Nearly seven decades ago, Russ Gremel decided to buy $1,000 worth of stock in an up-and-coming pharmacy chain. That chain just happened to be Walgreens, a company worth more than $60 billion today. That $1,000 bought nearly 28,000 shares of Walgreens stock 70 years ago, and now those shares are worth more than $2 million.
Gremel looked at it as a long-term investment and never cashed out. Now 98-years-old, Gremel recently donated the earnings from his Walgreens stock to the Illinois Audubon Society to help establish a wildlife refuge that will cover more than 400 acres of land. The Illinois Audubon Society is a land trust and conservation organization that operates as a non-profit and aims to “promote the perpetuation and appreciation of native plants and animals and the habitats that support them.” The refuge will be located near Dixon, IL.
It’s hard to imagine anyone just sitting on millions of dollars over the years, but Gremel asserts that he’s a simple man that needed no extravagances in his life. He’s a man that likes to eat oatmeal and stew. Gremel has lived in the same house since he was four years old. He never had a mortgage or a family to support, so he just left his considerable stock earnings alone.
Recently, Gremel decided it was time to put those earnings to good use. Instead of allowing for a posthumous donation, Gremel preferred to make it now so he could enjoy seeing his money put to use. He believes that money is meant to be used to do some good in this world.
Gremel’s love for nature was the main motivation for his donation choice, though the low administrative overhead of the Illinois Audubon Society also played a role. He spent a lot of time hiking and camping as a younger man, and his 60 years as a scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts surely played a role in his passion for the natural world. Gremel recently walked the property that was purchased for the wildlife refuge with some of his former boy scouts.
The way I see it, Gremel is truly an inspiration in a time when the perceived importance of material wealth is at an all-time high, especially in the United States. I can’t imagine many people sitting on a couple of million dollars, let alone donating all of it. The legacy Gremel will leave with the existence of the wildlife refuge is far nobler than any trinkets or baubles he could have purchased by cashing in his stock.