Good News

Ring out 2013 with a smile: Top 13 feel-good stories of the year

Dec. 27, 2013 at 3:00 PM ET

From acts of kindness to triumphs of love, TODAY readers had plenty to smile about in 2013. Culled from the dozens of uplifting and inspiring Good News features we've reported over the past 12 months, here are the lucky 13 stories that moved you most:

1. When Billy Ray Harris, a 55-year-old homeless man, returned the engagement ring that Sarah Darling had accidentally dropped in his cup along with some change, he got far more than the money the ring would have brought him: He reconnected with the family he hadn't seen in 16 years, and received more than $175,000 from supporters to find a new home. Six months later, he'd turned his life around.

Video: Billy Ray Harris, the homeless man who returned the engagement ring dropped in his donation cup, now has a part-time job, friends and has reconnected with loved ones. In a surprise reunion on Sunday on TODAY, Harris reunited with his family for the first time in 16 years. TODAY’s Erica Hill interviews Billy Ray Harris and his family.

2. Shortly after the 12th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, a freckle-faced boy walked into a police station in Greenfield, Wis., announced he wanted to make a donation, and handed over $10.03 in loose change. The Greenfield police wanted to thank him — but they had to do some detective work to track down 11-year-old Max Siepert, whose grandfather was a Milwaukee police officer killed in the line of duty.

Video: The mysterious contributor who donated $10.03 to the Greenfield, Wis., police department shortly after the anniversary of 9/11 has been revealed. The 11-year-old boy said he learned about the Sept. 11 attacks in school and has been collecting money to donate since April.

3. Before going to the hospital to give birth to her fourth child, Racquel Cloutier of Laguna Niguel, Calif., hid her diamond ring in a watch box, never suspecting that her husband would unknowingly sell the box at a garage sale for $5. He thought they'd never see it again — but with the help of a local news station, an honest couple, and some missing car keys, she got back the ring, worth $23,000.

Racquel Cloutier's husband accidentally sold this ring while she was in the hospital.
Racquel Cloutier
Racquel Cloutier's husband accidentally sold this ring while she was in the hospital.

4. "I had the worst day ever," is how 28-year-old Chris Tuttle described it when a female customer complained he was working too slowly at an upstate New York supermarket. His sister put a post about the incident on Facebook, hoping to solicit a few comments of support for Chris, who has Asperger's syndrome. Instead, he got thousands of messages of support plus handshakes and hugs from strangers.

Chris Tuttle and his sister, Jamie Virkler.
Courtesy of Jamie Virkler
Chris Tuttle and his sister, Jamie Virkler.

5. Video surveillance footage showed a break-in at Buddy's Small Lots in Wayne, N.J., in August: Four young men entering and leaving with several items in hand. But a closer look revealed that the quartet left exact payment (including tax) at the register. It turned out they were freshman football players at William Paterson University who, due to a broken lock and a glitch in the lighting system, had entered the store thinking it was open for business. Store managers gave the four $50 worth of free merchandise for their honesty.

Video: Football players Thomas James, Anthony Biondi, Kell’e Gallimore and Jelani Bruce of William Paterson University were surprised to find themselves in the news after they paid for items they took from a local store, not knowing the store was actually closed.

6. In 1932, John and Ann Betar eloped to Harrison, N.Y., fleeing their close-knit Syrian neighborhood in Connecticut before Ann's father could marry her off to a man 20 years older. Fast forward to just last month, when the "longest married couple" in America, according to Worldwide Marriage Encounter, celebrated their 81st wedding anniversary. "The key is to always agree with your wife," John advised.

Video: John Betar, 102, and his wife Ann, 98, will celebrate their 81st wedding anniversary on Monday. John says the key to a successful marriage is to always agree with your wife.

7. Betsy Boys, 29, knew she'd been adopted at birth and often thought about seeking out her birth mother — but she never did anything about it until she saw a TODAY segment about how Dr. Nancy Snyderman's adoptive daughter found her birth mother. That gave her the courage to reach out on Facebook with some childhood photos and a just a few details, and within 36 hours, she discovered her birth mother, a half brother and other relatives living nearby.

Betsy Boys' birth mother, left, and Betsy, right.
Courtesy of Elizabeth Boys
Betsy Boys' birth mother, left, and Betsy, right.

8. Juan Dominguez lost both his legs and his right arm serving as a Marine corporal in Afghanistan in 2010. But that didn't stop him from finding the love of his life when he returned to the States — or from dancing with her at a dream wedding thrown for them in the small Southern California City of Temecula. Roughly $30,000 to $35,000 worth of goods and services were donated to the happy couple.

Juan Dominguez and his wife Alexis share a moment on the dance floor at their wedding last month.
Randy Green / RK Green Studios
Juan Dominguez and his wife Alexis share a moment on the dance floor at their wedding.

9. In a 4-minute YouTube video that warmed hearts around the world, a friendly golden Labrador retriever gently overcomes the reticence of a toddler with Down syndrome to earn a hug from the boy. The video was posted from Buenos Aires by the boy's mother, who explained that the child's condition causes him to usually shy away from physical contact.

Video: A gentle Labrador retriever named Himalaya wouldn’t take no for an answer when the 3-year-old boy, whose mother says is often shy about physical contact, wasn’t so sure about the pup’s advances. The dog’s rolling on her back and placing a paw on the boy’s shoulder finally broke the ice, and he appears to hug her.

10. Roger Boddie, principal of Hingham Middle School in Massachusetts, thought he was just taking a tour of a campus construction site when his students surprised him with an epic flash mob to mark his retirement. The touching video has drawn nearly a million hits on YouTube.

Video: Students at Hingham Middle School honored Roger Boddie, the school’s retiring principal, with an elaborate flash mob choreographed to Journey’s “Don't Stop Believin’.”

11. When Rusty Jones heard that a diamond engagement and wedding ring set was available on Craigslist in exchange for tickets to a football game, "I was a little skeptical," he told TODAY.com. But the deal was real, and he gave six tickets to a Chiefs-Broncos game to a woman who was selling her rings from a previous marriage. The seller "seemed very happy," said Jones, who wanted the rings to surprise his girlfriend with a proposal.

The engagement ring and wedding ring for which Rusty Jones exchanged six Chiefs-Broncos tickets.
Courtesy Rusty Jones
The engagement ring and wedding ring for which Rusty Jones exchanged six Chiefs-Broncos tickets.

12. Texas police officer Ann Carrizales had a feeling something was wrong when she pulled over a car just outside Houston at 3 a.m. Within seconds, the front-seat passenger leaned over and shot her twice: once in the bulletproof vest that likely saved her life, and once in the face. Yet she still chased the bad guys nearly 20 miles. “You can’t shoot me and drive away," she said. "It’s not allowed.”

Video: Police officer Ann Carrizales was shot twice, including once in the face, during a routine traffic stop, but instead of backing down and allowing her fellow cops to chase down the suspects, she chased them in her squad car for 20 miles until they were caught. NBC’s Janet Shamlian reports.

13. When filmmaker Michael Galinsky went looking in a desk drawer one day in 2010, he'd all but forgotten about the photos he'd taken in malls across America back in 1989. What he found has since enabled people across the country to relive the '80s — even finding themselves or loved ones in his images — and, with some help from Kickstarter, has spawned a book.

More than two decades ago, photographer Michael Galinsky captured the big hair, bad clothes and overall bodaciousness at malls around the country.


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