98-year-old man donates stock now worth $2 million to wildlife sanctuary

The Chicago man bought $1,000 worth of stock in 1953 and it grew to millions.

Stock he bought for just $1,000 about 70 years ago -- now worth more than $2 million -- is going to the birds and other wildlife in Illinois. Gremel has donated the stock to the Illinois Audubon Society, which dedicated a 395-acre wildlife sanctuary in his name.

The people he's worked with over the years spoke about his contributions.

"He's an American Hero, he's my hero and a hero to so many others," said Tom Clay, former executive director of the Illinois Audubon Society. "He has a twinkle in his eye, and doesn't miss a thing when talking to him."

Gremel's love for nature started when he was a boy himself who spent a lot of time camping and fishing. In 1965, he joined the Illinois Audubon Society and began teaching scouts the importance of land conservation and stewardship.

Boy Scout member, Francis O'Byrne joined the troop in 1971.

"Russ was my mentor and he taught kids not just about nature, but also how to read, write cursive and how to think," he said. "He used to make us play math games and we eventually became great at understanding math quizzes."

O'Byrne said that Gremel's teaching methods were quite different than most of the other scoutmasters. Instead of giving the answers to questions away, he asked his scouts to think and try multiple times until they came to the right answers on their own.

His scout requirements were also much stricter than others, O'Byrne added. Gremel required everyone to hike specific trails and learn certain techniques. He said that Gremel didn't allow his scouts to eat junk food or leave their meals unfinished and the scouts had to look out for each other. If one scout didn't finish his meal, the whole group would lose their dessert.

So many years later, Clay said he'll never forget how glad he was to receive a phone call from Gremel. The long-retired scoutmaster told O'Byrne that his health was declining and he wanted to make a gift to society while he was still able. He asked O'Byrne if the Illinois Audubon Society could find a piece of land to protect that could be open for the public to enjoy.

That's exactly what they did. A piece of land was purchased from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, and it became the new Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary.

"I hope that generations of young land stewards and bird enthusiasts will visit and enjoy the sanctuary," he told the Illinois Audubon Society after the park was dedicated.

The sanctuary is located in Dixon, Illinois and provides a home for a wide variety of plants and animals.