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The Charitable Legacy of Author James Michener

To Michener, how much he had was less important than what he did with it.

James Michener was 90 years old when he died in 1997.  His estate was worth less than $10 million.  However that was only 8.5% of the total Michener gave away during his lifetime.

Michener set as a goal to give away at least 90% of his earnings.  He exceeded the goal.

In an extraordinary 90 years, author James A. Michener went from a Pennsylvania orphanage to the farthest reaches of the world as he helped chronicle and define the 20th century. Author James Michener never forgot the generosity that allowed him to attend Swarthmore College and overcome his poor childhood.

When the author died in October at age 90, he repaid the college and then

An October 21, 1999 New Release from Swarthmore college written by Tom Krattenmaker states:

"Michener, a 1929 Swarthmore graduate, bequeathed his residual estate and the rights to all his literary property to his alma mater upon his death in 1997. As with his previous gifts to Swarthmore, Michener entrusted the College to determine how best to use the funds.

"Michener, who once called his Swarthmore education his "passport into a wild and vivid life of the mind," made gifts to the College totaling approximately $7.2 million during his lifetime. Before his death, he also named Swarthmore the beneficiary of his residual estate, which totals roughly $6.5 million. In addition, he bequeathed the rights to all his literary property to his alma mater, entitling Swarthmore to royalties on sales of his 43 books, including such bestsellers as Alaska, Hawaii, and Space. Those royalties are expected to amount to several hundred thousand dollars a year, depending on sales and other activity in the marketplace."

By any standards, Michener was incredibly wealthy, but judging from what he did with that wealth, it would seem that how much he had was less important to him than what he did with it.



Jerry Hoffman is the director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN.

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa ( via Flickr. Used by permission.

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