Editor’s note: The following is the conclusion of a previous column by Gary Johnson.


The small farming community of Wellsville enjoyed the financial generosity of the mysterious newcomer named Dan. After hosting a community appreciation Christmas dinner, Dan’s new business started operating on Jan. 3.

An agriculture support call center was created employing 30 people. The first few days were organized confusion, but after two weeks, everyone settled into a routine as phone calls from across the country were answered by the support staff.

On the other side of the building, a manufacturing group began fabricating shelves for a cosmetic company. The work required a perfect finish to the final product and workers struggled to get the colors and gloss to turn out just right. After a few weeks and a lot of rejects, things eventually settled into a routine as well.

Because of the great flexibility in operating hours, employees would show up for work anytime between 6 and 10 in the morning and would leave between noon and 6 at night. Supervisors were given strict instructions to be flexible in every way. No one ever complained when someone arrived late or left early.

At the end of every week, there was a paycheck for everyone who had worked. There appeared to be just one rule in the factory: If you wanted to collect a paycheck, you had to work. At times when there was nothing for employees to do because machines were down or there were no phone calls, people were expected to sweep, clean, file, paint or whatever else needed to be done.

At the end of two months, the workload began to pick up and there was an additional round of hiring. A diverse group of community members with varying levels of professional skills found a place to work equal to their abilities.

The plant ran until April 20, which was the official stop date for production. Many of the employees really needed the income to continue through the summer. After lengthy discussions, it was decided that work would continue through the summer for those who wanted to stay longer.

In the fall, production picked up again. Dan added two new product lines. Employees now packaged popcorn and fabricated parts for an adjustable seat on a new airliner Boeing was building. At Christmas time, everyone received a $2,000 bonus, regardless of their length of service.

At the end of the year, Dan tallied up the books. The business had lost $300,000 that year. Completely undaunted, Dan continued into the next year.

In early January, employment increased to 150 people and Dan looked at buying another building nearby. In early February, 30 people started working in the new facility on a contract making screen doors and storm windows for government housing.

At the end of the second year, Dan had lost another $200,000. In the third year of production, things looked more promising with a projected small profit by the end of the year. However, a general downturn in the national economy ended the year with a loss. The next year was as bad as the first with a $300,000 loss.

Dan seemed unfazed by all these things. He continued to hire more members of the community and look for new work opportunities. In the sixth year, the company began to show a profit.

After 10 years of operation, Dan’s business had a generation of supervisors and office personnel who understood the ins and outs of the company. They decided to buy the company from Dan, and he chose to sell it to them at a discount.

When the sale was complete, Dan left the community as quietly as he had arrived. People wondered what possessed Dan to come to Wellsville and support so many families at such great financial cost.  

Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, Dan’s ancestors immigrated from Germany and Norway. After his great-grandparents were married, they started farming just outside of Wellsville. During the winter of the second year, times were extremely tough, and the young couple was without food and means to continue.

A nearby farmer hired the husband to help finish off a barn that had been started. A woman who lived in town hired the mother to wash clothes three days a week at a hotel and cook the other days. These seemingly small acts allowed the family to survive the difficult winter.

The next year was better and the couple eventually moved to another farm 80 miles away. Dan’s grandfather was born during that long and perilous winter. He often told his son of the generosity of the people in Wellsville and how they had saved his family when they were completely destitute and hopeless.  

Dan’s father went on to become a successful farmer. At the time of his death, he owned over 1,200 acres of farmland. Dan inherited his share of the estate and 240 acres which came with some strings attached. Dan was to sell the 240 acres and use the money to help those now struggling in the town where his great-grandfather had once lived.

The kind deeds offered by those living three generations ago would now be repaid through the efforts of Dan.

When he showed up in Wellsville, Dan had $2.5 million in his pocket. He spent the first million dollars buying the building, setting up the factory and giving out bonuses that first Christmas to employees before they even started working. The second million was spent absorbing losses each year and purchasing another building to expand the factory.

At the end of 10 years, most of the money was gone, but for 10 years the community received an economic boost and help was given to those who needed it the most. Dan was very careful and did not just give all the money away. He provided an opportunity and required people to work to receive the benefit. Thousands of people in the Wellsville community were affected by Dan’s good actions and his father’s desire to give back.

Some of us may think this is only an interesting story and it does not apply to our own lives. But that is not true.

You do not need millions of dollars to do good for those around you, and you do not need a specific time of the year to help others. With $5 you can buy a meal for someone struggling and spend time talking to them.

Dan and his father were determined to assist those in need and help them keep their self-respect. Everyone at the factory worked, and everyone was paid.

There were times when the pay exceeded the value of what they were doing, but 100 years ago Dan’s great-grandfather stood in need and someone hired him to do a job which perhaps wasn’t necessary and paid him more than he was worth. This small act of kindness made all the difference in his life.


Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson can be reached at 563-927-4554 or by emailing him at plans@bobdunaway.com.