If you happened to come into a lot of money all of a sudden, what would you do with it? Many people would take lavish vacations and buy expensive name-brand merchandise, but there are others who would use it much, much differently.
When one elderly man discovered a number of stocks he’d purchased nearly 70 years ago were now worth a significant amount of cash, he was stunned. What would he do with so much money? Give it to family members? Upgrade his home? His answer, however, was nothing short of surprising…
Meet Russ Gremel. The 98-year-old Illinois resident didn’t ask for much; he always tried to live a simple, happy life. But one day recently, he discovered his world was about to be flipped upside down, and it was all from a decision he made 70 years ago…
Russ lived his entire life in the same house in Illinois. He never had any interest in designer brands or a fancy lifestyle, and he was always careful with his money—except for seven decades ago, when his brother convinced him to do something that was against his nature…
His brother told him that he should purchase $1,000 in Walgreens stock. Russ was hesitant at first, but after his brother insisted that it would be a wise investment, he decided to follow the advice.
It turned out his brother was right, and recently, Russ received some welcome news: his shares were now worth over $2 million! Russ was stunned. How would he spend his windfall? That was when he realized he’d do something new millionaires typically didn’t think of, and it was all inspired by his upbringing…
See, Russ grew up in a lower income household. His parents never had much money, but they were at least able to provide their children with food and a roof over their heads. It was far from a luxurious life, but it worked for them.
Russ never really had an interest in finances as he grew up. As far as he was concerned, his parents worked hard and provided as much as they could, and he was appreciative of all their hard work. He was content with the lifestyle he had.
In 1929, Russ’s father, a stove salesman, played the stock market and lost everything after the market crashed. Russ remembered having to share food with neighbors because no one could afford to go shopping. It was a hard time for everyone, and Russ felt lucky every day that his family overcame the struggle.
As Russ grew up, he always had an affinity for the outdoors. He would frequently take solo hiking and camping trips, and he spent many of his teenage years exploring the country and experiencing as much as he could.
When Russ was only 19 years old, he ventured out to explore what the West had to offer. He train-hopped, hitchhiked, and trekked his way to the coast. He also traveled through Yellowstone National Park in deep snow—and he loved every second of it.
Russ loved his adventures so much that, during World War II, he joined the Army. There, he served as a lieutenant, and he traveled to places like Kauai, Hawaii. He even spent some time on the island of Tinian.
During the Korean War, Russ served in Washington, D.C. He counted joining the military as one of the greatest decisions he’d ever made. It truly shaped who he became as the years went by…
After Russ left the military, he joined the Boy Scouts, and he spent the next several decades as a scoutmaster helping thousands of young men learn to appreciate and preserve the natural world. To this day, people remember what an amazing scout leader he was.
Even though Russ had a law degree from Northwestern University, he knew he didn’t want to live a traditional life and work for someone else. So, he saved up every penny he earned, drastically cut his living costs, and he retired at 45.
Russ noticed that his Walgreens stocks were increasing in value, but he didn’t give much thought to cashing them out. After all, he had everything he needed, and he was happy. One day, however, he had a brilliant idea…
Russ approached the Illinois Audubon Society with an offer: he was willing to donate all the money from his stocks to the society so long as they used the funds to help build a wildlife sanctuary. The society happily agreed to put Russ’s money toward this great cause.
The Illinois Audubon Society had been interested in purchasing a 395-acre plot of land from Augustana College for some time, and with the $2 million they received from Russ, they were finally able to do it! They named it Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary in his honor and invited some very special attendees at the dedication ceremony.
Some of Russ’s former Boy Scouts from decades earlier even made the trek to the property! Russ was thrilled that so many people were excited about the new sanctuary.
The sanctuary was home to a vast array of animal species, including more than 170 types of birds and relatively rare turtles. It gave visitors an opportunity to see what Illinois looked like before people developed it.
Even though Russ was happy that he was able to help the Audubon Society, he never really considered the money to be his to begin with. He figured that he never really earned any of it; he simply held on to a lucky stock investment.
“You have to do some good in this world,” Russ said. “That’s what money is for.” He added that, even without the money, he managed to have “one hell of a good life.” The world sure could use more acts of generosity like his!
Russ Gremel was truly a remarkable human being. Most people would’ve used the money for selfish reasons, but not him. He understood the importance of humility and generosity, and we should all take a page out of his book!
If there were more people like Russ in the world, we’d have far fewer problems. Hats off to you, Mr. Gremel!