Modest couple leaves millions to unsuspecting local charities

Gene and Mary Myers
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“Complete surprise,” said Diana Breden, director of Camp Millhouse. “Opened an envelope from the Community Foundation and there was a check for $55,000 in it that we had no idea was coming.”

Generous checks were delivered to five unsuspecting organizations: St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, St. Jude Catholic School, Camp Millhouse, Pet Refuge and the St. Joseph County 4H Fair.

The source? Eugene and Mary Myers. They were a very private couple with a very simple plan.

Gene and Mary lived on a 140 acre farm in St. Joseph County. Mary was a seamstress. Gene was a farmer for his whole life. They raised chickens and sold the eggs throughout the area. They had a modest lifestyle, but they also had a secret that no one was expecting. The Myers were millionaires, and they didn’t have children.

Mary died in 2007 at the age of 92. Gene passed away last January at the age of 95.

“All those years, he must’ve been just saving, saving and saving knowing that he was going to bless people,” said Fr. Bob Lengerich, pastor of St. Dominic’s Catholic Church in Bremen.

“He lived a Spartan life,” said Pat Catanzarite, from Southfield Village. “He wore the same clothes every day. He was the most unassuming fellow.”

“That's typical of that generation,” said Rose Meissner, president of the St. Joseph County Community Foundation. “I think they're comfortable with that sort of living and they just stick with that.”

Meissner helped the couple set up their plan.

“They had multiple organizations they wanted to benefit. By leaving one bequest to the community foundation, they were able to provide immediate resources for those charities,” Meissner explains.

It doesn’t stop there. In addition to the initial checks worth $55,000, the five non-profits will receive annual money from the Gene and Mary Myers fund worth an estimated $10,000 a year.

“$55,000 isn't something that happens every day,” said Jim Caldwell, St. Joseph County 4H Fair president. “And it sounds like it's going to be a gift that keeps on giving.”

“I have no idea who they are,” said Caldwell, “but God love ‘em that they think enough of kids and animals and the farming community that they wanted to invest in the 4H fairgrounds.”

At St. Jude Catholic School, the principal is already looking for ways to honor the Myers’ memory.

“It was absolutely heart-warming to think that someone had thought of us in their passing than in life,” said Stephen Donndelinger, St. Jude principal.

The couple used to go to church at St. Dominic's in Bremen, where they plan to start a remodeling fund.

“We thought, ‘How can we ever get the ball rolling.’ You can't start a fundraiser with nothing,” said Fr. Lengerich. “So we needed something to inspire other people, and we'll be able to use his donation as a matching gift.”

“We don't know the Myers. We never met the Myers,” said Breden.

The timing is perfect for Camp Millhouse.

“We had quite a few things that broke at the end of summer, and a lot of repairs that we're looking at this spring,” said Breden. “We were wondering how we would fund all of those repairs.”

They rely completely on community support to help special needs kids.

“Camp Millhouse is a 501c3 non-profit,” said Breden. “We're not United Way funded and we're not government funded.”

For Pet Refuge, donations are their lifeline.

“Everybody that works at Pet Refuge is a volunteer,” said Nancy Whiteman, vice president of the organization. “There are no paid personnel here.”

The money will help with continued maintenance and operation costs.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you! How nice of you. I don't know what else to say. It’s just like, wow!” said Whiteman.

It was a nice surprise from a simple plan.

“No clue! How blessed, they were. I mean, he raised chickens,” said Fr. Lengerich. “He's going to continue to be with us in his quiet way, building community and bringing people together.”