A Math Teacher Who Hadn’t Done The Math

Another frugal and generous bunch we have discovered here at the Surprise Millionaires is public school teachers.  These hard-working and oftentimes underrated individuals have educated generations of school children rarely receiving the recognition they deserve.  Let’s try and change that, shall we?

Laura Bickimer would be a fine example to showcase.  A Cleveland public school teacher from the 1930s through the 1970s, Miss Bickimer was known for her eccentric personality and inventive ways in which she approached the subject of math.  Trying to initiate middle-schoolers in to the joys of intermediate algebra would be a daunting task at best; but Miss Bickimer was able to make the subject interesting and help her students learn a thing or two by the end of the day.

In regard to her personal life, Miss Bickimer kept a low profile.  She was once quoted as saying, “I have discovered that one’s life can be quite simple and unspectacular, yet full and worthwhile!”  This was a motto she lived by.

Miss Bickimer never married and chose to live in the same home she was raised in until her move to assisted living toward the end of her life.  She lived quite simply preferring to wash her clothing using an old-fashioned hand washer then hanging them out to dry.  It isn’t known whether she splurged on herself from time to time but she was known for being a modest donor to her college alma mater Baldwin-Wallace College (now University).  Miss Bickimer was a 1936 graduate of the college which she attended on scholarship and graduated with a 4.0 grade point average to boot!Laura Bickimer

She inherited some money but her frugality was the driving force behind her accumulation of wealth.  When she began her estate planning later in life she was as surprised as everyone else to discover that she was a millionaire.  This one-time math teacher had apparently not done the math!

Upon her passing in 2009 Baldwin-Wallace College became the recipient of Miss Bickimer’s $2.1 million estate.  Some of the funds will be used to name a math room in her honor.

However, the most wonderful thing about Laura Bickimer is not the fortune she amassed but rather how she chose to live her life.  Even after her retirement, Miss Bickimer spent her days learning new things and giving back to others in her community.   She once wrote, “I try each day to do some act of kindness or have some thoughtful communication that will bring happiness or perhaps enlightenment or solace to someone”.

What a wonderful approach to life!  By being “others focused” Miss Bickimer was able to create a meaningful life for herself and change the world we live in one person, or classroom, at a time.  Another life well lived and another fortune accumulated by a Surprise Millionaire.

Salt Of The Earth

Like I was saying, farmers really are “salt of the earth” great people.  I was touched by another farm couple (video) who blessed their community upon passing.  There is really a lesson to be learned from these folks.  Living a simple life blessed with relationships rather than material goods is really the way to go.  I hope this is something the current generation can embrace and not forget.  I have linked to a bonus video in which people fondly remember the sweet couple.


Sowing Seeds Of Kindness

I think we have learned a thing or two about farmers here at the Surprise Millionaires; namely that they are quite a frugal bunch and excellent wealth accumulators as well.   They also make up the highest percentage of Surprise Millionaires we have discovered so far.   Our latest Surprise Millionaire farmer is no exception and definitely doesn’t disappoint.

Harvey Allison Ordung was a farmer who had spent his entire life farming.   The family farm was located in southwest Minnesota outside the town of Luverne.   Harvey never married spending his life amongst the fields of corn and soybean which made up the 260 acres of the family property.  Harvey and his parents were very industrious and always hard at work making their living from the land.harvey-ordung-1

If Harvey had any regrets regarding his life choices it would be that he never had any children to carry on the family name or be part of his world.  Sometimes it is the very thing that we lack in life which gives us the empathy needed to accomplish some very great things.  For Harvey, that empathy manifested itself in the sincere desire to help rural children receive a great education.

After the deaths of his parents Harvey spent the remaining years of his life helping the local school district by providing approximately $100,000 in scholarships each year.  While this was a wonderful and worthwhile endeavor, it pales in comparison to what he provided to the children of his community after his passing in 2009 at the age of eighty-four.

Fifteen local charities, many of which assisted and benefited children were the recipients of roughly $5 million of Harvey’s estate.  These assets were in addition to the actual farm acreage which he left to fellow friends and farmers.  In total, Harvey’s estate would almost reach the double digit mark!

So how did he do it?  Friends say he was as frugal as they come (go figure) and would never buy new if used was just as good.  Though he lived on his own for several years after his parents’ passing, Harvey never changed or updated a thing.  The house was a virtual time capsule.

