Toy Fund donations honor spirit of John McCormick
Zetta McCormick, widow of recently passed John McCormick, in her Northampton home Tuesday. A number of Toy Fund donations have been made in John's name, something Zetta much prefers to flowers or other perishable donations.
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Zetta McCormick, widow of recently passed John McCormick, in her Northampton home Tuesday with a wall of family pictures behind her. McCormick has 12 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. A number of Toy Fund donations have been made in John's name, something Zetta much prefers to flowers or other perishable donations.
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NORTHAMPTON — After John F. McCormick stopped working as a nurse’s assistant at the VA Medical Center in Leeds more than a decade ago, he continued to follow his true vocation: people.
During what would have been his retirement years, the city native and father of five held jobs as a bartender at the World War II Club, a greeter at Wal-Mart and an attendant in Childs Park — among other people-friendly posts.
Family members say McCormick was doing regular shifts in the park up until a month before he died of cancer in August at age 77.
“He just liked being out there and seeing the people,” said his wife of 56 years, Zetta McCormick, during an interview at their Orchard Street home. “He was very friendly. He made lots of friends wherever he went.”
To honor McCormick’s gregarious spirit, his family asked that donations in his memory be made to the Gazette’s Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund, which helps families in need buy gifts for the holidays. Since the fund began collecting for this season, numerous checks have arrived with McCormick’s name inscribed in the memo line.
His niece, Barbara Fil of Hadley, said she was inspired to make her first donation to the Toy Fund this year in McCormick’s memory.
“He and his wife enjoyed children,” Fil said. “He was always playing games with the kids and was very family oriented. He was just an all-around good guy.”
Many of McCormick’s former co-workers say they’ll also be donating to the Toy Fund this year.
“We all have our special stories about him,” said Sue Lafleur, personnel manager at the Wal-Mart on King Street, where McCormick worked for more than five years. “He brought me a blueberry muffin every Tuesday. He was kind and had a wonderful sense of humor. He was like a family member.”
Growing up as one of 16 children, McCormick was used to being part of a group, said Zetta McCormick, who met her husband at a square dance. He graduated from the former St. Michael’s High School, then served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1952 to 1953 before starting work in the health care field.
With their own family of 12 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren, holiday celebrations on Orchard Street have also traditionally been major gatherings.
“Because of being such a large family, we always have an early Christmas so that everyone can be here,” said Zetta, who put up her outdoor decorations the day after Thanksgiving. “We’ll have a smorgasbord and everyone will contribute something.”
The Gazette’s Toy Fund has long been a favorite charity. “It’s something I’ve been giving to for about 30 years,” Zetta said.
Named after a former business manager at the newspaper, the fund began in 1933 to help needy families during the Great Depression. Today, it distributes certificates worth $40 for children aged 1 to 14 that can be redeemed at participating stores for gifts.
When John McCormick became seriously ill earlier this year, he and Zetta talked about how he wanted to be remembered. Instead of flowers, they settled on donations to the VNA and Hospice at Cooley Dickinson, the American Cancer Society and the Sidney Smith Toy Fund.
“We’ve always felt children should have a toy,” Zetta said.
The Toy Fund is open to families living in any Hampshire County community except Ware, or in the southern Franklin County towns of Deerfield, Sunderland, Whately, Shutesbury and Leverett.
Berkshire Children and Families at 220 Russell St., Hadley, verifies applicants income eligibility. Most families who receive assistance are referred by social service agencies.
Participating stores this year include: A2Z Science and Learning Store, Northampton; Deals & Steals, Northampton; Faces, Northampton; F.J. Rogers, Florence; JCPenney, Hadley; Mountain Goat, Northampton; The Toy Box, Amherst; Wilson’s Department Store, Greenfield; and Target, Hadley.
Donations to the Toy Fund may be made online at toyfund.gazettenet.com, or dropped off at or mailed to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, 115 Conz St., Northampton, MA 01060, or Gazette offices at 67 Main St., Easthampton, or 9 East Pleasant St., Amherst. Checks should be made payable to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund.