Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment in a series of profiles of people the JournalNews has chosen as leading positive changes in our community.
Like most people, Sara Carruthers remembers the Christmases of her youth in vivid detail and counts them among her most treasured experiences.
She can still see all of the presents sitting there, wrapped in bright paper and tied with shiny bows. She recalls the wonder they inspired and the joy they promised.
What she doesn’t remember is what kind of toys were inside, because she never opened them.
Instead she watched a man come to her house, grab all of the gifts, along with a homemade meal, and drive off with them in his car.
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They weren’t being stolen. They were part of her parents’ pledge every year to give to a family in need.
“Daddy had one of the drivers from Champion deliver them,” Sara said.
“I’ll never forget how he said when he got there he peeked in the window and there was under the tree was one little box. That’s always stuck with me.”
Four decades later, the Carruthers family continues to play Santa Claus to the City of Hamilton.
Pat and his late wife Donna have donated millions of dollars to the schools, the arts, the hospitals, the pools and anything else where they saw a need.
“My father always told me money is like manure,” Pat said. “It doesn’t do any good in a pile. You have to spread it around.”
Born in 1930 and raised on a lucrative cattle farm in Glendale, Pat was in his 20s before he moved to Hamilton to take a job at the Champion paper company. By then he served eight years in the Marines and attended Miami University for 2 ½ years before his G.I. Bill ran out.
“I could have paid it, but I told my dad it was time to go to work,” he said. “I started as a fifth hand, which is the low man on the totem pole, and I worked my while through the mill for 23 years and ended up the No. 2 man in the sales service department.”
And the No. 1 man in the heart of Donna Young, a Hamilton native who was an executive secretary at Champion. The two fell in love and were married in 1958, and shortly after that Donna came up with the idea to pick out a needy family to help each year at Christmas.
“That’s how it started, and it’s just grown from there,” Pat said.
The more money they made, they more they gave.
“She was an amazing woman,” Sara said of her mom, who died in August 2009. “Everybody thinks that if you have money you just sit around, but she was not the lounge-around, eat bon-bons type. She was a worker, and a tough cookie.
“A Lindenwald brat,” Pat interjected with a laugh.
Memories of Donna are everywhere in the Hamilton home where Pat lives with Sara and her twins, Ralph Rogan and Elizabeth Procter. And they are everywhere around town, from the Carruthers Arts and Technology Center at the Fitton Center for Creative Arts to the Donna Y. Carruthers Cardiovascular Services Suites at Fort Hamilton Hospital to the Carruthers Fine Arts Wing at Wilson Middle School.
“When I think of the Carruthers family, I think of their generosity and love for the community,” said Hamilton City Schools Superintendent Janet Baker. “Specifically they have been strong advocates for education and have positively impacted many aspects of the Hamilton City Schools.”
In addition to funding the Fine Arts Wing following the arson at Wilson in 1999, the Carrutherses also led the renovation of the high school auditorium and created the sculpture plaza in front of the high school commemorating George W. Bush’s visit to the school in 2002 to sign the No Child Left Behind Act.
“We are fortunate to have them as friends of the school district and philanthropists in the larger Hamilton community,” Baker added.
Fort Hamilton Hospital president Jennifer Swenson agreed.
“They are special family,” she said. “It’s pretty rare to find people who are so generous in giving of both their time and money. Because of their generosity through the years, they have poised us to be in position for success in the future.”
The Carrutherses’ gifts to the hospital have exceeded $10 million
“The hospital runs on such a narrow margin, gifts like that are so incredibly powerful,” said Sonja Kranbuhl, director of the hospital foundation. “We could never reach those kinds of numbers without cash gifts. We would have to do $333 million more work to have that kind of bottom-line impact.”
The arts have been especially important to the family, all the way back to when Sara was a student at Taft High School, where the whole family was involved in theater productions Sara starred in.
“We were backstage geeks,” Pat said of his role in building sets and Donna’s in working with costumes.
In 2002 the family donated $2.5 million to the Fitton Center for a 14,000 square foot expansion.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without their continued generosity,” said Rick H. Jones, executive director of the Fitton Center.
“They have been very supportive of not only us, but the arts in Hamilton in general,” Jones added. “They are very down-to-earth people who are extremely easy to talk to, and they are so accommodating. They dearly love Hamilton, and it shows in their generosity.”
One of the family’s more recent contributions has been the Donna Y. Carruthers Manor House at Berkeley Square, a 13,410-square-foot addition that will feature a large atrium, a 332-seat multipurpose room, a theater-style presentation room, expanded gift shop and new welcome center.
“Donna used to eat at the tavern quite often and Pat felt it would be a very fitting permanent memorial for her,” said Jeff Thurman, President/CEO of Community First Solutions, the parent nonprofit company for Colonial.
“Pat is the most generous person I’ve ever met,” Thurman added. “He is extremely caring, and not just in his contributions. He is the kind of person who is always concerned about other people and how they are doing.”
Pat and Donna also were staunch supporters of the Boys and Girls Club, and that organization made Donna the inaugural recipient of its Angel Award.
“For a person who was not a Hamiltonian, I have great pride in this town,” Pat said. “I am always going to support this town any way I can.”
They also have donated to the schools, arts and sailing club in Harbor Springs, Mich., the family’s summer vacation spot for seven generations.
They also have contributed to the arts, museums and zoo in Cincinnati, as well as the Newport Aquarium.
Life is different now with Donna gone. More than two years later Pat’s eyes still well with tears when talking about her. Then they twinkle when the conversation switches to the grandchildren.
“The apples of my eye,” he said.
Sara said she misses her mom incredibly, but she doesn’t worry about her dad, who is still going strong despite quintuple bypass surgery, colon cancer and two broken hips.
He also has a leg full of shrapnel from his time in the Marines, the result of diving on a grenade that an ROTC student had carelessly dropped. Pat dove on the grenade and saved both of their lives.
“Dad is a huge survivor,” Sara said. “He’s my hero.”
Countless other people, for countless other reasons, feel the same way all across Hamilton.
But Pat said he is as grateful to the city as it is to him. Hamilton gave him everything he ever wanted in life, and then some.
So giving back only seems right.
“Besides,” he said, “you can’t take it with you.”
Contact this reporter at (513) 820-2193 or firstname.lastname@example.org.