Never Judge A Book (Or Surprise Millionaire) By Its Cover

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Gordon Elwood

 So far, our millionaires have lived low-profile lives at what might be called the middle-middle class or even lower middle-class levels of society.  These hard-working souls may not have looked like the millionaires that they were, but they certainly didn’t look penniless … Then there was Gordon Elwood.

Gordon Elwood, born in 1920, was a lifelong resident of the Rogue Valley area of southwestern Oregon; living primarily in and around the city of Medford.

By all accounts, Gordon worked hard his entire life.  Starting with a childhood paper route and continuing on as a fruit picker and later as a self-taught television technician.

bicycleEven after retiring in 1985, he continued to work and save collecting cans and bottles for their deposit value. His frugality knew no bounds.

Unfortunately, his frugality was at such an extreme level that he did without some of the basic necessities of life.

His shack-like home had no heat, a sagging roof and the yard was littered with junk from his television repair days as well as empty tuna cans from which his legion of cats ate.

Additionally, his personal appearance was not very pleasing.  He always wore second hand clothes, most times held up by a rope or bungee cord.  He spent the majority of his time riding his old bicycle around town looking through trash cans and dumpsters collecting the aluminum cans he recycled for money.  The local children nicknamed him “Stan-the-Can-Man”.

He subsisted on charitable handouts of food even being known to fill his pockets with cookies while visiting the local bank.  He lived his later years on the periphery of society always looking in but never belonging; essentially ignored.

However, Gordon loved his community and was preparing a big surprise for them.  Upon his 1999 death at the age of seventy-nine, that surprise was revealed to the whole community.

An estate worth $9 million was left to the communities of Rogue Valley by one Gordon Elwood!  Gordon’s wish was to help others and to make his time on this earth worthwhile.  To that end, his will created the Gordon Elwood Foundation designed to give a helping hand to the underprivileged of the Rogue Valley area.

The foundation is still going strong today disbursing funds to help children, families and the community at large.  Imagine, a man that no one befriended or paid much attention to cared enough about his community to leave them such a wonderful gift.  It should teach all of us not to judge a book by its cover!

A Surprise (and homeless) Millionaire

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Richard Leroy Walters

There are many terms in which to describe Richard Leroy Walters.  He was a military hero, a gifted student, a multi-millionaire and unfortunately, homeless.

Not much is known about his early life other than he was born in 1931 and raised in Indiana.   Reports indicate he had two brothers from which he was estranged and never married nor had any children.

He served as a marine during the Korean War and later proved a gifted student earning a degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University and a master’s degree in education from Ball State University.  RichardLeroyWalters

It is not known how Mr. Walters ended up in Arizona but he did work as an engineer for 23 years at Allied Signal Corporation (now Honeywell) which has offices in Arizona.   Nevertheless, it was events at Allied Signal that changed the course of the rest of Mr. Walters’ life.

Reports vary but some simply say he retired from Allied Signal while others say he was forced into an early retirement.  Regardless of the circumstances, upon leaving Allied Signal, Mr. Walters sold his home and all of his worldly possessions and began living on the street.  He effectively retired from life.

Those aware of his situation stress that this was a decision of choice and that Mr. Walters did not slip into some of the pitfalls that many homeless people face.

He was always neat, clean and well fed.  His personal needs were taken care of he just preferred to live outside unencumbered by the entrapments of modern living.

Besides, Mr. Walters had resources that no one was aware of.  Namely an estate worth four million dollars!

This is where things get sketchy.  No one seems to know how Mr. Walters accumulated such wealth.  He was known to talk about stokes quite a lot and make trades by using the phone at a local senior center.  He did not appear to be born to the wealthy classes nor is he known to have inherited any money from relatives.  My own opinion is that Mr. Walters is just another example of a surprise millionaire who lived a frugal life and in doing so reaped the benefits of compound interest and accumulated wealth.

Like most of our surprise millionaires, he was a study in contrasts.  A well-educated individual who chose to live on the streets.  An avowed atheist (he converted to Catholicism on his death bed) who bequeathed money to religious charities.

Unfortunately, Mr. Walter was plagued by the advancements of age, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart ailments.  He died in 2007 at the age of 76.  It was nice to hear that he was buried with full military honors.

So what was the meaning and purpose of his life?  Well, several charities received bequests of $400.00 each as well as bequests left to other deserving individuals. I believe the meaning of his life is immeasurable.

A quiet, man was able to make an impact on his community and those around him for years to come.