the history of
The Baker-Collyer Christmas Cheer Fund
As the story goes, a local merchant named Glendon Baker was moved to help the poor when he saw two
children rummaging through the trash at Christmas time, looking for something to eat. That was the
inspiration for what is now, more than 100 years later, The Baker-Collyer Christmas Cheer Fund.
Glendon Baker was born in Ossining in 1862. His father was a grocer and Glendon made his mark in the
trucking and delivery business. Around 1905, he opened G. H. Baker’s Music Store at 164 Main Street.
Baker was also a politician and he built a lengthy resume of civic service.
Though Baker was prosperous, he came from nothing. Born poor, he knew what it was like to go
without. Maybe Baker saw himself in those children scrounging in the garbage for food in 1915. We
don’t know their names, or where he saw them. What matters is that there was a problem, and he
acted. Every Christmas for the next several years, on his own dime, Baker bought food, clothing, toys
and coal for families in need. He wrapped the toys with the help of his daughter Camilla and loaded the
items into paper bags and enlisted kids he knew to deliver them.
One of those kids was Jesse Collyer, Jr. It was Jesse Collyer who delivered Baker’s very first bag of Christmas cheer!
Baker started getting names from local churches; the list grew to 60 and then 100 families, and he
was using a horse-drawn cart to deliver the provisions from one side of town to another.
In 1922, when he was in this third term as Village Trustee, Glendon Baker died unexpectedly at his
home. In a statement, the Christmas Cheer Committee wrote that of all his civic activities, the Cheer
Fund demonstrated the clearest concept of what “this big man’s ideals were…To do good, to lend a
hand to every person who needed assistance, was his idea of the brotherhood of man. To know that at
the Christmas season, when the whole world was full of the spirit of love and giving, that there was one
person in this town without some part of this great festival, was to him a tragedy.” Soon after, the
Christmas Cheer Fund was renamed in his honor. But by 1926, without Baker’s dynamic vision and
energy, lack of interest threatened to bring an end to the Fund.
Back in 1915, Jesse Collyer was a teenager. His family was descended from the legendary Collyer clan of
shipbuilders and carpenters who went all the way back to the early 19th century. During World War I,
Jesse served in the naval auxiliary reserve. After his service he came home to live and work and to help
establish the first American legion chapters in Westchester County. By 1926, he was married with a
daughter. When it appeared that the Christmas Cheer Fund would flounder, Noel Macy, the owner of
the Citizen Sentinel, approached Collyer explaining that the Fund’s chairman was stepping down and
asking Collyer to take his place. Collyer responded that between his work and civic activities he could
not take on any more assignments.
Macy appealed to his sense of humanity. He told him a story about a mother and her two little girls
who had lost their home to foreclosure and were living in a chicken coop. Rose Collyer, who supported
her husband in all his endeavors, urged him to accept. He agreed, for one year.
Christmas was a week away. Collyer swung into action. He and Village President William Jackson
stumped for donations. Like his father and brother, Collyer was a volunteer fireman, and he knew the
only way to get the food to families in time was to enlist members of the fire department to help. Thus a
tradition of service was born that continues to this day. Jesse Collyer’s one-year commitment, of course,
turned into a lifetime.
The Great Depression presented a powerful challenge to the Cheer Fund. With so many people thrown
out of work, the demand for help was unprecedented. Collyer himself lost his job but would later
secure a position in the print shop at Sing Sing Prison. Despite the financial hardship, Ossining’s
residents dug deep, donating $200 more than the previous year. Even the prisoners at Sing Sing pitched
in during these lean years, donating money and gift boxes. In later years, the prison donated the use of
its trucks as well as the help of inmates. The role of the Citizen-Sentinel, which later became the Citizen
Register, cannot be overstated. For most of the fund’s history its offices were the drop-off place for
donations. Every Christmas season, from Thanksgiving on, the paper’s front page provided a running
tally of the donations total, along with names of those who gave. The editors cheered the community
when it surpassed the previous year’s tally, and gently chastised their readers to open their purses when
a shortfall loomed.
Through his many civic activities and a ten-year term as Mayor of the Village of Ossining, Collyer earned
the nickname “Mr. Ossining.” His village connections were a large part of the Fund’s success.
In 1974, Collyer told the Citizen Register, “The drive has never fallen short of its goal, even in the darkest
days of the Depression.” That year the Fund raised enough for 104 food baskets and 10 fruit baskets for
seniors in nursing homes. (These days, folks get gift cards, too.) In 1974, the Fund’s name was changed
again, to Baker-Collyer Christmas Cheer Fund, in honor of his contributions. Jesse Collyer died ten years
later, at the age of 86. When Jesse passed away, Ann Sidwell, the Fund’s longtime secretary, told the
Citizen Register, “Jesse was very compassionate and interested in his fellow citizens.
He certainly will be missed.
"But to live in the hearts you leave behind is not to die"
Glendon Baker started the Christmas Cheer Fund, and Jesse Collyer, Jr., saved it.
Both men are with us in spirit.