Success Stories: Drama Teacher with Modest Salary Accumulates Well Over $4,000,000

Jay W. Jensen was a South Florida drama teacher. His first job as a drama teacher was at Little River Junior High School in 1954—with a salary of $3,250. He then spent a few years trying to hit it big as an actor, but in 1959, he embarked on a 32-year career as the drama teacher at Miami Beach Senior High School—where he never earned a salary of more than $46,000. But published reports indicate he made charitable donations totaling over $4,000,000—nearly $3,000,000 to the University of Miami (particularly its Theatre Arts Department and its Lowe Art Museum) and varying amounts to other theatres and schools. (See: Donor Profile: Jay W. Jensen (at University of Miami); Biography for Jay W. Jensen (at IMDb).)

How'd he do it? I had trouble finding much detail on this, though it may be in part because there are multiple "Jay Jensens" mentioned throughout the Internet—and this Jay Jensen was well known and written up more for his legendary success as a drama teacher than for his success in accumulating wealth (and subsequent philanthropy). The 2006 movie Class Act is about Jensen—but seems to focus on his "inspirational teaching career" and his role working with a number of students at his school who ultimately became big stars. (Admittedly, I have not seen it.)

As best as I could gather:

  • Jensen lived frugally. Again, I didn't find much in the way of details but did read the example that he never owned or drove a car.
  • According to an article at The Motley Fool briefly mentioning Jensen, Jensen "invest[ed] steadily in blue-chip stocks for some 40 years."
  • Jensen may have had some side income on top of his teacher's salary. He continued pursuing his passion, taking on small acting roles and apparently directing some productions outside of his school, but it didn't sound like any would have been much income. As the IMDb biography of Jensen described it, "He acted in the South Florida produced 'B' film, 'Rehearsal For Sin,' and had a few uncredited extra roles in such movies as Racing Fever (1964)," and Jensen "was the casting director for the Mexican production of, 'I Never Saw Another Butterfly.'" It does mention some work with actors that sounds like it may have been outside of the high school, so it is possible he also earned income through coaching or giving private instruction.
  • Jensen may have used professional financial advisors. At a gathering in his honor at the University of Miami, he joked: "There are two very important people here with me tonight: my stockbrokers." But this sounds like it may have been purely a joke (as opposed to a joke with a seed of truth).

Jensen passed away in 2007.

When asked why he gives so much of his financial resources, he quotes fellow Miami alumnus Jerry Herman's Broadway play Hello Dolly: 'Money is like manure. It's got to be spread around to do any good.'
As much as I can really sum up about Jensen: he loved what he did and did it with passion; and he saved and invested diligently and wisely over a long period of time.

Related Posts:

Success Stories: Elementary School Teacher Becomes Multimillionaire Through Saving and Investing

Success Stories: 6th-Grade Teacher Worth $500,000


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