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Children's makes job easier for a favorite donor

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

By Surendra Phuyal, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

They celebrated the shining star of Children's Hospital yesterday.

Albert Lexie rings the bell on his new shoeshine cart for the staff of Children's Hospital. Lexie, who donates his shoeshining tips to the hospital's Free Care Fund, was presented with the custom-made cart yesterday. (Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette)

Albert Lexie has donated more than $87,000 to Children's since 1981, most of it from tips he received from shining shoes. To mark his 61st birthday Friday, his admirers presented him with a gift of appreciation that figures to make his job a little easier -- a custom-built shoeshine kit on wheels, to carry the 30-pound box he has lugged on his back.

He also received a $1,675 check from the staff of the hospital's radiology department, which he planned to put in the same place as all those tips -- the Free Care Fund, which pays expenses for children who can't afford treatment.

"It feels good. This is the first time I've celebrated my birthday like this," a beaming Lexie said as his friends and customers at Children's cheered and offered birthday wishes.

The shoeshine cart was made by Salco Engineering & Manufacturing Inc. The company donated it after Ricki Smith, an administrative assistant at Children's, came up with the idea to honor Lexie's work and philanthropy.

Staff members of several departments also made donations in Lexie's name, but preferred not to disclose the amounts and their names. The money also will go to the Free Care Fund.

"Albert comes to our department every week. Albert is the best man I know, and it's an honor for us to be able to do all this," said Manuel P. Meza, assistant radiologist-in-chief, after handing over the cart to Lexie.

Lexie has been shining shoes at the hospital since 1981, when he was inspired by a telethon to devote his tips to the Free Care Fund. His donation total is even more remarkable when one considers that he earns just $10,000 per year.

Lexie's extraordinary efforts have won plenty of recognition. He has received the Outstanding Philanthropist Award from the Western Pennsylvania chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and a 1997 Jefferson Medal for Outstanding Citizens. His hometown of Monessen celebrated "Albert Lexie Day" in June 1999. The Port Authority awarded him a lifetime bus pass and he has been featured in Reader's Digest and People magazine and on Oprah Winfrey's show.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, he leaves his home at 5:50 a.m. to arrive at Children's at 7:25 a.m. He charges $3 for a shine, but most of the time customers give him a little extra.

"I have many kids. I love my kids," said Lexie, who often dons a badge that reads: "Please Help Albert's Kids."

When he is not at Children's, Lexie works around Salomon Smith Barney in Pittsburgh and the business districts of Charleroi, Donora, Monessen and Monongahela, carrying the shoeshine box that he crafted in high school when he was 15.

"It's pretty good. This could be fun," he smiled as he rolled the new pink shoeshine cart to an elevator.

Surendra Phuyal can be reached at or 412-263-1893.

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