Minnesota’s “Chainsaw Millionaire” Gives Back

Tiny Lake Lillian Minnesota (population 238) and the surrounding county of Kandyohi will all share in a $6.4 million estate left by a one-time local girl who made good.  This “Chainsaw Millionaire’s” widow left quite a surprise for the hometown crowd!  It’s nice when people remember where they came from and give back to their communities.


The Teddy Bear Lady

She was a tall woman; I’m sure many people might have found that imposing.  No shrinking violet, she was quite stylish being fond of the color red and the latest in costume jewelry.  She was also possessed of a bawdy sense of humor that bordered on the irreverent.   She was an American original from her drive to make it in a “man’s world” long before the idea was fashionable to her classic candy-apple red Cadillac Eldorado with fins that she drove around town delighting in the admiring looks she received from passersby.

Gladys Holm was born in 1909 and reared on a farm in Wisconsin.  At eighteen she took off for the big city of Chicago and soon landed a secretarial job with a little start-up company called American Hospital Supply Corporation.   Gladys counted herself lucky to be able to work for the company’s founder, a man who was very astute in business.   Perhaps he could function as sort of a mentor for her she must have thought.

As time went on, the company did very well and Gladys realized she had gotten in on the ground floor of something really good.  She also peppered her boss with questions about the stock market and what types of investments he was making.  Gladys was determined to follow suit and invest in all the same things her boss invested in, at a much lower level of course.teddy bear

When the company went public in 1951, Gladys was given stock options and put on the company’s executive committee; a move that was unheard of in that day and time.  However, it was still 1951 and Gladys remained a secretary until her retirement in 1969.  She had never earned a salary of more than $15,000 in any given year working for American Hospital Supply Corporation.   But she was known around the industry as a model secretary and often spoke to business women’s groups about the opportunities for women in business.

After her retirement, Gladys began a new and rewarding chapter in her life.  Gladys became “The Teddy Bear Lady”.  Inspired by the lifesaving care Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital had given a friend’s daughter some years before, Gladys decided it was time to give a little something back.  The little something she had in mind was a teddy bear to offer comfort to frightened and hurting children who were often times far from home and facing an uncertain future.  The teddy bears also served another purpose; they allowed Gladys to get close to many families at the hospital and to learn of any financial needs that she could meet.  Gladys would always quietly take care of the hospital costs for any families that she came in contact with who were unable to afford the lifesaving, but expensive treatment the facility offered.

So, Gladys became “The Teddy Bear Lady” as she was called and embraced her new role.  She was also fond of telling staff that she would have a little something for the hospital upon her passing as well.

Gladys was fascinated and inspired by the cutting edge technology available at the hospital and wanted to do her part to assist sick children with making a full recovery and to lead a productive life.

Gladys got that wish upon her passing in 1996.  Her attorney had the enviable task of contacting the hospital’s CEO to inform her that they were the recipients of Gladys’ $18 million estate.  Gladys’ gift would be the largest the hospital had ever received; much more than some of the nationally known philanthropists who had donated in the past.

Gladys isn’t here to tell us how she turned a $15000 a year salary in to $18 million.  Obviously, those stock options back in 1951 helped since the original company she had worked for had long ago merged with a national conglomerate.  But that is not the whole story.  Remember, Gladys’ boss and mentor?  His stock advice over time had help Gladys become a very wealthy woman in her own right in addition to any stock options she may have received from the company.  Just to make sure we all understand:   a secretary turned $15000 a year in to millions!   Anyone can accumulate wealth!

So what can be learned from Gladys?  I believe the lesson here is that mentors are important.  We all have people in our lives that we admire and believe would have our best interest at heart.  We should never be too shy or too proud to ask for their advice.  In the area of personal finance, this is extremely important.  In this information age, we are inundated with financial advice from every corner.  Everyone talks a good game but where are the results?  Nothing beats the good advice that you can receive from someone whose successful life you have observed.  Gladys knew this and chose a mentor whose advice she trusted and respected.  The payoff she received is proof that she chose wisely.

The Guy Who Cleaned Up Montana

Immigration records indicate that his ship “France” landed in New York Harbor on April 5, 1921. He was just nineteen years old and traveling alone coming all the way from the town of Bariscano in Northern Italy. But what was even more astonishing was the final destination noted on his boarding pass; the small town of Sand Coulee just outside of Great Falls Montana.

