WWII Vet turns $1K of Walgreens stock into $2M, donates it to wildlife refuge

DIXON, Ill. (WLS) -- A 98-year-old World War II veteran is leaving a lasting legacy that began with a few shares of stock that turned out to be worth millions.

Russell Gremel said he purchased 20 shares of Walgreens stock for around $1,000 in the early 1950s when he returned home from the war. Over the years, the Chicagoan says it has grown to almost 28,000 shares worth over $2 million.

"Women will always buy cosmetics," he explains of why the stock growth makes sense, adding, "and old people need a lot of medicine."

A spokeswoman for Walgreens said the company received a letter from Gremel that he wanted to donate the money because he felt as though he did not "earn" it.

Gremel's dream was realized on Sunday as a nearly 400-acre wildlife refuge was dedicated in his name near Dixon, Illinois.

"I hope that generations of young land stewards and bird enthusiasts will visit and enjoy the sanctuary," Gremel said.

The Illinois Audobon Society said the sanctuary is home to around 200 species of birds and more than 400 species of plants.

Gremel spent six decades giving back as scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 979. Many of those kids-turned-adults still visit. Some help him shop, others stroll by for a chat.

"It feels very good because they tell me I've had an effect on their life," Gremel explains.

One scout named Al Walters even hand-carved a pipe for Gremel-and you can bet he still packs it with tobacco.

Looking back on his life, Gremel smiles. He survived the Great Depression and global war. He's spent his time since giving back.

"Life's a ball... it's fun."
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