Money

How this New Jersey teacher quietly amassed $1 million fortune—then left it to special education students

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A special education teacher quietly amassed a $1 million fortune and bequeathed it to a New Jersey public school district to help the special education students she spent her career teaching. Now the money is being put to use via a scholarship for the 2019-2020 school year.

Around 10 years ago, retired special educator teacher Genevieve Via Cava told Dumont Public School District superintendent Emanuele Triggiano that she was going to donate a million dollars, according to NorthJersey.com.

"I thought it was a joke," Triggiano told NorthJersey.com. "But then we got the paperwork."

"I was not shocked she would donate something, I was shocked by the number," Triggiano, tells CNBC Make It. "She was a teacher here, very unassuming, very modest...[and] that's a large sum of money for anyone."

During her life, Genevieve Via Cava quietly socked away savings, and after her passing in 2011, left the million-dollar gift to the Dumont Board of Education. Her will instructed the money to be used to benefit special education students in the Dumont school district, located in Bergen County, New Jersey, where she worked for nearly 45 years. The Dumont public school system includes five schools, and serves students in grades kindergarten through 12th, according to its website.

Triggiano tells CNBC Make It the schools received the check within the last month or so, due to legalities being worked out and processes put in place. The money will be doled out in the form of scholarships: Beginning with the 2019-2020 school year, one special education student from the school system who is pursuing a post-high school education will be eligible for a $25,000 scholarship. The money, courtesy of Via Cava's gift, will fund scholarships for years to come, according to a report in NorthJersey.com.

Via Cava, who had no children, began at the school district as a regular and special education teacher in 1945. She had a reputation of being kind and generous, according to NorthJersey.com. Both strangers and former students described the former teacher as very likable, noting her sense of humor, good memory and ability to talk to anyone.

Her generosity didn't end with the work day. NorthJersey.com reports that she would befriend parents, referring them to after-school groups aimed at helping special education students transition to daily life, and at times, helped former students find jobs.

Via Cava was also reportedly known for being a super-saver, even refusing to purchase hearing aids when she began to lose her hearing.

"I asked her what she was saving for, since she could afford it, and it would change her life for the better," Richard Jablonski, a close friend of Via Cava and executor of her will, told NorthJersey.com.

According to Jablonski, it had to do with her growing up during the Great Depression, which "really left a mark on her," he told the publication.

This isn't the first time a seemingly average person has donated a shocking — and substantial — gift.

Sylvia Bloom, a secretary, amassed a multi-million dollar fortune by living modestly and investing wisely. After the 96-year-old passed away in 2016, her family and friends learned about her wealth, and she distributed $8 million in her will towards charitable causes. Like Via Cava, Bloom was a part of the generation who had been put through trying times during the Depression, which reportedly had an impact on her view towards money and empathy.

Other noteworthy posthumous philanthropic donations include Ronald Read's. The one-time janitor and gas station attendant built an $8 million fortune by budgeting and investing, and left most of his wealth to his local library and hospital after he died.

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