Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Donor built millions on $11 an hour

Donor built millions on $11 an hour

RICHLAND, N.J. - Paul Navone worked in mills in and around Vineland for 62 years, never earning more than $11 an hour. He buys his clothes in thrift shops. He doesn't own a phone. And he doesn't have a TV: The last thing he recalls watching was Neil Armstrong walking on the moon in 1969.

Yet through a combination of frugal living and smart, disciplined investing, the 78-year-old retiree from nearby Millville was able to give $1 million to Cumberland County College last month.

And on Wednesday, at a gala to honor major donors, Navone was recognized for a $1 million gift to St. Augustine College Preparatory School in Richland, Atlantic County.

"It's my pleasure," said Navone, smiling into a small sea of flashbulbs and TV cameras at the celebration.

Navone, a lifelong bachelor who never had children and lives alone, is said by those who know him well to be both slightly overwhelmed by and totally digging his unexpected time in the spotlight.

He won't reveal his net worth, but Navone still enjoys what he calls a "comfortable cushion" of funds. It's more than enough for breakfast with his retiree friends most days at McDonald's, where he calls a bingo game one morning a week; for more used CDs; for filling up the tank of his '88 Isuzu SUV to make daily trips to the library or the mall.

"I never denied myself anything," Navone, smallish and spry, said at the St. Augustine gala.

Growing up "church mouse" poor in Depression-era Vineland taught this son of Italian immigrants never to want too much and to hoard money whenever it came his way. Navone's father was a laborer on the railroad. His mother was a homemaker who, with her five children, tended the family's small farm.

The day he turned 16, Navone left the eighth grade and applied for a factory job at Wheaton Glass in Millville. When he got his first paycheck two weeks later - Navone was earning 75 cents an hour - he thought he was a Rockefeller.

"I was in seventh heaven," he said. "I had always wanted a long overcoat, and I got it."

After that indulgence, Navone, who lived with his parents, began to squirrel away his hard-earned wages.

At 21, he joined the Army and spent two years assigned to the base post office in West Germany. Back home, Navone moved in with an older sister until he had saved $6,500. With that stake, he bought his first property. He moved into one half and rented out the other.

"I lived on the income the one unit provided me, and I saved my wages from work," Navone said.

Not just saved, invested. He acquired a second rental property, then a third. Eventually, with the advice of stockbrokers, Navone expanded his investments.

"Paul has always been the perfect client. He gave me money and never took it out," said his broker of 20 years, R. Douglas Smithson, senior vice president for investments at Wachovia Securities in Vineland. "He took my advice, he stuck to a plan, and he reaped the benefits of it."

Even now, with ample money for bling, Navone prefers the simple life. He lives alone in a small, single-family house in Millville. And although some recent accounts have described him as a bit of a recluse, that's not quite accurate.

"He's really quite charming and witty," said Sue Ann Perry, executive director of the foundation at Cumberland County College, who lunches regularly with Navone.

"Paul doesn't let many people close," Smithson said. "He has good, close friends. There just aren't too many of them."

Smithson can recall being inside Navone's house only once, years ago. When he needs to speak to Navone, Smithson has to drive to his client's house or drop a note in the mail asking him to call.

His is a contented life, Navone said. He has never missed radio or TV. "I have no need for them," he said.

"Early on, shortly after I went out on my own, I bought a small television," he recalled. "I only had it a short time, and I seldom looked at it."

He prefers listening to the radio at night, or one of his hundreds of CDs. "Any kind of music, except I'm not particular for jazz," he said. "I like big band or serious stuff."

Navone loves newspapers, but he has never read a book in his life. "I don't know the first thing about books," he said, almost proudly.

He has never dated, which he attributes to a long-ago trauma.

"This is rather personal," Navone said, beginning a tale about a girl he had a crush on as a 16-year-old. She contracted tuberculosis and died. "After that, I was always afraid," he said.

His clothes? "Everything I'm wearing is from thrift shops," he said, waving his hand like a wand over his outfit: off-white slacks, a wool fisherman's sweater, and loafers.

"Well, maybe not my underwear and socks," he said.

During his years in factory and mill work, Navone never aspired to a management job and life wearing a necktie.

"I punched a time clock every day," he said. "Salaried people are committed for 24 hours a day. If something breaks down, they have to go in and fix it, and they still only get their agreed-upon wages."

When he began to give away his money, nobody was more surprised to learn of his wealth than the friends who thought they knew him.

"They're shocked," Navone said, laughing. "I said, 'What am I supposed to do, wear a plaque on a string around my neck that says, "I'm rich"?' "

Why is Navone giving away his money now?

For years, Smithson urged his client to draft a will. Otherwise, the broker said, a court would divide up his estate. But Navone didn't know where he wanted the money to go.

"Six months ago, he came to me and said, 'I think we need a will,' " Smithson said. He said he wanted to do something with his money that was sure to produce "value."

After considering various options, Navone settled on St. Augustine Prep and Cumberland County College, a surprise to both schools.

At the college, where Smithson is on the board of the school's foundation, the newly refurbished Healthcare Education Center will bear Navone's name. At St. Augustine, which just opened a $21 million multipurpose complex, the Olympic-size pool is now known as the Navone Pool, dedicated to Novone's parents, Secondo and Adele.

"I never had the pleasure of a swimming pool," said Navone, who also recently presented houses to a local Catholic church and museum.

As he made his way back to the gala at the high school the other night, the mild-mannered philanthropist mulled what financial advice he might give others.

"My motto back then without realizing it - and it is now - is that I'll work for the money, and then I want the money to work for me," he said.

Contact staff writer Joe Logan at 856-779-3220 or

A Generous Gift From A Frugal Giver

Retired Factory Worker Paul Navone Saved His Money For 50 Years And Then Gave It Away

Paul Navone spent his life working in mills, never earning more than $11 an hour. Yet he managed to save enough money to donate $1 million to a New Jersey college and another million to pay for a high school swimming pool, Friday, Jan. 18, 2008. (CBS)

(CBS) At a ceremonial dinner at New Jersey’s St. Augustine College Preparatory School, everyone complied with the dress request for coat and tie.

Everyone but Paul Navone.

Navone, 78, showed up in a sweater he’d bought at the Salvation Army for $3.

"Everything I had on was from a thrift shop. As it is where I'm sitting right here now," Navone says.

Fact is, this frugal retired factory worker would never spend money on new clothes, vacation or swanky meals. Really. The only reason he came to this dinner honoring the school's rich new benefactor -- is because he is the school's rich new benefactor.

So begins the story of the unlikely philanthropist.

Navone was born dirt poor and never made more than $11 an hour. He put in 50 years at the glass factories in Millville, New Jersey, working all the overtime he could get.

“I saved. Why would I go home?” Navone asked CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman. “I didn’t have a life.”

He didn’t have a wife or children or a phone or a television. All of which are reasons he was able to save most of his paycheck and let it grow.

"Different people have asked me, 'What were you saving for?' Really, never in my life did I save for a specific purpose," says Navone.

Until, at 78, he finally gave it some thought. He drove over to the local Catholic high school where they were trying to raise money for a swimming pool - and made a huge splash.

The reaction, says Navone, was total amazement.

As a result of all the compounding interest, Navone was able to donate a million dollars for what is now the Navone Pool.

He also gave another million dollars to Cumberland County College for their new nursing education program.

Paul says that it feels good to be rid of those savings -- perhaps because after all these years he figured out what he'd been saving for.

“What I invested in is enriching people’s lives,” says Navone.

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