Thursday, March 4, 2010

Amazing Grace

My mother’s oldest sister, Grace, passed away at the age of 95 on July 2, 2007. She was truly a remarkable person, and her obituary referred to her as “amazing Grace”.

.She was still in her teens when the Great Depression started, which caused her and most of the other members of her generation to be frugal. Like her mother, she married a farmer, and raised a large family on the family farm in Minnesota.

She became a school teacher, and with her modest teacher’s salary, she bought her parents their first car, a Model T Ford.

This morning’s Chicago Tribune carried a story about ANOTHER woman who deserves the accolade of “amazing Grace”.

Grace Groner, a Lake Forest resident, passed away last month at the age of 100. Like my aunt, she was a farmer’s daughter, but both of her parents had died by the time that she was 12.

She was taken in by the George Anderson family, one of the leading families of Lake Forest, who raised both her and her sister. The Anderson family paid for Grace and her sister to attend Lake Forest College, When Grace graduated in 1931, she went to work at Abbott Laboratories, where she worked as a secretary for 43 years.

Although she shared her generation’s distrust of the stock market, she bought three shares of company stock (at a cost of $180) in 1935, and never sold it. Over the years, she reinvested the dividends, which caused her modest investment to grow considerably.

She never married, and lived in an apartment for many years until a friend willed her a tiny house in a part of town once reserved for the servants. Its single bedroom could barely accommodate a twin bed and dresser. Its living room was undoubtedly smaller than many Lake Forest closets.

The town where she lived her entire life is one of the wealthiest towns in America.

Median family income is in excess of $200,000. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, was patterned after Lake Forest, where median house prices are still around $850,000, considerably higher than the national average. Like many towns,
Lake Forest has suffered
during the current recession. As of this week, there were 97 homes in foreclosure, with a median value of just under $700,000.

Grace got her clothes from rummage sales, and she walked everywhere rather than buy a car. Her one-bedroom house in Lake Forest held little more than a few plain pieces of furniture, some mismatched dishes and a hulking TV set that appeared left over from the Johnson administration.

Though she was frugal, Ms. Groner was not a miser. She traveled extensively after her retirement from Abbott, and on occasion sent anonymous donations to needy local residents through her attorney.

Two years ago, she decided to splurge, and set up a scholarship program for the benefit of her alma mater, Lake Forest College. After her death, her attorney met with the President of the college, and told him that the value of Grace’s estate was now worth $7,000,000, and ALL if was going to Lake Forest College.

The economic boom that followed the end of World War II was a direct result of our country’s investment in education. Although our current budget deficit is scary enough that I wouldn’t advocate diverting more money to education (as Thomas Friedman does), the example set by BOTH Graces can serve as a reminder what all of US can do personally to improve our world.

My aunt raised seven children, all of whom graduated from college. One of them married a college professor. Another married a lawyer, and another one married a doctor. There’s some social workers in the mix – and there’s also a farmer.

The legacy of the Lake Forest Grace is that the majority of the 1300 students at Lake Forest College will benefit from her magnanimous gift, and the legacy of my aunt Grace is that her knowledge and spirit live on today in her children and grandchildren.

Amazing Grace, indeed.

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