Other people mentioned that he invested all of his money in the stock market but no one seems to know what his investment strategy was.  I think we have learned since starting this journey that the strategy is not as important as the discipline of regular and consistent investing no matter what the investment is.

Here is the breakdown of the roughly $5 million Harvey gifted as reported by local television station Keloland:

Ben Franklin Lodge (Luverne) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $58,548.96
First Presbyterian Church (Luverne) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$58,548.96
Green Earth Players . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$58,548.96
Luverne Community Health Care Foundation –
Hospital Fund Drive . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $117,097.92
Luverne Community Health Care Foundation . . . . . . . . . . . .$175,646.88
Luverne School Foundation – Community Education . . . . . .$58,548.96
Luverne School Foundation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $58,548.96
Maplewood Cemetery . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$58,548.96
Mary Jane Brown Home . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$292,744.79
Rock County Historical Society . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$58,548.96
Rock County Senior Citizens . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$58,548.96
Rock County Developmental Achievement Center . . . . . . . . $117,098.92
Shriners Hospitals for Crippled Children . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $292,744.79
Shiners Hospital for Crippled Children –
Shiners Burns Institutes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $175,646.88
Luverne Dollars for Scholars . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $2,927,447.93

Well, another Surprise Millionaire makes an impact on the world around them.  I hope you find the lives of these individuals as inspiring as I do.  I may not be much of a farmer but learning about Harvey’s life and legacy makes me want to sow some seeds of kindness and generosity as well!

Luverne Farmland

She Was Ready For Her “Kodak Moment”

In today’s technology driven world, have you ever been tempted to invest in the next “big thing”? With many everyday people getting rich from the technological tsunami that is the twenty-first century I think we all have been tempted a time or two.

Today’s technological boom is very much like the industrial revolution from the century before. It is in this setting that Florence Dailey came of age.

Florence was born around 1880 and went to work as a secretary at a bank in Rochester New York after the turn of the century. Florence was a young woman on her own during a time when women rarely worked outside the home or earned their own money. This fact alone makes Florence a remarkable woman. But what she did next, puts her in a league all her own.

GDEV 14/58:  Portrait of Florence M. Dailey, c1910s.
Portrait of Florence M. Dailey, c1910s.

Her boss at the bank was encouraging all of the fellas to invest in a new venture started by a friend of his by the name of George Eastman. It seems that George had started a company called Eastman Kodak which had a revolutionary new idea regarding home photography. The bank manager even offered to assist with financing their stock purchases if need be. Florence thought this sounded like a pretty good deal and informed her incredulous boss that she was in! We don’t know what he thought about this young woman wanting to get in on the “dirty” business of investing, but he consented and Florence began to invest.

That’s right, young working gal Florence began to invest in the Eastman Kodak company; the same company that would go on to record via celluloid every family get together, birthday party and prom date for the next century!

At the time of Florence’s death in 1966 she owned 154,000 shares of Kodak at a value of $16 million ($117 million in today’s dollars). However, this fact had been completely unknown to friends and family. This fact was also unknown to Georgetown University and Notre Dame, the recipients of Florence’s estate. Florence had spent her later years in a nursing home due to declining health until her passing at the age of eighty-six. However, her attorney communicated that she wished to leave her estate to institutions that provided a good Catholic education. She believed these two institutions demonstrated this quite well.

Florence was definitely a woman ahead of her time. She worked in a man’s world AND invested in one too. It also shouldn’t be forgotten that she invested in unproven, cutting edge technology for that time which could have been a losing proposition. She was quite the risk taker as well!

Now, please don’t take my profile of Florence as an endorsement for speculative investing. I am personally too much of a safety bug for such things. However, if you have that little bit of maverick in your heart (and a little discretionary money) you might decide to take advantage of that next big idea that comes down the pike. After all, it worked out well for Florence!

Surprise Millionaire Controversy!

A Surprise Millionaire Controversy in New Hampshire!  Two wills, two attorneys and a host of beneficiaries are all vying for an elderly lady’s $1 million estate.   My advice to our Surprise Millionaires is to make your wishes known early, make it legal and binding and don’t change your mind if you can avoid it!

I’m sure this poor lady’s estate will be decimated by the time this is all settled.  Link