Albia gift-giver aims to brighten Christmas for thousands of children


By Celine Klosterman

Mary Sauter poses at her Albia home with her father, Herb Sauter. He and his wife Vonnie, now deceased, adopted Mary from Italy through the Davenport Diocese when she was 4.

For Mary Sauter, an angel tree was just the beginning.

Twenty years ago she pulled four tags off a giving tree at a Pamida store in Albia, where she belongs to St. Mary Parish. Then a teacher at Albia High School, she spent about $200 on presents for children represented by the tags.

The buzz of the good deed left her wanting to do more. So each following Christmas, the number of gifts she bought grew.


For a few years, instead of taking students to Adventureland as she had annually, she gave each of them $50 and took them shopping for toys for children.

“The kids had a ball, but after Christmas, I’d see huge sales. I realized I could buy things cheaper if I did it myself throughout the year,” she said.

For the past several years, she has spent tens of thousands of dollars buying thousands of gifts annually for children in Head Start, area schools and churches. Throughout 2012, she and a crew of 10-15 volunteers shopped for toys and clothes marked up to 90 percent off for more than 1,500 children, she said.

Total cost for this year’s haul came to about $60,000. To fund her effort, Sauter, now retired, has tutored, worked concession stands at school events, collected pop cans, accepted some donations and drawn from savings….

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