OGDEN — Erbey Satterfield was diagnosed three years ago with prostate and bone cancer but says he has the perfect prescription to help him forget about his health problems -- he gives away money.
“It’s just makes me aware that even if I’m hurting, there are a lot of people who are hurting,” he said. “There are people who can’t put food on the table or gas in their cars.”
Satterfield gifted Debra Guvench while she worked Thursday at Smith’s Food and Drug Center at 12th Street and Harrison Boulevard.
The 72-year-old walked across the sun-baked parking lot and made a beeline for the store’s fuel station, where Guvench sat inside the small booth.
Satterfield, whose muscular build hides his ongoing battle with cancer, politely asked Guvench, “How do you spell your name?”
She seemed puzzled by the question but didn’t appear to notice as Satterfield scribbled the letters down on a blank check.
He put a $500 check in a small metal tray and slid it toward her.
“I can’t accept that,” said Guvench, her eyes wide with astonishment.
“I know you don’t have any health insurance,” said Satterfield, revealing what Guvench had told him only a few minutes earlier during a brief encounter inside Smith’s. “You deserve it.”
Guvench, who said she suffers from a herniated spinal disk but hasn’t been able to afford medical treatment, scrambled out of the cashier’s booth and wrapped her arms around Satterfield in a bear hug.
“Thank you so much,” she said, choking back tears. “God will have a special place for you.”
It was just another day and another donation for Satterfield, who makes weekly rounds among Ogden businesses to dole out an average of $600 a month to random people who could use a spontaneous smile.
“If you’re a human being and walk upright, you’re eligible for money,” he said with a chuckle.
Satterfield usually gives $50 to each person but can hand out more if there’s a need.
The initial reaction from those receiving his generosity ranges from profound surprise to skepticism that there are no strings attached.
“People are really funny,” Satterfield said.
Satterfield always has an opening line meant to disarm shoppers before he flashes the cash.
Brandy Sichmeller, of Ogden, was stunned when he approached her in the frozen food aisle at Smith’s.
Satterfield told Sichmeller, who was with her 2-year-old son Zhander, that he had forgotten to buy her a Mother’s Day present and slipped $50 into her hand.
Sichmeller initially didn’t know what to make of the unexpected gift. “I wasn’t sure or not whether I should take it,” she said.
Sichmeller planned to use the money to buy gas. “I think it’s wonderful, especially because of the economy.”
Smith’s cashier Jessica Teuscher has seen Satterfield help dozens of customers.
“It’s amazing the things that he does for people,” she said. “He has brought tears to my eyes many times. He seems to have a sixth sense about who to help.”
Public service has always been important to Satterfield, a Navy veteran and lifelong Democrat who was appointed in 1988 to fill an unexpired term to represent Ogden in the state House of Representatives. He remained in office for a year and did not seek re-election.
He’s a retired electrician and was president of the Northern Utah Labor Council AFL-CIO from 1981 to 1986.
Surprisingly, Satterfield calls himself a skinflint. He pays for nearly everything with cash and said his retirement pension provides a healthy monthly income. The mortgage on his spacious home in Ogden is his only bill, and he has few other expenses, so he’s able to give away money to those in need.
“I’ve always made a good living,” said Satterfield, who is divorced. “Money has never been an object of mine.”
In addition to being altruistic, Satterfield is also whimsical.
He collects mustache cups, has a rocketship piggy bank and keeps a ceramic steam engine that doubles as a whisky flask.
Satterfield is fastidious but self-deprecating about his appearance. He gets his gray hair permed every eight weeks.
“Without a perm, I’m uglier than sin dipped in misery,” he said, chuckling.
Satterfield’s generosity took shape while shopping on a December day in 2010, when he encountered a woman who was visibly sad.
She had four children but no money to buy Christmas presents. When Satterfield gave her $200, the woman began crying and thanked him with a hug.
“It felt good,” he said.
After that, Satterfield began opening his wallet regularly.
His fondness for the military once prompted him to give $300 to a woman stationed at Hill Air Force Base whom he met in a pharmacy. “She was flabbergasted,” Satterfield recalled.
Satterfield also provides $200 a month to Tina Chyne, of Ogden, to help her and her three sons.
“It’s always wonderful,” said Chyne, who uses the money to buy groceries for her family. “He has always been so nice to me.”
After Satterfield gave $50 each to two other Smith’s shoppers on Thursday, he glanced down the aisle and began crying.
“It’s just good to make a little bit of difference in somebody’s day or even their week,” he said as tears streamed down his face.
“You always get a reaction like that,” referring to hugs from benefactors.
“There’s so many bad things that happen in the news. ... It’s just nice to have somebody receive something.”