Generous donation by Gremel helps make local wildlife sanctuary possible


AMBOY – The dedication of the Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary, 1881 Lewis Road, Amboy, was held on June 4 at the Amboy Marsh just south of Amboy.

The Illinois Audubon Society was host and Executive Director, Jim Herkert, led the program. Special guest was Russell Gremel, for whom the sanctuary is named. Francis O’Byrne, Leader of Boy Scout Troop 979 from the Chicago Area Council in Jefferson Park, quoted Russell Gremel during his tribute to him.

“You have to do some good in this world,” Gremel had told the Chicago Tribune in an article dated the previous day. O’Byrne went on to tell the crowd of hundreds of the “good” Gremel had done throughout the years for the Boy Scout Troop that he himself had joined in 1971. The list was long and included payment for trips to the Boundary Waters, equipment for those lacking funds and personal help to individuals. Scouts from the current troop presented the colors and other troop alumni, one age 72, attended the tribute. Gremel’s “good” didn’t end with the scout troop.

David Benegas, from the Congregational Church of Jefferson Park, also spoke of the “good” done by Gremel, of his generosity and service at the church.

“He has held every position available,” Benegas told the crowd, and is currently the Head of Security. This drew a chuckle from the crowd since the 98-year-old Gremel walks with two canes and is not the stereotypical Head of Security. Gremel, in fact, is not stereotypical in any sense. The son of a stove salesman, he has lived in the same house in Jefferson Park since he was 3 years old. He was an Army lieutenant during World War II and served in the Pacific theatre. He graduated from Northwestern University law school and served in Washington, D. C. during the Korean War. He never married.

During his brief speech on Sunday, Gremel said he realized as a young man that people had

three things: time, health and money. When you’re young, you have time and health, but no money. During your mid-life, you have health and money, but no time. When you’re older, you have money and time, but no health. He wanted to be able to do things while he had the health so he retired at age 45 from his law firm to do what he wanted.

One of things that Gremel did was buy stock. He wanted to invest in America and his choices were based on what he thought his fellow citizens would be spending money on. This plan led to his purchase of 20 shares of Walgreens stock at an investment of $1,007.

He said that ladies would buy lipstick if they had a dollar left in the box and that people would always need the medicines and medical products that Walgreens carried. It was that

purchase that brought Gremel to the Amboy area on Sunday.

That investment, now worth $2 million, was given to the Illinois Audubon Society.

Gremel, a long-time member of the Ft. Dearborn Chapter of the Society, said “I didn’t earn that money, so that is why I wanted to give it back.” He felt the employees of Walgreens were the reason the stock had increased in value and he let them know it. Gremel wrote a letter to the company thanking them for the work they had done over the years to increase the value of the stock he bought. Skip Bourdo, Corporate Vice President of Eastern Operations, was on hand to let Gremel know the letter had gone out to employees. Bourdo, also an Eagle Scout, thanked Gremel for making Walgreens part of his story.

Dennis O’Brien, Executive Director of the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, spoke of the decision of the Foundation for the land acquisition grant that makes the Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary a Legacy Project.

“We continue to be impressed with the thought and care that these dedicated volunteers and the staff of the Illinois Audubon Society put into their work at nearby Amboy Marsh.

It is clear the Society takes the promise of permanent protection very seriously and the Foundation looks forward to a similar commitment to the care of the natural habitat at Gremel

Wildlife Sanctuary,” he said.

The Foundation requires that properties are open to the public and has helped make 26,000 acres available since it was started in 1999. The Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary is a 395-acre property just east of Amboy. It has significant ecological value, providing habitat for native species of flora and fauna. Partial inventories include 197 avian species and 432 floral species.

Less than 10 percent of the site was used for agriculture due to the sandy soils and numerous wetlands. It is hoped, that once restored, the property will be the best surviving example of oak savanna/wetland natural community in Illinois.

Doing some good in this world is an understatement for what Gremel has done in his 98 years. If you would like to join the Illinois Audubon Society’s quest to make Gremel’s vision for the sanctuary that bears his name a reality, contact and become a Gremel volunteer.