IM this article to a friend!

January 26, 2005

'Cheers' actor brings cheer to Longmeadow school for deaf

From: The Republican - Springfield,MA,USA - Jan 26, 2005

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

LONGMEADOW - In the Pixar film "The Incredibles," he is the voice behind the Underminer, but, to the staff and students of the Willie Ross School for the Deaf here, actor John Ratzenberger looks a lot like Santa Claus.

The Hollywood actor recently donated four boxes of action toys from his latest flick to the school and followed that donation with a shipment of several hundred pencils emblazoned with the school's name.

The toys were distributed to the younger students as a part of the school's winter holiday celebrations. The pencils, well, they'll come in handy for all of the students.

Like Santa, Ratzenberger didn't actually show his face at the Longmeadow campus.

"He didn't put a note in the box," said Willie Ross Director Louis Abbate. "Just shipped the toys to the school. I knew it was from him because I could see the return address."

In the 12 years since he first became the honorary chairman of the board for the Willie Ross School for the Deaf, Ratzenberger has preferred to keep a low profile.

"I just like what they're doing there at the school," he said in a recent phone interview from the California offices of his production company, Fiddlers Bay. "They are good people and they work hard."

While building his own career in television and film, Ratzenberger has quietly touched the Longmeadow school with unsolicited gifts that have a knack for coming at just the right time.

After he finished work on another Pixar film, "Finding Nemo," Ratzenberger sent students a box full of Nemo-themed key chains. A few days later, he sent a huge cake to the school to help students celebrate their graduation.

In May of 2003, while working on his new Travel Channel show "John Ratzenberger's America" the Hollywood actor drove his elaborate recreational vehicle onto the Longmeadow campus for a surprise visit.

"He gave the staff and students a tour and spent time talking with them," said Abbate.

The erstwhile Cliff Clavin is reluctant to make a big deal of his relationship with Willie Ross, which began in 1992, when Ratzenberger was ending his decade-long run as the daft letter carrier on the television sitcom "Cheers." On a lark, Abbate asked Ratzenberger to don his postal uniform once more to serve as the honorary postmaster for the school's Wee Deliver Post Office.

Ratzenberger accepted the offer, arriving at the school in a stretch limousine with pumpkins for all of the kids. The busy celebrity then spent a day entertaining the staff and students as his alter ego, Cliff Clavin.

If it had ended there, Abbate says he would have been thrilled with Ratzenberger's generosity.

But it didn't.

"Once I got to know him, it was clear that he is an interested person and a good father," said Abbate. "He's forever giving gifts and he doesn't want 'thank-you's.' John's always saying 'You are the people who need to be thanked, not me.'"

© 2005 The Republican.