For the past seven years, Bill Dorrity hand-crafted little wagons for children in a small workshop at his Charleston, S.C., home, thinking of smiling faces as his inspiration for this labor of love.
Not until his visit to Baptist Children's Home had Dorrity, a World War II and Vietnam War veteran, seen those smiling faces in person. On Nov. 16, Dorrity experienced his inspiration in person amidst more than 100 adoring children who couldn't wait to take their new wagons for a spin.
"I'm overwhelmed," Dorrity said tearfully. "I've built more than a thousand of these and this is just overwhelming. Just looking at all these faces."
Dorrity, with help from Pat Waters, the grandson of Gen. George Patton, descended on the BCH Mills Home campus with 191 red wagons and stuffed animals made specially for kids. Children anxiously waited for their early Christmas present, which for some is the first positive holiday experience they've ever had. BCH helps heal children who come from dysfunctional or abusive family lives.
"In some cases this is the first true merry Christmas they've had," said Blake Ragsdale, BCH director of communications. "As you get toward the holiday season, there are many children who have never experienced a merry Christmas. Their past is filled with heartache and pain. We give children a truly merry Christmas."
Dorrity's wagon building career started seven years after seeing two children receive stuffed animals at a local orphanage. As time went on, Dorrity found himself making more and more wagons as their popularity grew. Dorrity now spends most of the year in his workshop, shaping plywood and cutting PVC pipe for that next smiling face.
"It keeps me off the sidewalk," Dorrity said. "I just started building carts and I knew the little children would want them. They're great for walkers for them too. I've built thousands of them."
After learning of Dorrity's endeavor, Waters jumped at the chance to participate. When he heard Dorrity was coming to Thomasville, Waters, who visited the Chair City for Memorial Day, offered to fly the wagons from South Carolina. When he realized how big this latest order was, Waters elected to fly the stuffed animals while a trailer took care of the wagons.
"I brought the teddy bears because the demand was greater than my airplane could carry," said Waters. "It makes my heart feel good to do this. It's just wonderful to see what everyone is doing for these children. Life is worth living to see this kind of stuff. The cost is nothing compared to the joy you get from this. Where else are you going to go in America and see something this great. We're real fortunate to be able to come up here and share a little bit of our love with the children."
BCH President Dr. Michael Blackwell said Dorrity's wagons symbolize a lot more than a simple Christmas present.
"They know somebody has been kind to them, not only making the wagon and giving the toy, but showing them love," Blackwell said. "It's an amazing sight to behold. I've been here almost 30 years as president and things like this just keep me stoked and fired up."
Ragsdale said wagons also will be given to children at other BCH campuses across North Carolina, including a care house for single teenage mothers in Lenoir.
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or firstname.lastname@example.org.