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Widows the benefactors of century-old tradition

gaunt December 1996

From Reporter Lisa Price

YELLOW SPRINGS, Ohio (CNN) -- It's the job of two public works employees to carry on a tradition that began more than a century ago in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

They deliver flour and sugar to every widow in town -- more than 100 of them.

"I'm on a fixed income, and this helps out," said one grateful recipient. "I don't use a whole lot (and) it lasts a long time."

The deliveries were the idea of a former slave named Wheeling Gaunt, who moved to this one-time stop on the Underground Railroad during the 1860s.

Gaunt did quite well for himself, accumulating property. In his will, Gaunt stipulated that the income generated from land he deeded to the village of Yellow Springs be used to buy the flour and sugar. The parcel, now a park and a swimming pool, continues to pay off.

Today, the woman who lives in Gaunt's home is a widow, Bobbie Marshall. "When you get the flour, you think how could he have saved so much money to be so kind to so many people," she said.

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"Not much is really known about Wheeling Gaunt's personal life, even his tombstone is incomplete," explained historian Phyllis Jackson.

Though his wife's life is detailed on the tombstone, Wheeling's isn't. No date of birth, no date of death. Gaunt was mostly known as a compassionate and charitable man of means.

Since the ritual began in 1884, the village missed the deliveries just one year. And while the deliveries last for one week, the good will lasts a lot longer.

"This is really an effort by the community to reach out and say you're here, and to acknowledge you and your loss," said village administrator Lena Verdon.

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