9 Ways to Kick Off Thaddeus and Polly Seymour Acts of Kindness Day

February 11, 2021

By Elsa Wenzel

Photo by Courtesy Rollins College Archives.

Celebrate kindness on February 17, 2021, with a small act to make a big difference on the inaugural day honoring Rollins’ treasured former first couple.

Rollins’ 12th president Thaddeus Seymour ’82HAL ’90H and his widow, Polly, continue to tower over the community. It’s not just for their prominence as first couple from 1978 to 1990 but because of the lasting reach of their humble acts of service, which persisted after his retirement and that she has kept alive since his passing in 2019.

It’s in that spirit that Rollins is celebrating the inaugural Thaddeus and Polly Seymour Acts of Kindness Day on February 17, 2021.

Acclaimed for their warmth, vision, and philanthropy, the couple exemplified leadership in ways that continue to resound through the causes they supported. Known on a first-name basis, Thad was a driving force behind Rollins becoming the finest liberal arts college in the South and a purpose-driven institution that shapes global citizens.

You can carry forward the mission of citizenship and service with small actions that reflect the Seymours’ passions. Led by the Center for Leadership & Community Engagement, Rollins has organized a series of opportunities on February 17 that will allow each student and every faculty and staff member to celebrate the Seymours and serve our community through simple acts of kindness.

A student walks through the library surrounded by books
Photo by Scott Cook.

1. Textbook collection drive supporting Habitat for Humanity

Lighten your load, save a tree, and give to a worthy cause in the process. The textbook-collection drive by Rollins’ Sustainability Program, an end-of-semester fundraising tradition going back a decade, is being extended on February 17 in honor of the Seymours, who also happened to be devoted bookworms and poetry aficionados.

For the full day, a table in front of the Beal Maltbie Center, home to the Department of Environmental Studies, will welcome your donations of used textbooks. The literary haul will be added up at the end of the spring semester to raise funds for Habitat for Humanity, one of Thad and Polly’s favorite organizations.

2. Support early-childhood education in just a few minutes

It only takes a few minutes to lend a hand to the well-deserving early childhood educators at the Winter Park Day Nursery. Located just a few blocks from campus, the center serves families of all income levels, regardless of their ability to pay.

Just stop by the coffee bar on Tars Plaza from 10:30 a.m. to noon. Fill up a cup and snag a pair of scissors. You’ll cut out colorful construction paper houses to create craft kits. These tactile tools will help young learners understand the importance of family and friends.

Students fill raised gardening beds with soil and mulch
Photo by Scott Cook.

3. Native gardening in downtown Winter Park

For 15 years, a secret garden has thrived in downtown Winter Park thanks to the care of environmental studies professor Bruce Stephenson and his students. Grab some gloves and do your part to foster biodiversity among local plants and insects, including butterflies, by sprucing up this native garden. Prepare to pull weeds and reapply mulch, making a spot of Rollins’ hometown a little greener. Gloves and tools are provided; masks and social distancing are expected. Sign up here, and meet at the garden at 1 p.m.

Students pack boxes with food for a food drive
Photo by Scott Cook.

4. Fight childhood hunger

Food insecurity is one of the most pressing needs at this time, with one in four Americans unsure of where to find their next nutritious meal. Make an immediate difference to local families by joining with other volunteers in this massive service project. Together, you’ll assemble 10,000 kits in a single afternoon. The hunger-project build with the nonprofit Feeding Children Everywhere will be held from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Sign up here or just stop by. You’ll measure and bag up shelf-stable foods in a fun, socially distanced assembly line at Rice Pavilion. Temperature checks and masks are required.

Thaddeus and Polly Seymour pose in front of a Habitat for Humanity house with student volunteers
Photo by Courtesy Rollins College Archives.

5. Build with Habitat for Humanity of Winter Park

One of Thad’s lasting legacies stands in the numerous homes he helped build with Habitat for Humanity. When Hal George ’76 helped launch the nonprofit’s Winter Park-Maitland branch in the late 1980s, Thad signed on right away.

