The eight-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee has spent his post-Presidency years mediating disputes in Bosnia, Haiti and North Korea; bringing health care to the Third World; and promoting human rights and an end to poverty abroad and at home. The father of four also lectures at Atlanta’s Emory University and recently published his 14th book, The Virtues of Aging, which celebrates the good things he and Rosalynn, his wife of 52 years, have discovered later in life. “Because he feels he can, he feels he should,” Rosalynn, 71, told LIFE magazine in 1995.

Carter’s most visible work has been with Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit group that builds homes for low-income families around the world. “We have a lot of celebrities who show up at Habitat sites in their limousines to drive a ceremonial nail,” says the group’s president, Millard Fuller. “With Jimmy Carter, it’s no photo op. When the last nail is being driven on Friday afternoon, he’s still at work.”

His presidential library, the Carter Center in downtown Atlanta, is devoted to that hands-on philosophy. “I didn’t want a lifeless memorial,” he says of the center, which opened in 1986. “We’re the only presidential library that takes an activist role in the world. We go where others don’t want to go, into the most remote villages in the world where people are poverty-stricken or ignored.”

Carter often leads the charge. In the late 1980s, he visited villages in Ghana where residents were ravaged by the guinea worm, a two-to three-foot parasite that grows in the body, and taught people how to treat their water to prevent infestations. “You go back a year later and there is no guinea worm,” he says. “It’s hard to describe how emotional that experience is for us.” When the center launched a campaign to make sure Atlanta’s poor children were immunized against childhood diseases, the former President joined his forces on the streets. “It’s inconceivable to me that I would sit behind a desk while 8,000 volunteers go out and knock on doors,” he says, admitting that his presence occasionally startled those he was trying to help. “Sometimes I’d knock on a door, and a young woman would answer, then immediately slam the door saying ‘Just a minute!’ ” he recalls. “I’d hear a lot of scurrying around inside and smell marijuana smoke, then she’d come back and say, ‘Mr. President, what can I do for you?’ ”

Carter, who still regularly teaches Sunday school and mows the lawn at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Ga., attributes his efforts to his Christian faith. But to Habitat for Humanity’s Fuller, Carter himself is the inspiration. “The knowledge of what he’s doing just permeates our work sites,” says Fuller. “How can somebody 50 years old say, ‘I can’t take it,’ when a 74-year-old ex-President is out there holding the boards and driving the nails?”

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