KENT, Ohio — A quiet man, the late Carl A. Neff lived a frugal life, which enabled him to split $525,000 evenly among three nonprofits after his death.
Each organization — Hattie Larlham, Coleman Professional Services and Family and Community Services Inc. — has received $175,000 from Neff’s estate.
As an employee with Republic Steel and the Akron Public Water System, Neff lived for decades in an Ohio home he and his family built, according to his neighbor, friend and eventual caretaker, Jack Smith.
“He was just a good neighbor,” said Smith, who helped him grocery shop and take care of his house in recent years. “He worked, and they saved their money. I think he only had five cars in his lifetime. He built his own house, which I’m sure he paid for as he went. He was a real quiet guy.”
Jeremy Baynes, who was Neff’s longtime financial adviser, said it was in Neff’s character to make large donations to causes he believed in.
“Other than these three charities, Carl was very generous with his money,” said Baynes. “He had given tens of thousands of dollars to other organizations, as well. What I loved about Carl was, he was so polite, always a gentleman.”
Neff was born Jan. 5, 1922 and died Nov. 20, 2019, living 97 years, which included service in World War II, according to attorney John Flynn, who is executor of Neff’s estate and also helped him with his will.
Without any sons and daughters, Flynn said Neff — whose wife, Marjorie, preceded him in death — didn’t immediately know what he would do with any money that would be left over after his own death.
Flynn said he outlined what some of the non-profit organizations in Ohio’s Portage County, Neff’s home county, do and left it to Neff to choose among them where he donated his money.
“I typically wouldn’t include a charity where his donation would be a drop in the bucket,” said Flynn, who added the situation was an unusual one for him. That left out large, national charities that raise millions in donations every year. “You don’t see gifts like that from people who live a very frugal life, and you don’t see that many gifts like that from people who are wealthy.”
Hattie Larlham Chief Executive Officer Stephen Colecchi said he is “very grateful” for Neff’s bequest.
“Financial support is very important to the Hattie Larlham, and it’s key to allowing us to continue our mission,” he said. “A gift in this amount is certainly not the norm.”
Hattie provides support to 1,700 individuals with developmental disabilities in Northeast Ohio by providing medical, residential, recreational and work training services.
Colecchi also thanked Flynn for helping Neff decide how to dispose of his estate.
“I think it’s important that we also thank attorney Flynn for providing counsel to Mr. Neff and suggesting that he include Portage County-based non-profit organizations in his estate.”
Mark Frisone, executive director of Family and Community Services, said he was “astounded.”
“Family & Community Services Inc. enjoys a significant number of donors who typically designate their gifts to one of our 80-plus programs,” he said. “However, in my 27 years at FCS, this private estate donation is in the top three in size.”
Nelson Burns, chief executive officer of Coleman Professional Services, said he was also shocked when he heard about Neff’s donation.
“Tentatively, at this point we’d like to spend it on residential support in Portage County since he’s from Portage County,” said Burns, adding the decision how to spend the money isn’t finalized. “Our clients are constantly being threatened with eviction because they can’t pay rent or they’re laid off.”
With COVID-19 handicapping non-profit organizations’ fundraising efforts, a hefty bequest like this is well-timed, he added.
“It’s a lifesaver right now,” said Burns. “A lot of our fundraising efforts are canceled or delayed.”
If he could, Frisone said he would tell Neff how greatly his money would benefit Portage County.
“God bless you, sir,” he said. “Your generosity will leave a lasting legacy in this community.”
Follow Bob Gaetjens on Twitter @bobgaetjens_rc.