A gentleman who worked all of his life and became a millionaire on eleven dollars an hour!
Leroy Minnesota, a very quiet town in a very quiet part of the country. Situated on the Iowa border, Leroy boasts 900 or so residents with its only claim to fame being the nearby Lake Louise State Park. Not the kind of place you would expect to find a bona fide millionaire.
Loren Krueger was a fixture in this small farming community. Born in 1915 he spent the majority of his life in this sleepy little hamlet surviving the often sub-zero winters and all around harsh climate. Loren was known around the area as the owner of several farms who chose to live in town on the main street of Leroy in an unassuming small white frame house.
By all accounts, Loren was a humble, caring and unassuming person who spoke to everyone he met. He was also known to be very frugal with his money. He was a survivor, outliving two wives and a son who died of cancer shortly after high school. However, these tragedies did not seem to dampen his joy for life.
Loren was also an enigma of sorts. The rumors still circulate as to how Loren accumulated his fortune. Some say he inherited money many times over throughout his lifetime. Others paint Loren as a savvy investor owning many shares of stock in the Hormel company. Others say he was a very prosperous landowner and farmer. Are any of these speculations the truth, who knows? It is quite possible the truth is a combination of all three. In any event, one thing is for certain, Loren was a penny pincher; never spending on anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary. In fact, the only “splurge” anyone could think of regarding Loren was that he and his second wife would spend the winters in Texas during their later years to escape the cold northern winds.
Loren was also known to extend himself to the young people around him. Often dispensing advice and helping young adults get a good start in life; primarily to the young farmers and families that rented and worked his farms. They became an extended family of sorts.
Should it have been a shock to the people of Leroy that, upon his death in 2009, Loren would leave his estate for the benefit and betterment of the community? Probably not, that was Loren’s way. However, what did shock the folks of this sleepy little burg was the amount of that estate. When finally tabulated, Loren left a total of $3 million to the town!
No one knew he had that kind of money; even those who felt closest to him. The collective gasp in Leroy could be heard all the way to Minneapolis and beyond.
What is even more astounding and heartwarming is the type of recipients Loren chose to benefit with his wealth.
The Leroy Senior Center received $220,000. For an organization that previously was running on $600 a year budget, this was quite a windfall. The fire department and ambulance district each received $220,000 as well.
A lifelong Catholic, Loren left a sizable sum to his local parish church. But there was no religious snobbery where Loren was concerned. Every church in town that was operating at the time his will was written received funds as well. Everyone benefited from his generosity from the Presbyterians to the local Bible Church. The houses of worship in Leroy were truly blessed.
Loren may have realized that leaving his money to institutions like these would be a sound investment in the community based on the good they did. However, it is doubtful that he would have anticipated how his generosity would start a chain reaction of giving which would benefit countless others around the area.
The churches remembered in Loren’s will all donated a portion of their funds to help build a new kitchen at the local assisted living facility. The senior center, not to be outdone, contributed money toward a new playground for the school, gave $10,000 to Grace Christian Church, the only church not in existence when Loren’s will was drafted, and went in with the Lutherans to repair the towns swimming pool.
Who knows, maybe the most recent organizations that benefited will now find ways to extend that same spirit of giving to others. The echo of Loren’s gift could reverberate around the town and surrounding area for years to come. What a wonderful legacy to leave behind.
By all accounts, Grace Groner lived an ordinary life. Born in 1909 in a rural farming area of Lake County Illinois, Grace had what would be considered a difficult childhood. By the age of 12, both of her parents had died and Grace and her twin sister were taken in by the Andersons, prominent members of the surrounding community.
This is where Grace experienced a bit of luck or the guiding hand of the creator. The Andersons raised Grace and her sister paying for them to attend Lake Forest College. Upon graduation, Grace obtained employment with Abbott Laboratories; a job she kept for the next 43 years.
A very insignificant event early in her career at Abbott proved to have unseen consequences. Grace bought three shares of Abbott stock at $60 apiece and never sold them. Over the years, the stocks split multiple times with Grace reinvesting the profit. This made Grace a very wealthy woman.
As Grace’s investments grew and enriched over time, so did the town of Lake Forest. Today Lake Forest is one of the nation’s wealthiest communities. It’s leafy, mansion lined streets speak of wealth and privilege. However, Grace felt no need to keep up with her well-heeled neighbors. According to her long-time attorney, “She could have lived in any house in Lake Forest, but she chose not to.” Grace lived in a tiny apartment before moving to a small, one bedroom house willed to her by a friend. The house is believed to have once been servants’ quarters.
She bought her clothes from garage sales, never owned a car, choosing to walk where she wanted to go, and had few possessions in her small home. One would never believe that she lived a life of near poverty while sitting on top of millions!
But, people who think like that didn’t know Grace Groner. Grace was not only rich according to her bank statements, she was rich in what matters most, in people and relationships. Even though she never married or had children, she was possessed of an outgoing personality that won her a multitude of friends. According to her 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.”
Grace could be described as frugal but never a miser. She traveled extensively after her retirement and gave anonymously to people in need. Grace remained connected to her community and her former college which is where this story takes another turn.
Upon her death in 2010, Lake Forest College was shocked to discover they were the recipient of Grace’s seven million dollar estate. The money was earmarked for a foundation providing scholarships for Lake Forest students to study abroad. Grace had previously established the foundation funding a small scholarship for Lake Forest students. However, the gift upon her death was unexpected and astounding. Grace also willed her small home to the college which will be used for student housing.
So why did she do it. Why did she accumulate all of that wealth but spend only a fraction of it on herself? Could it be the experiences of a young single woman without any family living through the horrors of the Great Depression? Could it be the remnants of a strong protestant work ethic almost lost in our current generation? Whatever the case, Grace lived a life doing just what she wanted to do enriched by people and experiences that money cannot buy. Not a bad life all in all.
I plan to take a look at the lives of these remarkable people; hopefully to determine just what makes them tick. I hope you will come along with me. Let’s find out just what drove them to save and accumulate vast amounts of wealth. Will we find similarities regarding motivation, personality and background? Or, will we discover that each and every one of our surprise millionaires was an “American Original”. Okay, let’s dive right in and take a look at one of our surprise millionaires. A very unassuming woman by the name of Grace Groner.
We occasionally hear about them in the news. People who live unassuming ordinary lives yet have accumulated vast amounts of wealth; often with little means of doing so. These folks are often described as “old misers” or “quite odd” by the news media. However, every once in a while someone bothers to look below the surface to discover the interesting and often times amazing people who we will call the Surprise Millionaires.
Even when the media does a decent job of reporting on these individuals, the stories can still be confusing and just a little bit bewildering. Their actions seem to conflict with our traditional American values. After all, conspicuous consumption and being upwardly mobile is the “American way”.
So we scratch our heads wondering, “If they had all that money, why didn’t they spend some of it? If they could have improved their station in life, why didn’t they?”