SAN ANTONIO — Gifts arriving to needy children in San Antonio have a benefactor who never saw the toy donations. She did not thank those who gave to the drive because Mary Linda Kouns had passed away.
"We never got toys. We got a bag with an orange and candy canes," Mary Dolores Grabowiecki said. "But we were happy with that."
Grabowiecki, who lives in Blanco, watched her sister's last days up close as the 70-year-old took her last breath. Kouns, according to Grabowiecki, had systolic heart failure and Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS).
"I always knew that my sister was going to die in my arms," she said. "And just before she took her last two breaths, I put my arm on her shoulders. And I whispered to her; I love you, Linda, I love you."
The death was tough on Grabowiecki, who lost one of her two remaining sisters. Their parents, Joe and Mary Gephart, had a son who died from pneumonia as a child, she said.
"Daddy said he prayed that God never let him lose another son. So he gave him nine girls," she said.
Each of the San Antonio-born girls got named Mary.
"Mary Jo, Mary Rose, Mary Josephine, Mary Elizabeth, Mary Ann, Mary Angeline, Mary Ethel, Mary Dolores, and Mary Linda," Grabowiecki said.
They even numbered the Marys for people. Grabowiecki and Mary Linda were Mary 8 and Mary 9.
She joked when someone hollered 'Mary' in their home, it was like saying the rosary.
Her father, she said, worked as a policeman and eventually a city employee. He wanted to name Mary Linda--Mary Christmas.
"Mother said, I don't think so, Joe," she said.
But their father may have gotten his way. Before Kouns's death, the mother of two and Army widow discussed her final services with Grabowiecki.
Instead of flowers, they would ask people to donate an unwrapped toy for the San Antonio police's Blue Santa Program. Kouns would honor her love for children, Christmas trees, her father, and her son-in-law, who currently works for SAPD.
"My sister did what she wanted to do," Grabowiecki said. "She made a lot of children happy."
Between funeral attendees and donations from across the country, the Kouns collection was more than $750. The family delivered the toys a few days after the memorial service to SAPD's North Patrol.
The completed mission brought tears to Grabowiecki's eyes. Her sister, a karaoke company owner, would have turned 71 on December 20, a day she didn't get to celebrate.
She was able to give needy children a very 'Mary' Christmas.
"I hope Christmas morning when these children see these toys---that she'll smile down from heaven," Grabowiecki said. "And let these kids know some way or another. That somebody cared. Linda cared."