It is definitely a fact: George Steinbrenner was a very generous man, and his generosity was not only frequent, but spontaneous.
In 1984, I agreed to chaperone a group of Dunedin High School singers called the Falconaires to the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Tampa, where they were asked to sing at a meeting of Florida teachers. These young people were very excited upon receiving this invitation, but couldn't know where this appearance would eventually lead them.
They were a lyrically talented group, but their fan base was limited to the North Pinellas area. This all changed on that fateful day in Tampa.
Enter George Steinbrenner, who just happened to be the guest speaker at the conference. I cannot remember his speech, but I do remember his charisma and the motivational aspect of his appearance. The kids and I had never been in the room with a personality of his magnitude.
Their performance, which included songs of every genre, ended with their exuberant version of New York, New York. This was not planned for Steinbrenner; all their performances included this crowd-pleasing song. They received a resounding ovation, then mingled with the crowd and prepared to return to Dunedin.
Then it happened. Steinbrenner approached and offered his congratulations and some words of praise. He chatted for a moment with them and then made them an offer beyond their wildest dreams: He would arrange for them to go to New York City for a weekend and sing the national anthem in Yankee Stadium before one of the Yankee games.
They were in shock, looking from one to the other, eyes wide and excitement building to a fever pitch. Had they heard him right? Were they imagining his amazing proposal?
It was all true. Steinbrenner did offer this amazing gift to a small group of singers from tiny Dunedin. He was true to his word. He arranged for them to travel to New York City, all expenses paid, for a weekend. They stayed at an exclusive hotel, ate the very best food, and last but not least, sang the national anthem at Yankee Stadium.
Try to image the thrill of this adventure through their eyes. My daughter, Jeanette, was one of the singers. She frequently tells her children this amazing story of not only luck, but also recognition through the generosity of a great man.
George Steinbrenner was a larger-than-life man, but he was a champion for those who represented excellence in all forms, and the Dunedin High School Falconaires sang their way into his generous heart that day back in l984.
For those of us who were there to witness this side of George Steinbrenner, we will always be grateful.
Norma McCulliss lives in Palm Harbor.