James “Dug” Duggan was always thrifty. Like really thrifty.
Whenever the Orlando retiree bought his favorite Italian sub at Publix, he made sure the sandwich included the salami — even though Dug didn’t like salami.
Dug just didn’t like the idea of paying for something he wasn’t getting. So when he bought a sub every Friday as part of his start-the-weekend ritual, he’d remove the salami, put it in a Ziploc and then give it to a friend when he showed up for one of his twice-a-week volunteer shifts at Orlando’s Adult Literacy League the following Tuesday.
Gina Berko Solomon, the League’s executive director — and the lucky recipient of each week’s four-day-old deli meat — laughed this past week, saying: “He wasn’t about to let Publix get anything over on him.”
And it wasn’t just the sandwiches. Dug lived in a meager $95,000 condo and did other frugal things — like separating new packages of Oreos into baggies with two cookies apiece, so he wouldn’t eat too many at a time and they’d last longer.
I tell you all this about Dug to help you understand why leaders of the small nonprofit where he volunteered for more than 40 years were so blown away when he died and left them something unexpected in his will: $300,000.
“Never in a million years would you think that this guy who still wore the same glasses he got in the 1950’s would have that kind of money,” Solomon said.
The League plans on using the gift to jumpstart an effort to buy something the League has never had — a permanent home — something Dug always thought the League deserved.
The money is a big deal for a charity that chugs along on a $550,000-a-year budget. It means as much to this industrious little nonprofit as it did to the man who valued every penny he ever earned.
Let me just say: I love this story.
It speaks to just how good people often are — working tirelessly and quietly to make the world a better place. Dug was an Air Force veteran and former shipping and logistics manager from Illinois who lived alone in Orlando, didn’t have any children and was 82 when he died. He didn’t spend much money while he was alive. But he wanted to make an impact after he was gone.
When friend and fellow volunteer Lisa Warren was asked to sum up Dug, she said: “He loved A.L.L. and made volunteering there his life.”
His nephew, John Young, an attorney in Chicago, said his uncle was a bit of a loner but loved reading and serving others. The League gave him a way to fulfill both passions.
Another reason I love this story is because I admire the League — a small but steadfast charity that has been teaching adults to read for more than 50 years. Operating on a shoestring budget, the League manages to tutor and teach about 3,000 people a year.
We’re talking about moms and dads who want the ability to help their kids with homework. Single parents seeking a job or promotion. Newly arrived immigrants eager to learn the language of their newly adopted country.
These students aren’t just determined; they’re also brave. To ask for help, some have to overcome the embarrassment of admitting they can’t read books their own children can.
And that’s why Dug dedicated his twilight years to this cause. “He loved how this was a little piece toward fixing really big issues,” Solomon said. “He would say: You can’t fix all of the world’s poverty or crime. But this is something you can do that addresses such a tangible piece of that.”
Today, the League is trying to fulfill Dug’s wish and find a new home — thanks, in part, to another surprise. As soon as one of the League’s other longtime supporters learned Dug had left $250,000 for a new home (plus $50,000 for operations), the supporter told Solomon: “Oh, I’ll match Dug’s $250,000.”
I’ve long believed that grace and generosity are contagious. Dug’s gift seems to prove that.
So now, a little nonprofit that was struggling during the pandemic has half a million dollars.
The League still has a ways to go. Solomon has assembled a new-home task force and is working up a goal for their capital campaign. Maybe $1 million. Maybe a bit more.
The goal is to have a place with enough room for tutors to meet with students and for the League’s board to meet — neither of which can be accommodated in the current rented space on Lee Road.
Ideally, they’ll find a location somewhere near or south of downtown that provides easy access to all the people they also serve in Osceola County.
If you want to learn more about the League or help with that goal, visit adultliteracyleague.org
And if you want to make a difference in the world, remember Dug.
Oh, and one last thing about Dug. He didn’t just leave unexpected gifts to the Literacy League, but also smaller donations to about a dozen other local charities, including Canine Companions for Independence, the Central Florida Dreamplex and the Coalition for the Homeless. The Winter Park Day Nursery, for instance, said it was surprised with $14,000.
“You would’ve never known this man had a dime,” Solomon said. “Yet he’s going to help us get a new home.”