Thursday, March 4, 2010
Today's Heroine: Grace Groner
You don't know Grace Groner and neither did I, until I opened up today's Chicago Tribune.
I love good news and reading this incredible story this morning made my heart swell on many levels including pride and gratitude. First, I'm so proud to be a Forester this morning. Lake Forest College graduates some absolutely incredible and generous people and this story gives new meaning to the phrase "you're a Forester forever." Second, being able to make a donation of this size is a dream of mine. Lake Forest College is already in my will, but if I died today, they wouldn't get much. Hopefully, I will live a long life and be able to be just as generous. Third, I couldn't have gone to Lake Forest or anywhere else without financial aid and the generosity of people like her who built LFC's endowment, so Ms. Groner's story is personal to me. And it inspired me go slip a little something to the College this morning. Will you join me?
I love that Ms. Groner is so generous and selfless that she would rather live a modest life and make it possible for countless others to have better lives. Her gift will change lives and have ripple effects for generations to come. I love that not only did Ms. Groner change lives upon her death, but she also changed lives while she was living. And she did it all anonymously without any expectation of thanks. She saw suffering and did her part to alleviate it. What a role model and heroine.
Grace's story also made my local paper, The Daily Herald; The Telegraph, a paper serving southern Illinois; the San Francsico Chronicle; the Connecticut Post, serving the Bridgeport, CT area; and The Quad-City Times. Plus, in no time at all, Foresters sent it all over Facebook. I'm sure that's just the beginning. Based on the number of visits to Little Merry Sunshine so far today and the international locations they are coming from, I'm pretty certain this story has spanned the globe. Oh, and I don't like to spread gossip, but I heard from a pretty reliable source that World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer is reporting on this story tonight. Check back later for a link if the story airs.
Amazing Grace: Lake Forest Secret Millionaire Donates Fortune to College
Woman who lived frugally donates $7 million to alma mater
by John Keilman, Chicago Tribune, March 4, 2010
Like many people who lived through the Great Depression, Grace Groner was exceptionally restrained with her money.
She got her clothes from rummage sales. She walked everywhere rather than buy a car. And her one-bedroom house in Lake Forest held little more than a few plain pieces of furniture, some mismatched dishes and a hulking TV set that appeared left over from the Johnson administration.
Her one splurge was a small scholarship program she had created for Lake Forest College, her alma mater. She planned to contribute more upon her death, and when she passed away in January, at the age of 100, her attorney informed the college president what that gift added up to.
"Oh, my God," the president said.
Groner's estate, which stemmed from a $180 stock purchase she made in 1935, was worth $7 million.
The money is going into a foundation that will enable many of Lake Forest's 1,300 students to pursue internships and study-abroad programs they otherwise might have had to forgo. It will be an appropriate memorial to a woman whose life was a testament to the higher possibilities of wealth.
"She did not have the (material) needs that other people have," said William Marlatt, her attorney and longtime friend. "She could have lived in any house in Lake Forest but she chose not to. … She enjoyed other people, and every friend she had was a friend for who she was. They weren't friends for what she had."
Groner was born in a small Lake County farming community, but by the time she was 12 both of her parents had died. She was taken in by George Anderson, a member of one of Lake Forest's leading families and an apparent friend to Groner's parents.
The Andersons raised her and her twin sister, Gladys, and paid for them to attend Lake Forest College. After Groner graduated in 1931, she took a job at nearby Abbott Laboratories, where she would work as a secretary for 43 years.
It was early in her time there that she made a decision that would secure her financial future.
In 1935, she bought three $60 shares of specially issued Abbott stock and never sold them. The shares split many times over the next seven decades, Marlatt said, and Groner reinvested the dividends. Long before she died, her initial outlay had become a fortune.
Marlatt was one of the few who knew about it. Lake Forest is one of America's richest towns, filled with grand estates and teeming with luxury cars, yet Groner felt no urge to keep up with the neighbors.
She lived in an apartment for many years before a friend willed her a tiny house in a part of town once reserved for the servants. Its single bedroom could barely accommodate a twin bed and dresser; its living room was undoubtedly smaller than many Lake Forest closets.
Though Groner was frugal, she was no miser. She traveled widely upon her retirement from Abbott, volunteered for decades at the First Presbyterian Church and occasionally funneled anonymous gifts through Marlatt to needy local residents.
"She was very sensitive to people not having a whole lot," said Pastor Kent Kinney of First Presbyterian. "Grace would see those people, would know them, and she would make gifts."
Groner never wed or had children — the sister of one prospective groom blocked the marriage, Marlatt said — but with her gregarious personality she had plenty of friends. She remained connected to Lake Forest College, too, attending football games and cultural events on campus and donating $180,000 for a scholarship program.
That allowed a few students a year to study internationally, including Erin McGinley, 34, a junior from Lake Zurich. She traveled to Falmouth, Jamaica, to help document and preserve historic buildings in the former slave port. The experience was so satisfying that she is trying to get Lake Forest to create a similar architectural preservation program.
"It affected my (career ambitions) in a way I didn't expect," she said.
But Groner was interested in doing more, so two years ago she set up a foundation to receive her estate. Stephen Schutt, Lake Forest's president, knew of the plan for the past year, but had no idea how large the gift would be until after Groner passed away Jan. 19.
The foundation's millions should generate more than $300,000 a year for the college, enabling dozens more students to travel and pursue internships. Many probably wouldn't be able to pursue those opportunities without a scholarship: 75 percent of the student body receives financial aid, Schutt said.
But the study and internship program is not the end of Groner's legacy. She left that small house to the college, too. It will be turned into living quarters for women who receive foundation scholarships, and perhaps something more: an enduring symbol that money can buy far more than mansions.
It will be called, with fitting simplicity, "Grace's Cottage."
ABC7Chicago just did a story about Grace Groner's gift to Lake Forest College. Read the story here.
World News Tonight did a fantastic story tonight, but the embed code isn't working, so click here to watch the video.
NBC5Chicago also covered the story: Watch "Everybody Loved Grace" and read the story.