Frugal woman leaves $7M to Lake Forest College

March 4, 2010 3:52:08 PM PST
Two months ago, Grace Groner died at the age of 100. Those who knew her had no idea she had amassed a sizeable fortune in her long life and it was quite a surprise when she left that fortune to a small north suburban college.

Groner passed away in January. Before her death, she established the Grace Elizabethm Groner Foundation and contributed her net worth to Lake Forest College, her alma mater. The gift? Seven million dollars.

It's the largest of its kind in the college's history.

"I had had no idea it was even possible for somebody such as Grace to accumulate that kind of wealth," said Stephen Schutt, president, Lake Forest College.

Groner graduated from the college in 1931 and worked for Abbot Laboratories for 43 years as a secretary. She lived in a small cottage in the area. Those who knew her say she was very frugal and did not care about material things.

Groner's $7 million dollar estate is the result of an $180 specifically issued Abbott stock purchased in 1935 that she never sold.

Neighbors say that even at 100 years old Grace was curious about life and knowledgeable about current events.

"She was one of the most unassuming people you would ever meet," said Schutt.

Groner volunteered for decades at the First Presbyterian Church on Sheridan Road. Her pastor says she did not have material needs and believed in giving back.

"When she was just 12 years old, her parents had both died, and a founding member of this congregation took her in. I think that's when she learned what Christian love looks like," said Christine Chakoian, pastor, First Presbyterian Church.

The money will go to the students to pursue internships and study abroad programs.

Erin McGinley, 34, a junior from Lake Zurich is a student who benefited from Groner's past contributions to the college.

"I did benefit from her generosity. She sent me to Jamaica last year for a field school, which was definitely life altering and changing," said McGinley.