More than a dozen different community colleges across Washington State were shocked to find a check worth $550,000 sitting in their mailboxes last month.

The checks were courtesy of Eva Gordon, a 105-year-old woman from Oregon who passed away in June with a secret $10 million fortune she had amassed entirely through savvy investing.

“A lot of people didn’t know the wealth she had. If there was a coupon for two-for-one at Applebee’s, she was all about that,” John Jacobs, her godson and estate representative, told Renton College representatives. “She liked seeing students working, earning and doing things. Her goal was to provide an opportunity for those folks who could ill-afford it, whether vocational training or an academic skill.”

The donation has been hailed as the single largest financial contribution to community colleges in the history of Washington state.

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Renton Technical College, one of the 17 lucky schools to receive a donation from Gordon’s estate, announced it would use the money to set up a grant and scholarship fund for underprivileged students, particularly those with financial barriers to attending school.

“At RTC many of our students are first-generation college, single parents, immigrants, or working in order to pay for school,” said Stan Kawamoto, RTC Foundation board president. “The true cost of college goes beyond paying for tuition, especially in King County where the cost of living is high. When you’re a working parent, or the first in your family to go to college and need transportation to get to school, your costs are much higher.”

Ed and Eva Gordon — Photo by John Jacobs

Never having attended college herself, Gordon had a passion for education and childcare, and donated her time and money during her lifetime to different child education programs.

Jacobs informed the schools that while there are no stipulations in Gordon’s will and testament for how the money should be used, she expressed her preference for the money to help the disadvantaged students of her adopted home state.

An American Story

Gordon moved to Seattle after high school where she started working as a trading assistant in an investment firm.

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Her $10 million fortune, hidden entirely from her friends’ knowledge, was amassed over decades of buying and keeping stock with long-stable financial returns in now-famous Northwest companies such as Nordstrom, Starbucks, and Microsoft.

In 1964, she married stockbroker Ed Gordon, but the two never had children. Jacobs recounted that they had lived a reserved lifestyle, and that it was only in the final decade of her life that the stocks she held onto for so long really began to grow.

Jacobs credits his godmother’s monumental posthumous donation to Gordon being a person “with a tremendous heart [who] liked to throw a rope to help people climb.”

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