The Real Reason This Man Gave Away $2 Million Before Dying at the Age of 99

There are secret millionaires all around us. You could be living next to one right now. One unassuming millionaire was 99-year-old Russ Gremel. He quietly amassed a sizeable amount of wealth. Instead of hoarding all of his money, he decided to give it away.

Here’s the real reason Russ Gremel gave away $2 million before dying at the age of 99.

How he got rich

Russ Gremel

Russ Gremel (front, right) | Illinois Audubon Society via Facebook

One thing you might be wondering is how Gremel, a Boy Scout leader for more than 60 years, became so wealthy. Like many people with significant wealth, Gremel became rich through investing. In 2017, he gave about 28,000 shares of Walgreens stock to the Illinois Audubon Society so that it could create a 400-acre wildlife refuge. The Chicago Tribune reports Gremel was set to join Troop 979 on a camping trip to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary, but he passed away in April 2018, shortly before the expedition.

Next: He took a risk.

A big bet


Walgreens | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Roughly 70 years ago, Gremel purchased $1,000 worth of stock in Walgreens. Since people will always need medication and women regularly purchase makeup, he figured this would be a good buy, reports the Chicago Tribune. Instead of selling as soon as things got rocky, his plan was to hold on to the Walgreens stock. It turns out he made the right choice. About seven decades later, the stocks were worth $2 million.

Next: Living a simple life paid off.

A simple life

oatmeal porridge with walnuts

Oatmeal | Mizina/iStock/Getty Images

Gremel wasn’t a flashy man. Although he had money, he always lived a very simple life. Instead of buying cars, expensive clothes, and big houses, he made the choice to live frugally. He remained in the same home (a brick bungalow) for almost 95 years. He also ate simple meals such as oatmeal and stew instead of more expensive foods. Furthermore, the last car he owned was a Dodge Omni that was more than 25 years old. Said Gremel in his 2017 interview with Chicago Tribune: “I’m a very simple man; I never let anybody know I had that kind of money.”

Next: His legacy lives on.

A lasting legacy

Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary

Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary | Illinois Audubon Society via Facebook

Gremel has made a lasting impact not only on nature but also on his Chicago community. On June 4, 2017, the Illinois Audubon Society dedicated a wildlife refuge in Gremel’s honor. Gremel’s neighbors had nothing but good things to say about him. Many said his $2 million donation was not a big surprise because he was a good man. One of his neighbors told the Chicago Tribune: “He’s a man with a big, open heart.”

Next: Here’s why he gave away $2 million.

Why he gave away $2 million

$100 bills

Gremel said he didn’t need all that money, so he gave it away. | Halduns/iStock/Getty Images

Chances are, most people would keep all that cash for themselves. You’ve likely heard stories of people experiencing a big windfall, like the lottery, and then spending extravagantly on themselves and family members. However, Gremel wasn’t thinking about himself. The former Boy Scout troop leader told Chicago Tribune that he didn’t need the money, so he gave it away.

Gremel cared more about nature and the birds than himself. Said Gremel’s friend, Dr. Steven Bujewski: “He said that this working like a maniac is for the birds and life is too short. He lived his life the way he wanted to live it and not by the way that society would expect him to live it.”

Next: You never know where you’ll meet a millionaire.

Other secret millionaires

Janitor's mop

Ronald Read was a janitor who amassed an $8 million fortune. | Voyagerix/iStock/Getty Images

Gremel isn’t the only one who secretly amassed wealth and then gave it away. There were plenty of others before him. One example is Ronald Read, a janitor and gas station attendant. No one knew that he had investments that grew to reach $8 million. His investment holdings included Procter & Gamble, J.P. Morgan Chase, General Electric, Dow Chemical, CVS Health, and Johnson & Johnson, reports The Wall Street Journal. Upon his death at the age of 92 in 2014, he left his money to his local library and hospital.

Next: This is how you can become a millionaire.

How you can become a millionaire

Piggy bank surrounded by coins

Many everyday millionaires say frugality is key to their financial success. | iStock/Getty Images

One thing many millionaires have in common is a frugal lifestyle. Those who have great wealth often don’t drive the latest vehicle or wear designer clothes. Said the late Thomas Stanley in his book The Millionaire Next Door: “Many people who live in expensive homes and drive luxury cars do not actually have much wealth … Many people who have a great deal of wealth do not even live in upscale neighborhoods.” Rather, wealthy people are “compulsive savers and investors.”

Another way to build wealth is to have multiple income streams. Don’t bet on one source of income to help you weather the storms of life. In addition to working at a full-time job, consider starting a side business or renting an empty room in your home.

Next: You won’t believe how some people became millionaires.

Crazy ways regular folks became millionaires

Dog in sunglasses drink cocktail in bar

One person became a millionaire after inventing sunglasses for dogs. |

Saving and investing isn’t the only way people have become millionaires. Some grew their wealth through inventions. Some unusual inventions that led creative people to become millionaires include sunglasses for dogs, a ball with plastic strings, wobbly nostalgia toys, fake wishbones, personal letters from Santa, and balls for a car’s antenna.

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