“For many years he came out almost every Saturday,” says George. “Some Saturdays he just rolled his sleeves up and started hammering, painting, whatever.”

After retiring as Rollins’ president, Thad served as the Habitat for Humanity of Winter Park-Maitland chairman until his death at age 91. Follow in his footsteps by putting in sweat equity with this special nonprofit. The chapter is currently building its 57th house, in downtown Winter Park, only 10 feet away from the last project where a family has already moved in.

Prepare to pitch in on the three-bedroom dwelling by painting, installing insulation, or putting up a roof. Wear a mask, closed-toed shoes, and comfortable work clothes. Hard hats and safety goggles will be provided. The two-hour project starts at 3 p.m. sharp. Be sure to sign up in advance because space is limited.

6. Carry on a unique tradition

Thad was famous for carrying a silver dollar in his pocket at all times. He would pluck one out and hand it to someone he saw engaging in a random act of kindness, such as picking up litter on campus.

“It doesn’t count if you see me coming and ‘fake it,’” he once explained. “But if you'll care about the campus for real, I’ll give you that real silver dollar by way of thanks and admiration.”

Over the years Thad gave away hundreds of coins. To reflect that message of service and moments of serendipity, chocolate coins will be distributed throughout the day on February 17 in recognition of random acts of kindness.

A student draws messages of kindness on a sidewalk with chalk
Photo by Scott Cook.

7. Create colorful messages of kindness

Thad’s favorite Robert Frost poem, “Dust of Snow,” celebrates how a brief encounter in nature can lift a mood. To trigger similar moments of uplift, inspirational messages will grace the walkways of America’s most beautiful campus on Thaddeus and Polly Seymour Acts of Kindness Day. Add to the community’s outpouring of good vibes by creating your own sidewalk chalk messages, and splash people’s paths with a flash of hope and encouragement. Think of it as a fun way to reflect Thad’s reputation for colorful storytelling. Chalk will be available to grab from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Knowles Memorial Chapel lounge.

8. Social Impact Hub’s random acts of kindness

Rollins’ Social Impact Hub is a focal point for designing and incubating solutions that lead to a better future. True to its purpose, the Hub is helping changemakers engage in random acts of kindness in honor of the Seymours.

A multi-day campaign on the Social Impact Hub’s Instagram channel launches on Valentine’s Day, Sunday, February 14. Throughout the week, it will feature suggestions for quick acts that achieve social and environmental good, with hands-on examples via the Center for Leadership & Community Engagement. Watch Instagram to see staff, faculty, and students engage in random acts of kindness, and tag your own activities to inspire the community on social media.

A student conducts field research at Mead Gardens
Photo by Scott Cook.

9. Support Thad & Polly’s favorite organizations

Whether it’s in health care, the arts, the environment, or housing, there’s a worthy local cause you can support to reflect the Seymours’ altruistic passions. The couple’s work began a new chapter with his retirement in 1990, leading them to be named Winter Park Citizens of the Year in 1997 by the chamber of commerce.

Thad remained phenomenally active, not only teaching poetry at Rollins, but also in a multitude of volunteer roles. He lent a hand to the Winter Park Health Foundation, joined efforts to save the historic Capen-Showalter House, and served as Winter Park Public Library chair in the late 1990s. Polly lent so many hours over the years to the library bookshop, it renamed itself the Polly Seymour New Leaf Bookstore. Woody Nash ’90 recalled spotting the Seymours quietly getting their hands dirty at a cleanup event at Mead Botanical Garden. The pair also participated hands-on in house-building events with Habitat for Humanity of Winter Park-Maitland, an organization that Thad supported for more than 30 years.

Rollins’ current first lady, Peg Cornwell, hopes that the community will honor Polly and Thad’s relentless volunteerism beyond the day of kindness in their honor.

“To find something you’re really passionate about and give to it and follow it a long time in your life, not just one stop, is a gift you give yourself, not just your community,” she says.

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