Opinion

The year in good news

2021 wasn't all bad!

From the giant panda being taken off China's list of endangered species to a 70-year-old making history as the oldest woman to climb El Capitan, there were plenty of bright spots in 2021. Here's a look back at the acts of kindness, medical breakthroughs, adorable animals, and unlikely friendships that made it a good year for good news.

January

A group of neighbors in Minneapolis became even closer during the pandemic, without leaving their yards. Led by David O'Fallon, they sang together every night at 6 p.m., selecting tunes from their 200-song repertoire.

When word spread around Philadelphia that grad school student Ben Berman had perfected his pizza recipe during quarantine, he used his newfound fame to raise tens of thousands of dollars for charity. He picked 20 people at random every week to buy his pies, and donated 100 percent of the money to three organizations fighting food insecurity and homelessness. 

February

A friendly rivalry between generous University of Cincinnati and Xavier University alums led to a "tip war" at restaurants and bars near both schools. The winner? Cincinnati's hard-working servers, who earned an estimated additional $34,000 in tips during January and February.

It wasn't just restaurant patrons feeling generous. Up in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, Adolfo Melendez took $2,000 he set aside to advertise his Mexican restaurant and used the money to buy gift cards from other local dining establishments, which he then gave away to community members.

March

To help kids feel at ease during their exams, Pennsylvania optician Danielle Crull enlisted the help of her rescue cat, Truffles. Crull taught Truffles how to wear glasses — and keep them on — and now, when her patients meet the cat wearing frames, they laugh so hard they forget to be nervous.

When Iowa high schooler Dasia Taylor learned that in many countries, a high percentage of surgical wounds develop an infection, she came up with an invention addressing this global issue. Her color-changing sutures shift in color from bright red to dark purple when an infection is detected; it's her hope that one day, these sutures will be available around the world.

April

For the brothers at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house at Louisiana State University in the 1980s, Jessie Hamilton was more than their chef — she was like another mother, listening to their problems and offering advice. To show their gratitude, more than 90 brothers surprised Hamilton decades later by giving her $45,000 to pay off her mortgage.

After years of delivering packages, it was Brett Wittwer's turn to receive them. On his last day of work as a mail carrier in Ohio, the residents along his route decorated their mailboxes and filled them with gifts for Wittwer, sending him off to retirement with their well-wishes.

May

Timothy Harrison worked hard to graduate from high school, and when his fellow employees at the Waffle House in Center Point, Alabama, learned he didn't have a ride to his ceremony, they jumped into action, racing to get him dressed and to the event in time. His determination caught the attention of a local community college, which offered Harrison a full scholarship.

Edward Martell is proof of the power of second chances. After Judge Bruce Morrow gave him probation instead of jail time for dealing drugs, Martell earned his GED, then graduated from college and law school. When he was sworn in as a member of the Michigan Bar, Morrow was the one to administer the oath.

June

Debby Neal-Strickland didn't think twice when her new husband's ex-wife, Mylaen Merthe, needed a kidney. Two days after the wedding, she was in the hospital, donating her kidney to Merthe. This ensured that Merthe would be able to meet her first grandchild — and it bonded the women for life.

It took six decades, but Gwen Goldman's dream of becoming a bat girl for the New York Yankees finally came true. She was turned down in 1961, but after her daughter wrote to the Yankees this year, letting them know about her mother's wish, the team not only let her be a bat girl during a game against the Angels, but she also got to throw the ceremonial first pitch.

July

Nearly a century separates them, but that doesn't matter to 2-year-old Benjamin Olson and 99-year-old Mary O'Neill. They live next door to each other in Minneapolis, and quickly became BFFs during the pandemic, spending their days blowing bubbles and inventing games they can play from their respective yards.

Over the course of 30 minutes, pianist Tonee "Valentine" Carter saw his tip jar go from empty to overflowingAuthor Carlos Whittaker enjoyed listening to Carter play at a bar inside the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and asked his social media followers if they'd help him deliver Carter his biggest tip ever. He raised $10,000 in 30 minutes, and that number continued to go up, eventually hitting $70,000. This generosity left Carter stunned and feeling like "the happiest man in the world."

August

Sri Lankan teen Suntharalingam Piranawan is turning metal scraps into reliable transportation. Using discarded frames, handles, and wheels, he has created a solar-powered tuk-tuk, a three-wheeled vehicle that is popular in South Asia. He hopes his next project — a solar-powered car — is just as successful.

Sanitation workers in Ohio were able to do what many thought was impossible: find an envelope containing $25,000 that had accidentally been thrown away. It was a team effort, with several workers at multiple facilities taking part in the search.

September

You never know who's listening. Kev Crane, a plumber in England, was singing along to the Talking Heads during a job one day, when his voice caught the attention of the homeowner, Paul Conneally, who recently launched a record label. After learning more about Crane and listening to his original music, he offered him a deal.

Nobody works with butter better than Linda Christensen. For 50 years, she was the Minnesota State Fair's resident sculptor, turning 90-pound blocks of butter into works of art. This was her final year wielding the butter knife, and during her tenure, she created more than 500 "butter heads" depicting the fair's goodwill ambassador and her royal court.

October

The Dads on Duty at Southwood High School in Shreveport, Louisiana, are there to offer support for all kids on campus, not just their own. The group started after several violent incidents took place at the school. The men rotate who's on duty and are on campus from the time students arrive in the morning to when they go home in the afternoon, always available to give advice or just tell a dad joke.

A school bus driver shortage in his Virginia community led to former FBI executive Michael Mason taking on a very different role in retirement. He signed up and is now one of those bus drivers, saying, "As far as I'm concerned, I'm transporting the future of America, and that's what I really love about the job."

November

Marta, a rare Amur leopard cub, made her public debut at the Santa Barbara Zoo this month, capturing the hearts of her already adoring fans. She put on a show, leaping, tumbling, and running around with her mother, Ajax. 

If Gladys from Florida hadn't misdialed a phone number, she never would have met Mike from Rhode Island. Gladys Hankerson kept accidentally calling Mike Moffitt 20 years ago, until he finally asked her name. This started a conversation, and Hankerson began calling Moffitt on purpose. They struck up a friendship over the phone, and when Moffitt went to Florida to celebrate Thanksgiving, he surprised Hankerson by showing up at her doorstep for their first in-person meeting.

December

When Dusty Hudgins found a book filled with recipes from his late mother and other women who worked in the school cafeterias of Abilene, Texas, he knew people in the community would enjoy reminiscing about their cooking. He got the discussion going on Facebook, and memories came flooding in from people who said their mothers and aunts also contributed to the Our Favorite Recipes book. Hudgins was able to contact the publisher to make new copies, and all proceeds from the $20 book go to a local organization that feeds kids during holidays and on weekends.

Maurine "Mighty Mo" Kornfeld started competitively swimming in her 60s, and in the 40 years since, has won 14 world championships, set 28 records, and been inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Kornfeld recently celebrated her 100th birthday, and is one of the oldest registered masters swimmers in the United States. Over the summer, she set six world records in the freestyle and backstroke in the 100-to-104 age bracket, and is looking forward to more victories in the pool in 2022.

If you enjoy reading good news amid all the doom and gloom, sign up for The Week's free, weekly good news newsletter here.

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