I have linked to the news report here.
The little man shuffling down the alley was wearing the same plaid pants and ratty tennis shoes he wore most days. And like most days he was in that alley looking for things to salvage or sell. This gentleman had seen a lot of things during his long life. Unfortunately, he had experienced the worst that man could inflict on his fellow-man but lived to not only tell about it but thrive in the process.
Joe Temeczko had been a fixture around his Minneapolis neighborhood for decades. No one is certain exactly when, how or why Joe chose Minneapolis as his home base. What is known is that Joe, a Polish immigrant, experienced terrible atrocities during the Second World War as a refugee and was thrilled when he entered New York harbor in 1950 to begin a new life in America.
Joe had a soft place in his heart for New York City, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. He told his friends that at one time he had participated in a Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island beautification and commemoration project. Entering America through New York Harbor had certainly been a life changing event.
Then came September 11, 2001; along with the rest of the nation, Joe reacted with horror at the devastation unleashed on his special city. A man who had lived through so many cruelties in his early life was in many ways seeing history repeat itself, and it shook him to his core. He knew all too well how man’s inhumanity to man could ruin peoples’ lives and futures.
However, unlike a lot of people, this frugal little man was in a position to do something about it. Joe promptly picked up the phone, called his lawyer and changed his will. Joe was well-known as a man of justice and was always angered when “bad people hurt good people”, as he put it. This time, he planned to do something about it!
The call to his attorney was very fortuitous as Joe passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack just a month after making that call. This left his friends and neighbors in a state of shock. This was a wiry little old man with more vitality than people a third of his age. It was hard to believe he was gone. It was also hard to believe the startling things they found out about Joe upon his passing:
- Joe was a millionaire! The self-employed carpenter and handy-man who claimed to have hundreds of customers had amassed a $1.4 million estate. His investment strategy is not known; however it is a sure bet that frugality played in to the equation!
- He left his estate to the City of New York to be used to honor those who fell on September 1, 2001. That was the point of the well placed phone call to his attorney. Joe was so touched and felt such a connection to those who suffered, that he wanted to honor them and the city he loved.
- His life in Europe prior to coming to America is an ongoing mystery. When going through pictures to use for his memorial service, his friends found snapshots of a young, handsome debonair Joe squiring many beautiful young women around all of the European hot spots of the time. This was a man who lived and looked like a pauper in his later years. Whatever happened to him during the war had changed him significantly. For Joe, he preferred to think of his life as beginning when he came to America. Apparently the past was just too painful to think about or share with others.
Joe was quite an interesting gentleman, don’t you think? When I think of Joe the word “resilience” comes to mind. Not only did Joe survive the terror of a world at war and go on to live a productive life, he was also able to offer some solace and support to others who had experienced mans’ inhumanity to man. As long as this world keeps spinning there will be times when “bad people hurt good people”. However, it is a comfort to know that there are people like Joe Temeczko to offer a counter balance.
The New York Times published a recent article profiling individuals that I would classify as Surprise Millionaires. I thought this was just our secret! I guess the word is getting out.
Little Hopewell United Methodist Church has a lot to be thankful for these days thanks to the generous gift left to them by a Surprise Millionaire.
John Ferguson, a very frugal farmer from this western Pennsylvania community left an estate of $2.2 million to the 80 or so congregants of his mother’s former church. An infrequent churchgoer himself, John’s mother was a devout member who requested that the small family estate she left him in 1983 be in turn left to the church someday upon John’s passing. John, the ever loyal son, promised his mother to do just that. However, what Mrs. Ferguson couldn’t anticipate was just how much her frugal son would increase the estate during the ensuing years.
John’s natural propensity toward frugality was legendary. He chose to live in a small trailer home on his property and drive a succession of old trucks that he would purchase for approximately $200 apiece. And what did our dapper millionaire choose to wear? Why non-descript workingman’s overalls of course! He was also fond of flea markets and other discount venues storing the treasures he found on the family property.
John loved to have a daily cup of coffee at the local coffee shop where he would visit with his friends and devour the business section of the New York Times and other newspapers. He was a self-taught investor choosing to invest in blue chip stocks as well as oil and gas. However, the town locals really had no idea about John’s business acumen. Most anyone who saw him in his old truck full of scrap metal and flea market finds would believe him to be a penniless pauper rather than a shrewd investor.
The reality of John’s investment prowess became quite evident upon his passing in 2007 at the age of 71 when the church was informed of their inheritance. However, John ever the shrewd businessman had a couple of stipulations on how the funds could be utilized.
First, the church would not be able to touch the principal but only use the income generated by the estate. This would ensure that his gift would be there to help others for generations to come. Secondly, the money could not be used for brick and mortar building projects. The funds had to be used to directly assist others or for the upkeep of existing structures and institutions. John wanted his gift to have the greatest impact on the lives of others for as long as possible.
To honor John, the church has decided to use a portion of the income generated to address one of John’s concerns in life; the upkeep and maintenance of local cemeteries. The remainder will be used to assist and enhance the lives of others in the surrounding community.
John proved himself to be both a loyal son to his mother’s memory as well as a loyal son of the community in which he was raised. You don’t find those virtues much anymore. Leave it to a Surprise Millionaire to be a cut above the rest!
With July being the month that we celebrate our nation’s birth, I thought it would be great to reach back in time and profile America’s first Surprise Millionaire.
Today, the name of Astor is synonymous with wealth and privilege. However, the background of John Jacob Astor, the family’s founder, was anything but. Born in southwestern Germany in 1763, this son of a local butcher knew hard work and sacrifice during his early life. Beginning at a young age he worked as his father’s assistant in the butcher shop then moved to London at the age of 16 where he learned to speak English as well as the art of musical instrument manufacturing.
By the age of 21 he had immigrated to the fledgling country of the United States of America with not much else but ambition and a drive to succeed. He began by assisting his brother in yet another butcher shop and selling musical instruments on the side. However, it was soon apparent to him that he would not be a success pursuing these trades.
So, like many other ambitious young men of the time, did he decide to marry in to a wealthy family to kick start his dreams? No he did not. Instead he chose to marry a poor but intelligent and frugal minded Scottish girl who would become an invaluable partner in his business ventures.
Mr. Astor was quite aware of the need for fur pelts in England and the European continent
and soon began to ship furs from Canada to the markets overseas making a tidy profit. He later founded the American Fur Trading Company giving the fledgling country of America one of its first export products outside of tobacco.
His success in the fur trade made John Jacob Astor America’s first multi-millionaire. This success came from an unassuming European immigrant transplanted to an unassuming little country that no one on the world stage had expected much from. This is why I choose to call Mr. Astor America’s first Surprise Millionaire!
Mr. Astor became the prototype of the American millionaires who followed after him right down to the Surprise Millionaires we hear about today.
So, can you hear it? That refrain echoing down from the past? “Anyone can accumulate wealth!”
Barbara Dodd Anderson was very wealthy; I mean VERY wealthy. Her father was one of Warren Buffet’s earliest investors which paid off big for the family and it also allowed Barbara to attend private school among other things. However, as you will see in the 2007 video below, Barbara didn’t live an opulent lifestyle even though she could.
She kept her middle-class values of hard work and giving back to others which seemed to give her a very happy life. Mrs. Anderson passed away in 2010 with the bulk of her estate going to her alma mater. There is a lesson to be learned here by all of us potential Surprise Millionaires.