The Grace Groner Story
June 20, 2012 2 Comments
Grace Groner was born in the year 1909, in a small farming community, in Lake County-Illinois.She had a twin sister, Gladys. They were orphaned at age 12.The twins were then taken in by George Anderson, one of the prominent members of the community,who later adopted them.He paid for both of them to attend boarding school and later the nearby Lake Forest College. They were always considered “family” by the Anderson family.
Grace graduated in 1931.At the time, it meant a great deal more than it does today to be a lady and a college graduate.After graduation Grace took up a job at the nearby as a secretary,an accomplishment for working women of her generation.She stayed on at Abbott Laboratories for 43 years,till her retirement.For many years Grace lived with Ann Findlay, an elderly relative of George Anderson, in a small apartment in the building that housed the Lake Forest movie theater, which was owned by the Anderson family. Lake Forest,a town just north of Chicago, is one of its richest suburbs.
Grace never wed nor had any children — the sister of one of the prospective grooms blocked the marriage— but with her gregarious personality she was never isolated.She had plenty of friends.When a friend willed her a tiny house in a part of town once reserved for the servants,she moved in there from her apartment. The single bedroom in her hew home could barely accommodate a twin bed and dresser and its living room was smaller than many Lake Forest closets.Her one-bedroom house 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.
In 1935,Grace Groner made a decision that would secure her financial future.She purchased three sixty dollar shares in Abbott Laboratories. Over the years, her shares split many times, and she reinvested the dividends each time. Long before she died, her initial outlay of $180 had become a fortune.But few people knew the extent of her wealth.She kept quiet about it.By the time of her death,aged 100, she owned more than 100,000 shares valued at about $7 million.
Having lived through the Great Depression, Grace valued frugality.Moreover, she just didn’t have the sort of material needs that a lot of people round her had.Lake Forest, one of America’s richest towns, is filled with grand estates and luxury cars, yet Grace felt no urge to keep up with the neighbours.She lived modestly. She could have lived in any house in Lake Forest, but she chose not to.She never learnt to drive,and never owned a car.She preferred to walk whenever she could,and did her own yard work,even in old age when she had to use a walker .She also thought nothing about buying her clothes at rummage sales.
Though Grace is the classic Millionaire Next Door –thrifty, hard-working and a saver and though she remained unattached,she was no miser who merely hoarded up the pennies over a lifetime to accumulate vast wealth at the cost of personal happiness. She was a generous person.She was very sensitive to people not having a whole lot.Grace would see those people, would know them, and she would make gifts but anonymously by doing it through her pastor and attorney.She enjoyed other people, and every friend she had was a friend for who she was. They weren’t friends for what she had. She also traveled widely after her retirement from Abbott.Grace was held to be one of the nicest old ladies ever by the people who knew her.
She volunteered for decades at the First Presbyterian Church. She was also a Forester forever.Over the years, Groner remained close to her old college, attending football games and donating $180,000 to help start a scholarship fund.But Grace was interested in doing more, so in 2008 she set up a foundation to receive her estate upon her death.Grace died on January 19, 2010.Her will was opened by William Marlatt, her attorney and longtime friend and the world found out that Grace,a secret millionaire, had left her fortune in Abbott shares and her cottage to her alma mater.Her foundation earns an estimated $300,000 a year from her shares enabling a few Lake Forest students a year to travel and pursue internships abroad. Many probably wouldn’t be able to pursue those opportunities without a scholarship as 75 percent of the student body of Lake Forest College receives financial aid. This was Grace’s way of ensuring that others received the life changing benefits of education and travel abroad that she enjoyed in her own life due to the higher possibilities of wealth. Her cottage,is now quite simply,named “Grace’s Cottage” and is now turned into living quarters for women who receive her foundation’s scholarships and is an enduring symbol that money can buy far more than mansions.You can read more about this foundation and its good work here:http://www.lakeforest.edu/offices/groner/
I admire how generously and selflessly Grace lived.I am struck by how she lived modestly to make it possible for countless others to have better lives. I love the way her gift changes so many lives and will have ripple effects for generations to come. I love the fact that not only did Grace choose to 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!