Success Stories: Dry Cleaner and Part-Time Janitor with Third-Grade Education Accumulates More than $2,300,000

In 2004, Geno Morlacci died at age 102—and left $2.3 million to the University of Great Falls, where he had worked as a part-time janitor. Morlacci never had more than a third-grade education. He immigrated to the United States in 1921 at age 19, to help his father run a tavern; he then worked in dry-cleaning for 20 years; and he started his own a dry-cleaning business in 1948, which he ran until he sold it in 1962. He handled every part of his dry-cleaning business—pick-up, delivery, cleaning, and pressing—with his only outside help coming from a cashier. After selling the business, he went into semi-retirement, taking on a part-time job as a janitor at the university, which he left when the university decided it needed full-time help.

How did he do it?

As best as I can tell:

  • He worked very hard through most of his life, with articles mentioning 18-20-hour days (presumably mostly in connection with his dry-cleaning business).
  • He kept the expenses in his business very low, by doing most of the work himself and hiring only a cashier. But he was not strictly cheap—he bought top-of-the-line equipment, thinking this was a better value because it would outlast the cheaper equipment.
  • He was quite frugal.
    • He patched the pants on his pants.
    • He turned the collars on his shirts (meaning he removed the collars, turned them over so the frayed side would be hidden, and stitched them back into place).
    • He and his wife dined out rarely, and when they did, they chose "budget restaurants."
    • He never ha a fancy car.
    • He lived next door to where he had his dry-cleaning business.
    • His and his wife's occasional splurges were measured—an couple of trips to Italy, both times preceded by a purchase of exactly one new dress.
    • As a widower in retirement, he lived in a retirement home that charged about $500 a month for meals, room, and housekeeping—choosing that over an upscale facility.
    • He felt "if you didn't need it, you shouldn't buy it" and was critical of people who "needed, in his eyes, instant gratification." He felt that the government and many people spent beyond their means.
  • He rented out the basement of his home for additional income.
  • He invested—though the only note I found on his approach or practices was one mentioning he had a "fondness" for tax-free municipal bonds. He did appear to have used a professional investment advisor, from Piper Jaffray.
  • His home life was stable—with a 46-year marriage (before his wife passed away).

I don't know squat about the dry-cleaning business, but it doesn't seem likely that Morlacci was earning a huge income there. One writer specifically stated he, as a newspaper reporter for the Deseret Morning News, "probably ma[d]e a lot more than Morlacci did cleaning clothes 18 hours a day." So Morlacci's path to millions seems to be summed up as extremely diligent saving and investing over many years. I wish it was a little clearer what he did with his investments and, for instance, at what price he sold his business and what he did with that lump sum.

Now with some of the previous Success Stories on this blog, folks have commented that it seemed pointless to retire or pass away with so much money and then just give it all away. That's not really my takeaway—and I'm not really trying to judge what Morlacci or others do with their money (though you're welcome to comment on whatever you like!). The point for me is really a broken record: if you save and invest for many years, a million or a couple of million dollars is certainly in reach. And this appears to hold true even if your income is low.

And if your income's not low, you really have no excuse.

(Sources: Will of 102-Year-Old Janitor, Dry Cleaner Leaves $2.3 Million to University; University benefactor recalled as simple, thrifty man; Geno Morlacci set an example for all to follow.)

Related Posts:

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

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


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