Greek millionaire Steven Zonas, who died frugally in Cincinnati in 1980, has left behind a fortune for the sick and underprivileged of his native village in central Greece.
The village of Mexiates in Phthiotis has benefited from his estate and was left with nearly $1.6 million in stocks when he died at age eighty-seven. Dividends and interest put his estate at more than two million dollars.
“It has been 42 years since his death and 32 years since money started flowing into the village,” Kostas Christopoulos President of the Steven Zonas Foundation that manages the endowment told the Athens-Macedonia News Agency (AMNA).
According to Christopoulos, the manager of the shares is a bank in the United States that sends the profits of those shares to Greece each year for the needs of the village. These might include educational and medical necessities as well as financial help for the needy and orphans.
Zonas came to Cincinnati in the early 1900s. Those who knew him say he didn’t spend much money, wore tattered suit jackets, and lived in a $100-a-month hotel room, an Associated Press report said at the time.
He owned a small restaurant for a time and later washed dishes and cooked chili.
Village in Greece benefited from millionnaire’s will
Since 1990, the village has benefited with more than 2.5 million euros ($2.67 million). “Schools, kindergartens, churches have been built, [and] enormous help has been [contributed] to the education of children,” Christopoulos says.
He adds that “when the stock markets in America do well, the returns reach up to $180 thousand a year. But there are times when returns drop to just $15 thousand,” he adds.
Most of the money received each year is used to support those who are most in need, especially students.
“Soon the primary school in the village will be equipped with projection systems and IT laboratories, with music and sports facilities, so as to become a model of infrastructure,” Christopoulos told AMNA.
He added that, thanks to the will of Steven Zonas, life in the village was revived, as immigration to larger cities and abroad was significantly reduced during the last decades.
The will left behind by the Greek benefactor was hotly contested for almost eight years in Cincinnati courts. In August 1987, the 1st Ohio District Court of Appeals eventually ruled that a will purportedly signed by Zonas in Chicago a month before his death was a forgery.
That document named Ernie Doland, a former manager of a restaurant where Zonas received free meals, executor of the estate. The will accepted by the Court was written up in secret when Zonas visited Greece in July 1980.
Watch a video from the village of Mexiates below.