''Global Grandpa'' Frederick Startup '56

Global Frederick Startup '56 is "sort of like Santa Claus" to kids in South and Central America and Africa.  by Greg Ryan '08

Frederick Startup ’56 didn’t want to leave, and Ruddy Acebo, the eight-year-old girl clinging to his leg, didn’t want him to leave, either. She, her parents, and Frederick had just enjoyed an afternoon of sightseeing, and now Ruddy was finding it difficult to let him go. “I didn’t know what to do,” Frederick says with a laugh. “Then her parents said, ‘Well, you just have to leave!’ ” Ruddy eventually let go, and after a tearful and heartfelt goodbye, Frederick took off.

Frederick might appear much like any adoring grandfather paying his grandchild a visit, but the retired music teacher from Middletown, New York, actually entered Ruddy’s life thanks to Children International, a nonprofit organization that aims to better the lives of the world’s poorest kids. Frederick had just spent a few days with Ruddy and her family at their home in Guayaquil, Ecuador — the first of five visits Frederick has made to the little girl who didn’t want to let him go.

Frederick sponsors not only Ruddy, but 11 other children as well — in Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia, and Cameroon — through both Children International and Plan USA, a similar organization. For a little more than $20 per child per month, he is able to provide them with the education and health care their families could not otherwise afford.

Both organizations encourage donors to write letters to and even visit the children they sponsor, tasks Frederick happily performs: he writes dozens of letters a year and has taken a total of 10 trips to Ecuador and Guatemala over the past nine years (he hasn’t yet had time to travel to Colombia or Cameroon). “I guess these are my children,” says Frederick, who never married. “And I guess I feel that God put us on the planet to make their world a little better place to live in.”

The regular payments Frederick makes to Children International and Plan USA help pay for children’s necessities, but the School of Music graduate isn’t content with simply putting a check in the mail once a month. “He goes way beyond what most sponsors do,” says Janette Marks, a Plan USA donor relations representative who has worked closely with Frederick. Stories of Frederick’s kindness abound, Marks says. On several occasions, Frederick has spent hundreds of dollars to buy textbooks for an entire class of students whose schools could not otherwise afford them. And when several of the children he sponsors expressed an interest in college, he told them he’d help them pay their tuition — all on the modest budget of a retiree and occasional substitute teacher. “There’s no bottom to his heart,” Marks says.

Of course, Frederick doesn’t hesitate to spoil the “youngsters,” as he calls them. “I’m sort of like Santa Claus,” he jokes. Gifts are a staple of his letters and visits. When he spends time with children who live near a city, he’ll bring them to zoos, aquariums, and even fast-food restaurants — a real treat in countries where at least one in seven people live on less than $1 a day. For the children living in rural areas, away from such attractions, he’ll throw a party for the family and neighbors.

Frederick began sponsoring children in 1999, after he received a brochure from one of the organizations in the mail. Decades earlier, when he first became a teacher, he had sponsored a Korean child, but the financial stresses of starting a career forced him to give up the sponsorship after a few years. He stayed active in his local community volunteering in a soup kitchen — something he continues to this day — but it was nearly 40 years before he sponsored another child. “I beat myself over the head,” he says now. “Why did I wait so long?”

The 76-year-old has more than made up for lost time. Besides the 11 children he sponsors and the other personal donations he makes, Frederick organizes several piano recitals a year at his church to benefit Plan USA. The seasoned pianist will occasionally even play a few songs himself to boost his favorite cause.

The personal rewards of his work are great. “What I’m getting,” he says, “is worth more than the money I invest.” The letters of appreciation he receives and the looks of excitement on the children’s faces when they see him remind Frederick why he began sponsoring children in the first place. “My concern,” he says, “is to do what I can do with my limited resources, to try to help.”

1 Comment

I'm glad to see Fred being recognized for his generosity. To see the kind of work done by Plan USA, please go to

Janette Marks