Grace Groner established the Grace Elizabeth Groner Foundation, a 501(c)3 which she endowed with over seven million dollars. Grace's stated intent directed the Foundation to provide financial support for qualified service-oriented Lake Forest College students. Her legacy consists of far more than just money: Grace lived humbly and kept her wealth a secret, leading a modest life dedicated to service. In the spirit of her belief in young people, the Grace Elizabeth Groner Foundation (GEGF) encourages real-world service-learning opportunities, which invite students to partake in the joys of serving others in the community, nationally and internationally.
From beginning to end, Grace Elizabeth Groner lived a humble life. In 1909, she and her twin sister, Gladys, were born on a small farm in rural Lake County, Illinois. Orphaned at age twelve, Grace and Gladys Groner were taken in by the Anderson Family, residents of Lake Forest and friends of Grace's parents. The Andersons loved Grace and Gladys, viewing them as family, and they sent the girls to boarding school and Lake Forest College.
After Grace graduated from Lake Forest College in 1931, she began working as a secretary at Abbott Laboratories, where she remained for over four decades. It was during her first year at Abbott that Grace purchased three shares of Abbott stock for $60 each. She kept that stock for the rest of her life, always reinvesting the dividends. Eventually her $180 purchase would be worth millions of dollars and would fund the Grace Elizabeth Groner Foundation.
During the Great Depression, Grace learned to live frugally, and for the rest of her life she continued to live humbly. She lived in a small one-bedroom cottage. After her car was stolen, Grace walked instead of buying another car. And even during old age, with walker in hand, she would tend her garden.
Because of her lifestyle, Grace's fortune came as a surprise to nearly all who knew her. After Grace passed away in 2010, at the age of 100, Lake Forest College and the town of Lake Forest discovered that she had left her entire estate to a foundation she had formed years before her death. Newspaper headlines dubbed her “the secret millionaire”: between stock splits and reinvesting her dividend payments, Grace’s three shares of Abbott stock had grown into over 100,000 shares, worth a total of $7.2 million.
Grace's greatest passion was service. She never forgot the gift of education given to her by the Andersons, and she often donated anonymously to those in need. She also volunteered as a secretary at Barat College in Lake Forest and the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest. Grace’s passion for service and education is reflected in the foundation she left behind: she instructed that her wealth be used to benefit students of Lake Forest College by funding service learning opportunities, which include internships, international study, and service projects.
Grace knew she wanted to help improve the lives of young people, and the Trustees of the GEGF are implementing her wishes. Qualified Lake Forest College students may apply to receive grants to pursue unique service learning opportunities. In addition to funding such programs, Grace also entrusted to the GEGF the cottage in which she lived. The Trustees annually invite two female Lake Forest College seniors to reside there as Grace's guests. Finally, since Grace accrued her wealth through a pharmaceutical company, the Foundation may also provide grants to assist a Lake Forest College graduate to attend Rosalind Franklin University’s College of Pharmacy in nearby North Chicago. All of the programs funded through the GEGF include a service component, continuing Grace's commitment to service.
Today, many Lake Forest College students are receiving the benefit of her generous gift, a gift that will allow students to pursue their academic and career goals while serving others. These students will go out into the world as Grace would have intended: experienced and ready to excel in their chosen field and to serve the people they meet along the way.
Grace’s legacy lives on through the thousands of Lake Forest College students and graduates who will benefit from her generosity and follow in her footsteps of service.
Grace with her twin sister, Gladys
Grace (second from left) at Lake Forest College in 1928.
In the early 1930s, Grace purchased three shares of Abbott stock for $60 each. This investment would be worth over $7 million in 2010.
Today, Grace's generous gift enables Lake Forest College students to engage in exciting service opportunities.