- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2003

Nobles: Albert Lexie, for putting a shine on the lives of sick children.

For years, Mr. Lexie was one of those familiar faces around a busy workplace, recognized by everyone but known by few. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning for the last two decades, he showed up at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh to shine shoes. He made his rounds, lugging his 30-pound shoeshine box between busy doctors, anxious parents and rushing nurses. Then, unbeknownst to many of his customers, he gathered the tips he had taken from polishing wingtips and donated them to the hospital’s Free Care Fund.

The fund covers the care of children who cannot afford treatment. Mr. Lexie said he was inspired to start giving to it after watching a hospital telethon, and didn’t stop after making a single donation. Instead he kept giving, week after week, tip after tip. The pennies from his polishes have added up — to date, he has donated almost $90,000.

That is even more impressive since Mr. Lexie is already living on a shoestring budget. He only earns about $10,000 each year by shining shoes. He takes the bus each time he goes to Children’s Hospital.

As Mr. Lexie’s generosity has become better known, so has he. When he turned 61 in August, the hospital staff threw him a party, and presented him with a custom-built shoeshine kit, complete with wheels and a bell. He was also given a check for $1,675 from the hospital’s radiation department — which promptly went into the Free Care Fund.

Mr. Lexie is still inspiring smiles by shining shoes. He hopes to surpass the giving of Jerry Lewis, and he might do it. As he told pediatric neurologist Michael Painter, one of his regulars, “Jerry’s got his kids and I got mine, and they’re all right here in Pittsburgh.”

For providing for impoverished kids in the pits, Mr. Lexie is the Noble of the week.

Knaves: Teresa and Robert Milbrandt, for cancerous exploitation of their own child.

For the last two years, everyone in Urbana, Ohio, knew about 7-year-old Hannah Milbrandt and her terrible bout with cancer. Between her bandages and her bald head, she was the picture of a leukemia-stricken child.

Hearing of Hannah’s terrible diagnosis, the community (located between Columbus and Dayton) responded with a wave of sympathy. Urbana residents held car washes, collected cans and took collections at churches, eventually raising about $31,000 to cover her medical expenses. Hannah’s classmates even wore hats so she wouldn’t be embarrassed by her hair loss.

There was only one problem. Hannah wasn’t dying. She wasn’t even sick. Her parents staged the entire scheme — ranging from shaving her head to setting her up with a grief counselor — in order to embezzle money to cover their gambling habits. The mask was only torn after one of Hannah’s teachers discovered healthy hair growing under her hat and reported the situation to the police.

This week, the Milbrandts were sentenced long stints in prison and ordered to pay restitution. Hannah has been sent to a foster home, where she will grow up with psychological wounds at least as traumatic as anything that could be caused by cancer.

The Milbrandts’ callous treatment of their community was awful, but their exploitation of their own daughter was even worse. During their days in prison, they should be forced to shine shoes — with all the proceeds going to Mr. Lexie’s kids.

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