WILLIAMSTOWN — Talk about virtue rewarded and the case of Shirley E. Gardner, manager of Mount Hope Farm, must stand as one of the world's most stunning examples.

Forty-four years ago Mr. Gardner, then 20, plunged into the swirling snow-chilled waters of the Housatonic River in Pittsfield and rescued then 9-year-old William H. McNamara Jr. The life-saving act won him a Carnegie bronze medal for heroism and the promise of $1,000.

This summer Shirley Gardner got his money.

The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, set up by the steel magnate who once lived at Shadowbrook in Lenox, had the money pegged for education. It was to help young Gardner through Massachusetts Agricultural College. But when the bronze medal arrived, a year after the rescue, he was through college.

Further training at Cornell would have brought money but death of the youth's father forced him to go to work.

"You won't always have a mother but you can always get an education," the Pittsburgh people said.

After World War I the Carnegie Commission offered the $1,000 for a home of his own, the hero's dream. But then, and since then, Mr. Gardner's job has always included a home as part of wages.

"I didn't forget, but time passed," says Mr. Gardner. They wouldn't give the money for investment — Mr. Gardner has no regrets about not gaining 44 years' of interest or capital gains. "Whatever it earned, it was being used for some good purpose, I figured."

Well, the decades passed, and in 1955 Mr. Gardner got a communication from the fund manager. Again a home was offered, but he still didn't need one.

"Out of a clear blue sky" on July 2, 1958, came another letter, signed by a new manager, who apparently had been checking the files. "The money rightly belongs to you, and we now urge you to consider its use," said the letter with a neat touch of irony. It put forth a wider range of uses, including the establishment or increase of a savings account.

Mr. Gardner's return letter is dated July 8. He asked that the $1,000 be added to his savings account towards funds for purchase of his own home when he finishes work at Mount Hope.

July 11 was the crucial day. A $1,000 check was drawn to Mr. Gardner for deposit in his savings account. After 44 years it took just over a week for Mr. Gardner to get his reward.

This Story in History is selected from the archives by Jeannie Maschino, The Berkshire Eagle.

Community News Editor / Librarian

Jeannie Maschino is community news editor and librarian for The Berkshire Eagle. She has worked for the newspaper in various capacities since 1982 and joined the newsroom in 1989.