Thursday, March 4, 2010

Today's Heroine: Grace Groner

Picture from Chicago Tribune.

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.


  1. God will truly bless Grace Groner.

  2. I was lucky to know Grace well. Your sensitive comments represent the way Grace lived. Always positive, always concerned about others, she had many friends who loved her for what she was - an inspiration. I have known her since I was five years old and she was a constant force in my life. I was with her when she left and indeed her greatest gift to me was enabling me to help with this wonderful gift. This has involved me with wonderful students and an outstanding faculty at Lake Forest College.

    You hit on the meaning of her gift when you responded with a desire to help the College. None of us are self made. We have all been helped along over the years. Groner Fellows will have an obligation to help and mentor other fellows coming after them. People sometimes ask who owns a college. Well it is owned by those who have graduated from it. It is strong when this shared resource is given to others.

    I support you in your excitement for the future of this small college. It is too good not to be better.

    Bill Marlatt

  3. Mr. Marlatt,

    Thank you so much for visiting Little Merry Sunshine and commenting on Grace. Thank you for being the kind of person she could trust with her money and her friendship. You give attorneys a great name and are an inspiration as well.

    You are completely correct in what you say about Lake Forest College. Alums do own it and we have an obligation to give back and help others benefit the way we did.


    Jessica Gardner

  4. This story has really touched my heart and I am sure has touched the lives of many. The world is a better place to live in because of people like Grace who really care for others.

  5. This is s beautiful story, made possible by a wonderful woman. God Bless her.

  6. I've been away from campus for the last few days, recruiting new staff members to join us in the good work at Lake Forest College. It is so heartwarming to hear that this story has touched others so profoundly. In a time when government and others are asking whether "college is really worth the expense", I say very resoundingly "YES, IT IS." Grace's gift to Lake Forest College will help others experience college and become true global citizens in a way that they night otherwise not have been able to enjoy without her generosity.

    Thank you, Grace.

  7. During her life, Grace gave more than she received. We all live spiritually, physicially, and in the memory of others. She was kind to me, and will continue to live in my memory. Thank you Grace.

  8. This is a beautiful story. I live in Australia and had not heard it until I received this email listed below advising me that we had inherited 1.5million of her money. I believe this to be a scam using the good name of this very kind lady.
    I thought you would like to know. If it is true please let me know but I do not think it is. I have not found any law firm by this name at that address.

    202 Lambeth Road, London,SE1 7JW
    United Kingdom
    Phone/Fax: +44 207 785 9057


    Please our law firm PAGECW LAW & ASSOCIATES is acting on the instructions of our client Mrs Grace Groner (NOW DECEASED).Please you may check this website for clarity purpose:

    She invested heavily in the British stock market and going by her last instruction; she asked us to liquidate her stock and share the proceeds to her Alma Mater, various charitable instituions, her next of kin and her ancestral lineage.

    However going through her ancestral lineage, you have been picked and by this notice, you are directed to revert back to us with the required information below to enable us procure the necessary clearance for the release of US$1.5Million due payable to you from the deceased estate. You can call me on this number +44 704 5777 868 or email me at as quickly as possible.

    Information required include:

    Full Name:
    Contact phone numbers:
    I expect your immediate reply because we have being trying to reach you since the 4th of February.

    Page Collins
    Principal partner:PAGECW LAW & ASSOCIATES
    Direct line: +44 704 5777 868 (24/7)

  9. I got the same email, definitely a scam.

  10. yeah, exactly the same email received yesterday, what a scam!


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