Equally amazing in an era of gyrating financial markets is how Groner amassed her wealth. It stemmed from a $180 stock purchase she made some seven decades ago, her attorney and long-time friend told the Tribune.
William Marlatt says that in 1935, Groner bought three $60 shares of specially issued Abbott Laboratories stock and never sold them. Groner work as a secretary at Abbott for 43 years. The shares split a number of times over the next seventy years and Groner reinvested the dividends, says Marlatt, who says long before Groner passed away, her initial stock purchase had become a fortune.
"She did not have the (material) needs that other people have," Marlatt told the Tribune. "She could have lived in any house in Lake Forest but she chose not to."
And about that modest, white shingle house that Groner lived quietly in for years? She left that to the college, as well. It will be turned into "Grace's Cottage," a living quarters for women who receive foundation scholarships.
Lake Forest wasn't the only college surprised by a generous donation during the recession. In the spring of 2009, at least nine American universities received donations of well more than $1 million each from anonymous donors, the Associated Press reported.
The donations ranged in size from $1.5 million for the University of North Carolina-Asheville to $8 million for Purdue University in Indiana.
"We are just so overwhelmed by the generosity of this anonymous donor's gift," Purdue spokeswoman Jeanne Norberg told ABC News. "And it really reinforces, I think, the goodness of people that is just so uplifting for us." At the University of Southern Mississippi -- which received $6 million from an anonymous donor in March -- the gift came in the nick of time.
David Wolf, USM's vice president for advancement, said that the recession and faltering stock market had forced the university to cut back on scholarships.
"A number of our endowed scholarships will not be able to produce this year any earnings to provide scholarships," he said. "The timing of this gift couldn't be any more meaningful to a university like ours so we could pick up the slack and continue to grow."
Then there's Danny Cottrell, the owner of a pharmacy in a tiny town in southern Alabama.
He decided last year that the town of Brewton needed its own stimulus and that his 24 employees deserved a little something extra. So he doled out $16,000 in cash bonuses. Every full-time worker got $700 and every part-time employee got $300.
Cottrell asked only that his workers donate 15 percent to a charity or somebody who was in worse shape than they were, and then take the rest and spend it at local businesses. To track the local impact of his "stimulus," Cottrell handed out the bonuses in $2 bills.
"I handed them their $2 bills and turned them loose," he told ABC News. "They've done a good job. I've been very pleased. They bought into it. It's really been a lot of fun. It's sort of taken on a life of its own."
The money has been spent on clothing, livestock feed, auto parts and at restaurants and bakeries in the town of roughly 5,500 people.
"A lot of them were businesses that they had never been to before," Cottrell said. "They're like everybody else. They're immediately attracted to the big-box stores."