For most of his 66 years, Frank Marx was ashamed to admit he could neither read nor write. This holiday season, though, he revealed his secret so he could help others.
Saturday morning, Marx, joined by a handful of men and their families, donated 128 pounds of clothing and 641 pounds of groceries to the St. Petersburg Free Clinic. They wanted the bulk of the donations to go to Beacon House, the Free Clinic's facility for homeless men and community kitchen.
It was a well-thought-out decision.
Marx and the other men are members of an unenviable alumni called the White House Boys. As children in the 1950s and '60s, they were sent to the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, where they were brutally beaten with leather straps, sometimes until they passed out. The beatings took place in a small building known as the White House. It is from that place that they took their name decades later, banding together by Internet and in person to seek justice and emotional healing.
Now, after more than a year of telling their stories, some men and their families want to look beyond their miserable past.
It's time to focus on something positive, said Peggy Marx, 59, Frank's wife.
With that in mind, the group decided to take on a Christmas project that would include an Angel Tree project in Pasco County, gently used clothing for a church in Deep Creek and supplies for the Free Clinic in St. Petersburg.
"We know what it's like to be with no hope,'' said Jerry Cooper, 65, who was beaten in the White House with a leather strap 135 times.
Nathaniel Dowling, vice president of the group that calls itself the Official White House Boys, agreed.
"In all my years, I've been through tough situations. I think it's a great thing our organization is doing,'' said Dowling, 67, an African-American who was at the reform school when it was segregated.
Traveling to the Free Clinic from points such as Lake City, Cape Coral and Bradenton, the White House Boys unloaded 30 dozen eggs, milk, peanut butter, jelly, soup, shaving cream, men's clothing, diapers and other supplies.
The Free Clinic is closed on weekends, but on Saturday morning, warehouse supervisor Jack Kaiser manned a forklift. "Certain things we do come in for,'' he said.
Jane Egbert, the Free Clinic's executive director, is grateful. "Given their history and the fact that they had those experiences, I think it's significant that they want to reach out and help others and care about others,'' she said.
Babbs Cooper, 64, Jerry's wife, said the group's Christmastime efforts, which included contributions beyond Saturday's small group, are focused mostly on children. "We can't change the past, but if we can put enough caring and sharing into the future, the children would not have to go through the suffering the White House boys did,'' she said.
Mary Brodnax, 38, who lives in St. Petersburg, collaborated with her father, John, 67, and a friend, Matthew Curry, to donate a week's worth of income from their hot dog cart businesses. Brodnax, who sells hot dogs at three Clearwater "gentlemen's clubs,'' used the money to buy supplies for the Free Clinic.
Perhaps the most remarkable contribution to the Christmas effort came from Frank Marx. When he was required to fill out paperwork to collect donations for school supplies in front of a Walmart, Marx was forced to admit his shame.
"It has been a tremendous, tremendous life-changing experience for him to be able to face this and admit it,'' his wife, Peggy, 59, said.
He had a reason, said Marx, who remembers being beaten at the Marianna reform school until he passed out.
It was for the children, he said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.