Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 55° Cloudy
News >  Nation/World

Banker Helps Town, Even After His Death $12 Million Legacy Will Go Toward Happiness Of Residents

Associated Press

During the Depression, Harold J. Englehardt went from farm to farm, raising money for a new bank. Over the years, the bank president made deals on a handshake, dressed up as Santa Claus at Christmas and passed out Halloween candy in a top hat.

Everyone suspected he was wealthy and knew he was generous, but not this wealthy or this generous: At his death, he left $12 million, the bulk of his estate, to make life better in this western Michigan town of 4,000.

Tuesday’s announcement brought quick ideas for how to spend the money.

“Wow!” said Marlene McCormick, a secretary for a Main Street dentist. “We’ve always wanted a community pool around here.”

“I’d sure like to see more activities for kids that don’t cost the parents a lot,” said Linda Hamp, a clerk at Springrove Variety store.

Englehardt died April 1 at age 96. His gift will be used to create a fund that will distribute about $500,000 in grants each year.

His will directs a five-member committee - his great-nephew, a bank executive, the city manager and school leaders - to find projects that fit his broad goals.

He mentioned education, programs for the poor, nonprofit groups and religious organizations, said James Bosserd, president of FMB State Savings Bank.

“I told him, ‘When the fund is established, Lowell’s going to remember you for a long time,”’ great-nephew John Darling recalled. “He said, ‘That’s good. I really love Lowell.”’

Lowell, 15 miles east of Grand Rapids, is mostly a bedroom community for people who work elsewhere. The heart of Main Street is a half mile long, stocked with antique shops, a lunch counter, a five-and-dime and other businesses.

Englehardt moved here from eastern Michigan in 1922 to become a cashier at Lowell State Bank, which folded in 1929 after the stock market crash. Out of work, he bought the ailing Lowell Granite Co., which made grave markers.

But his real passion was banking, and he traveled to area farms trying to raise $2,000 each from investors.

By 1934, State Savings Bank was open on Main Street. Even in his 80s, Englehardt still ran it.

“The property I built my house on was bought from him on a handshake,” Mayor William Thompson said. “That’s the kind of man he was.”

In 1986, Englehardt and other investors sold the bank to FMB.

Despite Englehardt’s wealth, he and wife, Mildred, lived like many Lowell residents, in a modest two-story house built before World War II. They had no children, and she died in 1982.

“When people think of money, they think of a million-dollar mansion. But what is that, really? It’s nothing of importance,” he told Myers, the bank vice president, shortly before his death.

“Helping people - that is important.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.