Last week, Missouri’s own ‘Secret Santa’ was spotted in Staten Island, N.Y., handing out money to hurricane-stricken residents. The tradition was started more than 25 years ago by a Kansas City businessman named Larry Stewart, who remained anonymous up until his death in 2007. Since then, his closest friends have taken turns playing the role of Santa to help Americans in need.

I was fortunate enough to have met Mr. Stewart many years ago. He had agreed to an interview at a Kansas City hotel, and showed up ‘in disguise’ with a heavy beard and sunglasses. After we talked, he went in search of the hotel’s housekeepers and had them gather in the lobby. Mr. Stewart then quietly handed each of them several hundred-dollar bills and said, Merry Christmas to a chorus of shrieks and happy tears. But I observed something else: pure, unadulterated joy on Mr. Stewart’s face—and my own realization about the true meaning of the season.