Why Genesio Morlacci, a kid from Northern Italy, made the decision to travel to Great Falls Montana is lost to the mists of time. I personally think that he was probably a fan of the dime store novels of the time that romanticized the Wild West of America. Perhaps Genesio was looking for adventure or maybe thought Montana would be the place to embrace the American dream? Regardless, Genesio did make his way to Great Falls and that is where our story begins.

Having only a third grade education, employment opportunities were few for a transplanted European speaking little English in the American West. However, Genesio did find employment for low wages working in the dry cleaning industry. He worked long and hard learning all he could for many years to finally realize his dream when he opened his own cleaning company in 1948.

Make no mistake, small businesses are the engine that drives an economy; and most, like Mr. Morlacci’s operate on a very tight budget. Thus, Mr. Morlacci avoided such entrapments as expensive cars and clothing choosing to spend his money on top of the line equipment for his business. After all, if your business is your financial engine you want to keep it in tip top shape! It is obvious that what Mr. Morlacci lacked in formal education he certainly made up for with good common sense.

In regard to his frugality, Mr. Morlacci was quite practical. His motto was simply, “If you don’t need it, you shouldn’t buy it”, and that was the rule he lived by. On the rare occasion he and his wife Lucille dined out, they picked budget restaurants. He even rented out his basement as an apartment. There was literally no aspect of this man’s life that wasn’t cost effective!

After his retirement and Lucille’s death in 1997 Genesio found himself at loose ends. This however quickly changed after he accepted a position as a part-time janitor at the University of Great Falls. Genesio had always valued education having never had one. He was often known to say that having a high school diploma or college degree would be worth its weight in gold. He now had a chance to be around the halls of academia in his own special way; hard at work taking pride in each task completed just like always.

Something about the university experience must have touched this man in a very profound way as upon his death in 2004 at the age of 102, he choose to leave the bulk of his estate to the University of Great Falls to fund scholarships and capital improvement projects. And just how large was the estate of this one time drycleaner and part-time janitor; a tidy little amount of $2.3 million!Morlacci, G.

That’s right, once again frugality pays off. A penniless immigrant with nothing but a dream and a will to achieve reached millionaire status by the sweat of his brow (and investing in real estate, bonds, and a few stocks I’m told).

While some of you may be thinking that this gentleman lived a life of hard work and not much else, I’m sure that is not completely true. The reports of the day just did not bother to focus on how Mr. Morlacci spent his free time. However, one thing is for sure, whatever he did for leisure was done in the most cost-effective manner possible!

Well I have said it before and I will say it again, “anyone can accumulate wealth”!  It is a lesson we learn here at the Surprise Millionaires over and over again. Are you starting to believe it?

Test Driving the “living large” lifestyle

I am very interested in knowing what all of you think of the video below.  The financial commentator’s idea sounds okay on the surface, but in my opinion, “test driving” a lifestyle of living large for a few months could quickly trap you in to living that lifestyle forever – and depleting your nest egg – your thoughts?

The Surprise Millionaire Who Encouraged His Family To Say “Yes”

In my last post we learned about Albert Ravenholt, a poor Wisconsin farm boy who started out life with nothing until he said “yes” to opportunity.  As we learned, Albert and his wife Marjorie lived what only can be described as an interesting and fulfilling life just by embracing the opportunities that came their way.

As Albert was aging and found himself a widower, he began to reflect on his large extended Wisconsin farm family and how distant they had all become.  He and Marjorie had no children of their own and Albert cared deeply for his 25 nieces and nephews scattered about the country. However, Albert realized that his large family rarely got together anymore and many of them were virtual strangers to one another.  This is when Albert decided that it was time for his family to say “yes” to opportunity in the same way that he had so many years ago.

Upon Albert’s death in 2010, his family learned that his trust contained a very unusual codicil.  He had indeed left money for all of his nieces and nephews provided they meet for a family reunion once every two years.  That’s right, Albert gave his family a two-fold opportunity.  The opportunity to inherit a part of his estate (remember, Albert was a Surprise Millionaire) and the opportunity to get to know or become re-acquainted with extended family.

Since Albert’s passing, the extended Ravenholt clan has gotten together back in little Luck Wisconsin, the site of the family’s most unluckiest event to celebrate the life and times of Uncle Albert Ravenholt; the loving and generous man who cared enough to give them the chance to say “yes” to a great opportunity.

The family and their story is featured below: