98-year-old Russ Gremel purchased $1,000 of stock in a pharmacy chain around 70 years ago. That chain was Walgreens, and Gremel’s small investment made him rich. But instead of using that money for himself, he decided to donate all of his stock to the Illinois Audubon Society, and they’re putting it to good use in the 395-acre Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary to protect wetlands in Amboy, Illinois.
Decades ago Gremel bought $1,007 of stock in Walgreens on his brother’s advice to invest in drugstores, as people would always need medicine and women would always buy makeup. Then Walgreens exploded, and Gremel could have cashed out for millions of dollars. But he didn’t want to keep the money, telling the Chicago Tribune he’s a simple man who likes to eat stew and oatmeal and last drove a 25-year-old Dodge.
The Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary is home to around 200 bird species, rare turtles, and over 400 plant species. The Illinois Audubon Society was able to purchase the land with money from Gremel and a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, as well as their own funds.
Gremel had planned to leave his stock to the Illinois Audubon Society, but then decided to give it away while he was still living so he could see the property they’d buy with it. That property doubles the area of wetlands protected in Amboy.
Gremel said in a video he wanted to use the money to do good in the world. “That’s what money is for,” he said. “If you can’t do good with it, don’t have it.”
He considers nature to be incredibly important; he grew up hiking and camping and then was a scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts of America for over 60 years. Illinois Audubon Society Executive Director Jim Herkert told the Chicago Tribune of Gremel’s donation, “It’s allowing us to protect a really valuable and important piece of property and fulfill one of Russ’ wishes that we could find a place where people could come out and experience and enjoy nature the way he did as a kid.”
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