By: Mark Fitzgerald
During his 17 years as a syndicated columnist, Percy Ross, a wealthy Minnesotan, gave away millions to help ordinary people in need of help. Now a couple in Duluth, Minn., are taking up the same mission through a column in the Duluth News Tribune.
Calling themselves Uncle Arnie and Aunt Em, the two debuted the column on Sunday offering to help local people with “legitimate needs.”
“We’ll do this once a month, at least for starters,” they wrote in the column “Ask Uncle Arnie and Aunt Em.” “We’re not looking to give away large sums. Maybe a couple hundred dollars. Maybe a little more. But we want to give in ways that improve the lives of deserving people.”
News Tribune Executive Editor Rob Karwath told E&P that the couple came to the newspaper “out of the blue” about two weeks ago.
“They’re real people right here in the Twin Ports, but I can’t tell you who they are,” he said. “For me it’s neat that they want to do it through the pages of the paper. It shows that newspaper can still get that broad outreach.”
On Tuesday after the Sunday column ran, 20 letters asking for help arrived at the paper, Karwath added.
The newspaper will help the couple vet the requests for help, he said: “We want to be careful. we certainly don’t want the spirit of generosity to go to a scammer or to hurt. Part of what a newspaper can do is check things out.”
Karwath said the couple told him they were inspired by Percy Ross, who estimated he gave out $30 million through his “Thanks a Million” column syndicated by Creators Syndicate. When he ended the column in 1999, it was running in about 800 newspapers. He died in 2001 at the age of 84.
While some of Uncle Arnie and Aunt Em’s donations will be cash, they and the paper want to focus more on answering the specific problems of people asking for help. “If their furnace is out, we’ll find a contractor and pay him, or if the U-joint is out in someone’s car and they can’t get to work, we’ll get a mechanic,” Karwath said. “It will be more in-kind.”