Russ Gremel’s got a twinkle in his eye. At 98-years-old, he’s packed a lot of great times into those years. As it turns out, he was also packing away quite a large sum of money, too. Gremel is a man who understands deeply the value of both.
Gremel bought $1,000 in a Chicago-based pharmacy chain 70 years ago. His brother was in the business and said it was a good investment because people would always get sick and need medicine and women would always buy beauty products—a pretty precise prediction looking at the world in 2017. In hindsight, you’d have to say that was a good investment.
That pharmacy chain kept growing, and so did Gremel’s wallet. He would receive regular dividend checks in the mail, deposit them, and think nothing of it. he noticed that the amounts were growing, but as Gremel said, “I grew up in a different time. There was the 11th commandment, and that was to save 10% of all of your earnings.”
Following that commandment turned out well for Gremel. He never spent any of the money from that stock, that is, until last week. That $1,000 investment had grown into quite a bundle of cash—$2 million. Gremel, being 98-years-old and all, had to make a decision on what to do with that money. He could leave it for his family or give all or some of it away. Gremel never had a need for that kind of money.
“I’m a very simple man,” he said, “I never let anybody know I had that kind of money.”
But that’s what makes his story better than “98-year-old Guy Gives Away Millions.”
Gremel had a unique perspective on the purpose of money, one that he defines as being “a little different.” The reason he never told anyone about the kind of money he had was because he valued his friendships too much—he didn’t want to ruin them. The same goes for his relatives. “Why would I want to give them that money and ruin their lives?” Gremel said. Yes, that’s unique alright—a very wise brand of unique.
That perspective probably has a lot to do with the times that Gremel grew up in. His father, a stove salesman, played the stocks before the market crash of 1929. “We went from comparable wealth to abject poverty in 24 hours,” Gremel recalled. “We had no money. There were no food stamps. There was nothing except your friends and neighbors. “Everyone on the street shared food.”
That’s probably where that twinkle in his eye comes from.
“The purpose of money,” Gremel said, “is to do something good in this world with it.”
He followed his own advice last week when he donated the $2 million in stock, all of it, to the Illinois Audubon Society. How will they “do good in the world” with Gremel’s donation? They’re using it to establish a large, 400-acre wildlife refuge, which will be named after Gremel.
Gremel was a Scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts for many years. Jack Henehan, a scout in Gremel’s Boy Scout Troop at one time many years ago, said “Every single person who knows him from the troop knows that he’s a man with a ‘big, open heart.'” Dr. Steven Bujewski, another former Boy Scout who is now 57 years old, offered nothing but praise for Gremel, telling the Chicago Tribune that “The donation is nice but not as impressive as the time Gremel spent leading his Boy Scouts. The gift that he has given to thousands of kids through Scouting and the influence it’s had on their lives, I think that’s a hundred times more valuable,” Bujewski said.