Good Will for Osgood, Indiana

Finance, Home & Family, Hometown Heroes, People
on May 21, 2000

Gilmore and Golda Reynolds werent spoiled by wealth, and neither was Osgood, Ind., after the childless couple left $23 million to its hometown of 1,800 people.

The money has been entrusted to a private foundation which will distribute grants worth about $1 million a year to local nonprofit organizations. Money already has been appropriated to finish a town sewer project and to buy computer equipment for local schoolchildren.

A gift this large opens doors a small town typically cant budge, says Neil R. Comer, Mrs. Reynolds personal attorney and one of the five-member board that runs the Reynolds Foundation. It doesnt provide the answersthat part still rests with the citizens. But now, Osgood can basically be whatever it wants to be.

The Reynolds lived modestly in a one-bath, two-story stucco home on Buckeye Street, neighbor to an auto parts store and Willys Pawn & Gun Shop. Mr. Reynolds bought a new Cadillac every few years, and the couple traveled the world after retirement, but they werent spenders, friends say. Few in the town suspected they were millionaires. It wasnt until last November, a year after Mrs. Reynolds death, that the town learned it had inherited most of the couples estate (Mr. Reynolds died in 1990.)

The Reynolds earned the money through a series of lucrative business ventures and stock market investments and saved most of it by living frugally.

After the couple eloped in 1928, they moved into a house that Gilmores father had built and passed to them. They owned a Chevrolet dealership, then moved into a wholesale snack and tobacco business during World War II. In 1946, they formed a propane gas company that later was sold to Phillips Petroleum Co. They invested that money in the stock market and essentially retired in 1964, yet Mrs. Reynolds still clipped coupons and pored over weekly grocery specials. Mr. Reynolds, for his part, advised car owners not to buy gas until their fuel gauges dipped below 1/8th; no need to haul all that extra weight.

Townspeople recall that the couple enjoyed a game of checkers (Mrs. Reynolds usually won) while they waited for haircuts at the local barbershop. The two also tracked their stocks carefully, entertaining each other with reports Mr. Reynolds read from the Wall Street Journal as Mrs. Reynolds meticulously tracked weekly trading ranges and closing prices using a sharp pencil and graph paper. Together they pored over possibilities from a steel desk in the basement of their home, nurturing their investments like the children they never had, Comer surmises.

The results are being put to good use. In February, the foundation board awarded $526,906 in grants, including money to purchase emergency rescue equipment for the volunteer fire department, to improve livestock buildings at the Ripley County Fairgrounds, and to help a local theater group fund a summer performance of Forever Plaid.

The Jac-Cen-Del Community School Corp. received $42,000 for computers, and Superintendent Thomas Patterson is grateful for the assistance. I knew money for technology in a small town would be tight, and beyond state grants, I had no funding alternatives up my sleeve to help move us into the Internet world, he says.

Comer says the foundation prefers to award money as matching grants, start-up funds, or a payment series rather than pass out lump sums in a sugar daddy role. Its easy to become lazy. Money changes ones character, he says. Were a town that holds fish fries for fund-raisers. Its tempting to say, Lets just skip the effort and ask the foundation.

Comer, however, anticipates that with proper management, the money should flow endlessly and not spoil anyone.