Thomas Coogan says that giving way $5 bills makes him “so happy I almost have to sit on my hands to keep from clapping.”
The St. Martin man who serves as chaplain at the Hillsboro DAV (Disabled American Veterans) said he started the practice two to three years ago by giving away $1 bills. But when he realized that $1 can hardly buy a candy bar these days, he started giving away $5 bills instead six to seven months ago.
“I do it because God gave me a good retirement,” Coogan said Wednesday. “So I do it and I love it, and I pray that the people I give them to will get a blessing from God.”
Leesburg area resident Nellda Friend, a former Times-Gazette reporter, witnessed Coogan’s generosity on June 30 at the Hillsboro Kroger store when he gave $5 bills to a couple children.
“I was behind him in line and asked about his situation. He is 89, lost his wife of 67 years several years ago. He enjoys the sunshine he brings to people with his generosity. He happened to bring my mind to a Guideposts article I read many years ago. It was about how a man handing out money helped a desperate young mother,” Friend told The Times-Gazette. “The ‘Secret Santa’ in the story was revealed, and the story ran after the man’s death in 2007. The article inspired me to read the entire book about him — ‘Santa’s Secret — A Story of Hope.’ I bought it from an online book site. I have since lent it out, so I don’t have it.
“Now, I meet a man in Hillsboro doing the same.”
Coogan said he carries about $30 in $5 bills every day and gives them to random strangers wherever he goes.
“I don’t always give them away, but I try,” Coogan said. “I don’t care where I’m at, Hillsboro, Wilmington, wherever. You can’t take it with you. All you can take with you is what you gave away.”
Originally from Madisonville near Cincinnati, Coogan said that while his ancestors were from the Fayetteville area, he lived all over the country. He was in the U.S. Army for 20 years and served in Korea, then spent the remainder of his working years selling real estate, driving trucks and building homes. He said those occupations left him enough money to share with others.
He said he has no idea how much money he has gave away.
“I don’t know. I don’t care. I don’t keep track of it,” he said.
The reaction from the people he gives money to is usually about the same.
“They say, ‘Well, thank you. You didn’t have to do that,’” Coogan said. “But I love doing it and I get more of a thrill out of it than they do.”
Coogan said he became a born-again Christian on Oct. 21, 1958, when his best friend asked him to go to church. While he was there, he said the Lord reached out and grabbed a hold of him. He said that’s why when he is asked about losing his wife, he says she’s not lost.
“I didn’t lose her, I know where she’s at. She’s in heaven,” he said.
But he said it may be a while before he reunites with her.
“God says you can live until 120, and I’m going for it,” Coogan said.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.