For the past 25 years, The Oprah Show has made saying two little words—"thank you"—into an art form. "We believe in the power of gratitude," Oprah says. In honor of Thanksgiving Day, Oprah is looking back at some of her favorite thank-yous!
Shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks, Miller, a firefighter from Tennessee, was sent to help search for victims' remains at the Pentagon. Miller says the devastation was depressing him...until he read a letter from a 12-year-old girl named Alex, thanking him for everything he'd done. Miller then returned the favor, thanking Alex for her inspiring letter.
Alex, now a senior at American University in Washington, D.C., says Miller has become a part of her family. She says she vividly remembers writing the letter that ended up in Miller's hands. "After having met Miller, I really thought about the importance of saying thank you," she says. "Because I think we oftentimes forget just saying those simple words can actually touch someone."
On The Oprah Show's first National Thank You Day show 16 years ago, Oprah surprised the man who made her career possible with a personal thank-you. If it weren't for Dennis Swanson, the program director who hired her to host AM Chicago, there might never have been an Oprah Show.
Today, Dennis is an executive at FOX Network. "Way to go, Dennaroo!" Oprah says. "Once again, I say thanks to you for taking a chance on a colored girl from Kosciusko."
When guitarist and music producer Don Potter, famous for his work with the Judds, appeared on The Oprah Show in 1994, he thought he was invited to talk about the music business. "But we had a little trick up our sleeve," Oprah says.
When John Travolta visited The Oprah Show in 2004 to promote his movie Ladder 49, he was part of a big surprise to honor Kenny Ward and Phil Burn, two firefighters from Maryland. When fellow firefighter Dino Mahaffey became trapped in the second floor of a burning house, Phil and Kenny rushed in and saved Dino's life.
Phil and Kenny continue to fight fires in Maryland, and Dino is enjoying his retirement.
When Warrick Dunn was growing up, he saw the struggles of single motherhood up close. His mom, Betty, took care of him and his five siblings on a police officer's salary. When Warrick was 18, Betty was shot and killed while off duty, and he was left to help raise five siblings.
After excelling on the football field in college, Warrick was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and became an NFL star, but he never forgot how he grew up. So the all-pro running back started Home for the Holidays, a charity that gives single mothers a down payment on a new home stocked with new furniture, computers, appliances and food.
In 2002, Warrick got a special thank-you from Bonnie, one of the single mothers he had helped. "Three months ago, I was a struggling mom, through a divorce that left me financially broke and unable to take care of my family on my own. I was living with my three daughters in this small apartment and struggling from paycheck to paycheck. The lowest point is when I did not have enough money to pay the power bill and my daughters and I had to live by candlelight," Bonnie told Warrick. "Because of Warrick's generosity, I'm able to be a better mom. Warrick, you have blessed so many single mothers and their children. Thank you."
In 2008, Warrick played his final season in the NFL, but his foundation is still going strong. They have expanded to help single dads, are about to make their 100th down payment and have given away about $3 million.
In 2004, Liz Murray shared her unbelievable story. Her childhood was consumed by drug-addicted parents, hunger and homelessness. To care for her schizophrenic mother, Liz never went to school, but she taught herself by reading books.
Today, Liz has graduated from Harvard and is the author of a memoir of her troubled childhood called Breaking Night. She is also part of a group that is launching the Broome Street Academy Charter School, a high school for homeless, foster and runaway youth in New York City. "What I want people to take away is they are so much bigger than their circumstances," Liz says. "People have choices in their lives and, inch by inch, you can create a life for yourself that has nothing to do with your past."
In 2009, the Oprah Show featured the Spartan Sparkles, a group of spunky cheerleaders with developmental disabilities—from autism to Down syndrome—who gave their Bettendorf, Iowa, community a reason to be thankful.
Sarah and Sarah, the two young founders of the Spartan Sparkles, went on to start a nonprofit organization called the Sparkle Effect. Using money from donations, a Pepsi Refresh grant of $25,000, and $10,000 from America's Best Dance Crew, they have helped start 17 Sparkle Effect cheer squads for young people with special needs across the country.
In 2006, Oprah issued her Pay It Forward Challenge. She gave 314 people in the studio audience $1,000 each, and then asked them to spend their $1,000 on a complete stranger. The jaw-dropping results made this Oprah's favorite giveaway ever!
One of the biggest givers was Minnie, a woman from Centralia, Illinois, who raised more than $70,000 for John Newcomb—a father of nine suffering from a deadly brain tumor.
Minnie's $1,000 multiplied with the help of friends and strangers, and their collective efforts helped pay John's hospital bills, buy groceries and send his oldest son to college. John's entire family surprised Minnie to say thank you in person.
Then, another miracle happened just in time—a doctor who was watching The Oprah Show called and offered to remove John's brain tumor at no charge.
Shortly after, John had another health setback when he suffered a stroke. Unable to continue working as a plumber, John has enrolled in college and one day hopes to earn a business degree. John says after all that Minnie did for him, he's not about to give up. "Minnie didn't have to help me," he says. "I don't think that I thanked Minnie the right way. Without you, I wouldn't be here."