A Frugal Millionaire

For over 10 years my grandmother Mary “May” Ward suffered from Alzheimer’s.  It eventually took her life. It was extremely painful to see a powerful woman who was so full of life and love succumb to this horrible disease.

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So when I woke up Wednesday morning and opened the paper to read about the record-busting $27 million donated to the Alzheimer’s Association of Orange County, I took a moment.  Then I laid my head down and cried….tears of joy.

What an inspirational donor. Helen Banas was her name.  A very private and thrifty widow who died recently, leaving behind this shocking gift, a game-changer for the nonprofit.  Banas, a widow for more than 50 years with no children, bequeathed her entire estate to the Alzheimer’s Association of Orange County. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Her wealth came, in part, from her late husband who worked for the drugmaker Merck before becoming a stockbroker in New York.  She added to her wealth through savvy investing on her own.  My kind of  lady.

Banas was connected to Alzheimer’s by family.  She was her mother-in-laws caretaker who suffered from the disease.  I saw my own mother do this also for her mother-in-law.  The process is devastating…but there is hope.

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Banas wanted to make a big impact to help people with Alzheimer’s and their caretakers.  She did just that. About $10 million of Banas’ gift will go to the national Alzheimer’s association. The rest will stay with the Orange County chapter, which over the next two years the local group is expected to double its outreach and help roughly 72,000 people, a planned expansion that’s a direct result of Banas’ gift.

Possibilities?  Outreach to Spanish and Vietnamese cultures who aren’t aware of help that’s available from the local Alzheimer’s Association, and the local Alzheimer’s group will build a home for Alzheimer’s patients.

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What I love most about this story, is Helen Banas herself.  A frugal Polish millionaire,
Banas lived in her small 70’s town home in Laguna Woods.  Never drove, took the bus everywhere.  Dined alone.  Quick wit.  Simple life.

What does this woman look like?  Why no photos?  Banas shred her investment documents as well as other personal effects, including family pictures – partly out of concern about identity theft. The only known photo of Banas is a faded picture identifying her as a resident of Laguna Woods, and a DMV-issued Senior Citizen Identification Card.  A woman with game-love that.

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Banas like my grandmother was a product of the depression.   Frugal as all get out. Always well-groomed and fit.  Never a desire to drive, always rode the bus or even better -walked.  Did not need much to make her happy. And yes she had a wit about her and a smile that would make you melt, an Irish charmer.  Helen and May experienced a good life, both from a generation I admire more and more each day.

Helen Banas, you give so many individuals and families of Alzheimer’s a new hope today.  Thank you.

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