CHICAGO (INSIDE EDITION) — A 98-year-old Chicago man who dedicated himself to the Boy Scouts of America for the past 67 years has donated $2 million to a conservation fund, all in the love of camping.
Russ Gremel was honored by the Illinois Audubon Society after he donated Walgreens stock he purchased some 70 years ago for $1,000.
The money was used to create the 400-acre Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary in Dixon, Illinois.
“His first desire was to protect the land so that people of all ages can go out and enjoy and learn about nature,” said Joanne Fessett, a spokesperson for the Illinois Audubon Society.
Francis O’Byrne, 55, who joined the Scouts at age 11 when Gremel was a Scoutmaster, told InsideEdition.com the donation was extremely generous, but he wasn’t surprised.
“He’s always been fond of bird study and especially bird study and botany. He feels they’re wiping out all these prairies and marshes, so when he saw the opportunity to buy something he wanted to do it,” O’Byrne explained. “He’s 99 in a couple of months. He could live 5 or 6 more years, or he could live 5 or 6 more days. He wanted to purchase something that will be around forever.”
O’Byrne, who has known Gremel since the 1970s, said he’s always known him to live a modest life: “He’s lived in the same house for 95 years, he doesn’t have air conditioner, he doesn’t have a washer and dryer. You would not even guess he had that kind of money.”
Instead of being married and having kids, Gremel dedicated his life to the Boy Scouts.
He started volunteering with the organization when he was 45 after he retired from being a trial attorney.
O’Byrne said his old troop leader was most remembered in the organization for his generosity. Gremel would often pay fees for local families who couldn’t afford to send their children to camp, his friend said.
He also said that until three years ago, when Gremel contracted pneumonia, the elderly man had never missed a single scout meeting or camping trip. In fact, the last time Gremel joined his troop in a canoe trip he was 95.
Gremel now hopes his donation will go to protecting land for future Boy Scouts to camp on.
“He’s not just an old guy sitting on money doing nothing, this is a guy who’s dedicated his life to kids,” O’Byrne said.
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