A daily drip feed of negative news stories and a quickly changing world mean that many of us avoid strangers. It’s difficult to know whom to trust, after all. So when Bud Caldwell went to visit his wife’s memorial, he was left in disbelief at what two strangers had done.
The Wisconsin winters are generally a harsh time for 82-year-old Caldwell, particularly in light of his wife’s passing. He and Betty Caldwell had in fact been married for more than half a decade when she died. And although their union was a remarkable achievement, her death inevitably left a huge hole in Caldwell’s life.
Understandably, then, Caldwell wanted to make a tribute to his late wife as a demonstration that he would never forget her. So with this in mind, he bought a bench in Fond Du Lac park and dedicated it to her. It stands as a fitting memorial to the woman he loved so much.
And as if that weren’t enough, Caldwell visits the bench every single day, rain or shine. He also takes along a bunch of daisies and some pennies each time. These reference something that meant a lot to the couple when Betty was alive.
Both items actually refer to songs that the couple adored over many, many years. The first is “Daisy a Day” by Jud Strunk, and the second is “Pennies from Heaven.” And that’s why Caldwell brings those offerings along in honor of Betty.
It should also come as no surprise that Caldwell still went to visit the park even when snow was thick on the ground. He’d been going so often, in fact, that other people had started to recognize him. These included park employees Jerrod Ebert and Joe Smaltz.
And it was on a wintry day in March 2015 that Ebert and Smaltz happened to see Caldwell in his car, sat behind the wheel. This wasn’t the first time that they’d seen him at the park. But it took them a little while to figure out that the old man had a problem.
The issue was the snow, which was too thick for Caldwell to walk to the bench. Ebert was nevertheless impressed. “It took us both back a little, thinking, ‘My gosh, his devotion is that strong that he still comes when he can’t make it to the bench,’” Ebert told CBS News.
Caldwell had no idea that anyone had even seen him at the park, never mind actually paid attention to his visits to the bench. This was why, when one morning he went to visit, he was stunned by what he found. It seemed that two strangers had gone out of their way to help him.
Unbeknownst to Caldwell, Ebert and Smaltz had taken time out of their day, on top of their other duties, to clear the way for the old man. So they’d shoveled the snow all the way from the car park to his specific bench. The message was very obvious: someone wanted to help.
In fact, the path itself isn’t necessary for the majority of visitors to the park. Ebert explained that this didn’t matter, though. “For most people, it’s a path to nowhere. [But] it’s a path to somewhere for one person,” the park employee reasoned.
To Ebert, it was barely even a choice; it was just something that the two park employees had to do. “We both commented that we just can’t have this,” Ebert said. “We’ve got to make sure he can get to his bench and talk to his wife. We did it only because of his love for his wife. He truly misses her.”
This might be true, but that wasn’t what Caldwell was thinking when he saw the path cleared of snow. He knew just looking at it that it had been shoveled specifically for him. And his reaction was one of gratitude, recognizing the effort that someone had gone to.
“One day I pulled up there, and there’s the walk shoveled,” Caldwell recalled. “My knees about buckled on me.” Thanks to the help from two kind strangers, he was able to visit the special bench. And this is particularly important because the ritual has offered Caldwell some comfort in the bleak days following his wife’s passing.
That’s why Caldwell was so touched by the gesture and the effort to help him. “Two young men did such a nice thing for an old man,” he said of the incident. The thing is, it didn’t end there: Ebert and Smaltz weren’t done yet.
In fact, for the duration of the Wisconsin winter, the two park workers continued shoveling away, keeping the path clear for Caldwell. It was a remarkable thing for them to do for a complete stranger. Yet Ebert saw it more philosophically than that.
“We were just doing what we felt was our job,” Ebert said of their efforts to keep the park accessible. “Some intuition, be it divine or otherwise, says this is why you’re here: to help one another.” It’s a touching story, especially given how Caldwell behaves on his visits there.
Each time he comes to the bench, in fact, he says good morning to his wife, whose picture is mounted on it. After spending some time reminiscing about their time together, Caldwell then gets up to leave. And when he does so, he always says goodbye to her and kisses the picture.
In a letter that he wrote to Action Reporter Media, Caldwell described how a typical bench visit would go. He usually spends some time, in his own words, either “reporting” or “confessing.” He states that it’s mostly the former nowadays.
Caldwell said he isn’t the only person who brings pennies for Betty, though, with other visitors also regularly leaving coins on the bench. Indeed, it sometimes reaches the point where he has to collect them all. When this happens, he takes the change and donates it to the Salvation Army.
As long as he is physically capable, Caldwell intends to keep visiting the bench to talk to his wife. And with the help of two strangers, Ebert and Smaltz, that’s still possible. The world would no doubt be a nicer place if we were all so big-hearted.