Society

Elderly Chicago Man Donates Fortune To Save Wildlife

| by Erik Kindel

A 98-year-old Chicago man donated $2 million in Walgreens stock to the Illinois Audubon Society, allowing the organization to purchase a 400-acre wildlife sanctuary. 

Russ Gremel, 98, has been living in his beloved Chicago for almost his whole life. Even though the city has changed drastically over his lifetime, he still lives in the same house his parents owned, on the same street he grew up on. He never married or had children, but nearly 70 years ago he made a decision to buy some stock for his future.

He put about $1,000 into an up-and-coming pharmacy called Walgreens. He told the Chicago Tribune that he made his decision under the assumption that people would always buy medicine and women would always buy makeup. Having seen his father lose money speculating on the markets, Gremel decided he wanted a sound investment and held on to his Walgreens stock for many years.

That initial purchase, along with Gremel's frugal lifestyle, meant his money grew by leaps and bounds. By the 21st century, the $1,000 investment had grown to more than $2 million.

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But Gremel didn't cash out. Instead, the man who loved his Midwestern city and the lands surrounding it decided to use that money to help protect that ground.

Gremel loved to hike and canoe as a young man. After he retired, he became a scoutmaster for several decades, leading other young men into the wilderness to learn about the world and grow. When it came time to allocate his money, he realized he wanted his fortune to go to ensuring people in the future had those same opportunities.

According to USA Today, Gremel approached the Illinois Audubon Society about making a donation back in 2015. The society, it turned out, had been trying to purchase a new property to turn into a wildlife refuge. Gremel loved the project and decided to fund it. The group bought the property for $2.1 million in December 2016.

On Sunday, June 4, the Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary was dedicated with a trek around the property by Gremel and his former Boy Scouts troop. The area is home to more than 170 species of birds, as well as some rare turtles.

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"It's incredibly generous," said Illinois Audubon Society executive director Jim Kerkert. "It's allowing us to protect a really valuable and important piece of property and fulfill one of Russ' wishes that we could find a place where people could come out and experience and enjoy nature the way he did as a kid."

Gremel put it even more simply: "You have to do some good in this world … That's what money is for."

Sources: Chicago Tribune, USA Today / Photo credit: Pixabay

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