The Ottumwa Courier

December 20, 2013

Iowa family pays it forward with son's final wish


The Clinton Herald

CLINTON, Iowa — In the wake of loss, one Iowa family is making a big impact on their community this holiday season.

On Nov. 28, Bonnie and David Barr of Clinton suffered an unbearable tragedy when their son, Stewart, died unexpectedly a little more than two weeks after his 30th birthday.

Just 18 days before his death, Stewart sent a Facebook message to his brother and some of his friends, vowing to purchase 25 gifts to donate to a local toy drive and challenging them to do the same.

"When I learned of Stewart's death, it was very heartbreaking and shocking. We went to the visitation and his family had told us about the challenge he had made to his friends,"  long-time friend Mike Griswold said. "I kind of put it to the back of my mind until one day, it just hit me that I needed to take the challenge. What a great opportunity to try to continue what Stewart started."

Since beginning the challenge, the group has distributed nearly $3,000 in Stewart's honor to charities, shelters and toy drives all around the community. In addition, it has sparked others who knew Stewart and his family to step up and join the toy-giving challenge.

According to Connie Brashaw, a Citizen's Police Academy alumna who organizes the local Shop with a Cop event in Clinton, Bonnie attended the event  Dec. 7, just long enough to give the 32 children an extra holiday surprise.

"It was very sad when she came to give us the money, knowing why she was giving it," Brashaw said. "The kids were excited to get the initial $100 so, when they got $120 they were ecstatic. It was very sweet of them to do, and we really appreciate it. They are pretty amazing people."

During her visit, Bonnie made a monetary donation of approximately $600 to the Shop with a Cop event, giving each child an additional $20 to spend on themselves or their loved ones during the shopping adventure.

For the children, it was an extra pair of gloves for Dad, or a new sweater for Mom, but for Brashaw and other volunteers, it was an act of generosity during a painful time.

"It's amazing through her heartache that she can still do something so amazing," Brashaw said. "I think it speaks to the kind of person that he was. For him to get that many people to donate to underprivileged kids is just an amazing thing."

Although they are fully committed to Stewart's idea, his family is not sure what inspired him to create the challenge.

Bonnie questions whether the idea came from a memory of his childhood, buying gifts from the giving tree and donating them to those less fortunate. His brother Brian wonders if it just came from his constant desire to make people happy.

"I don't know what prompted it for Stew," Brian said. "Maybe he was just happy because he just had a birthday, I don't know; he was always the person that would do anything for you."

The reason why is not the important part according to Bonnie. For her and the rest of her family, honoring Stewart's wishes and fulfilling a goal he had set for himself is what really matters.

"This is something that he came up with. It amazed me. It didn't surprise me, but it amazed me," Bonnie said. "Although people may say that Christmas is not about gifts, it is about giving. And I think that's what Stewart was doing - he was giving."