Herbert Hoover, Ignacy Jan Paderewski and generosity

Herbert Hoover was born on August 10, 1874, in West Branch, Iowa. Both of his parents were Quakers. His father, Jessie Hoover, died in 1880 and his mother, Hulda Randall (Minthorn) Hoover, passed away in 1884, leaving Hoover an orphan at the age of nine. Hoover lived with various relatives until he entered Stanford University in 1891, the very year that it was founded. He earned his way through four years of college working at various jobs on and off campus.

As one of his extracurricular entrepreneurial ventures, in 1892 Hoover and a couple of his friends decided to bring entertainers to campus. They heard that Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the famous Polish pianist, would be touring through California, and so they persuaded him to give a concert on the Palo Alto campus of Stanford. An agreement was reached, contracts were signed, the concert was scheduled, and the young entrepreneurs set about selling tickets with the hope/expectation of being able to cover their tuition costs for the semester with the proceeds.

What the new concert promoters failed to notice was that the concert was scheduled during the University’s Spring Break, so many of the faculty and most of the students were not on campus the day the concert was scheduled. Ticket sales were abysmal. Paderewski had agreed to perform for about $2000, which was substantially less than he would normally charge for a performance. They had sold tickets totally only about $1600. So, the day before the concert, the Hoover and his two associates asked to meet with Paderewski. They explained their situation to him, told him that they would give him the entire $1600, and promised to pay him the remaining $400 as soon as they could raise it from other concerts. Paderewski, who was known for his rather gruff demeanor, looked the young men in the eyes, and told them that would not be acceptable to him. Then they notice bit of a twinkle in his eye, and he said to them that they should keep enough money to cover their expenses for producing the concert and to cover their tuition for the semester. He would take whatever money remained as payment in full for his performance. The young men were stunned and grateful, and thanked him profusely.

As you can imagine, Hoover and his friends were greatly relieved. They learned from this lesson, and became much better event planners and more carefully organized the timing of future events, building in a slush fund from successful events to cover the cost of those events that did not fully cover their costs. In 1985 Hoover graduated from Stanford University with a degree in geology. 

In 1914 World War I broke out. An odd phrase that – to say that war broke out, like a zit on a teen agers face, like a convict from prison. But by 1914 the world was in the midst of World War I. At the beginning of the war, Hoover was working in Belgium to help organize the return of United States citizens back to America from Europe, and then to help organize the distribution of food to war victims. In 1917 the United States entered the war, and President Woodrow Wilson appointed Hoover to head the U.S. Food Administration, the agency for the administration of the allies’ food reserves.

World War I officially ended on November 11, 1918. Hostilities can be officially declared ended on a specific date, but the effects of hostilities carry on well into the future. By 1919 millions of children in Poland were starving. The newly formed government of Poland had no resources with which it could buy food. Desperate to help his people, the Prime Minister of Poland, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, turned to the United States Food and Relief Administration for help. The request was sent to Herbert Hoover, as head the agency. Hoover was a Quaker and a generous man. He coordinated the transport and shipment of tons of food to help feed the Polish people until the next year’s crops could be planted and harvested.

On his next trip to the United States, Paderewski, the Prime Minister of Poland, sought out the head of the Food and Relief Administration, to express his personal gratitude and that of his nation. When Paderewski began to thank Hoover, Hoover stopped him and said, “Mr. Prime Minister, I am the one who should be thanking you. You may not remember this, but several years ago you gave a concert in Palo Alto, California. The young men who organized the concert could not afford to pay you from their ticket sales, and you generously forgave then the debt, helping them to work their way through college. I was one of those young men.”

There is much suffering in our world. There is much that needs to change. And, there are also moments and places of wonder, joy and generosity. What goes around comes around. Pay it forward. Celebrate compassion and generosity with an open heart!