For the second time in less than four months, a native of Missouri who found fortune in the West and lived an intensely private life in an exclusive oceanfront community has left a multimillion-dollar surprise bequest to the California Community Foundation.
A web of coincidence surrounds the $2.5-million bequest of Newport Beach resident Howard Schurz Mollring, announced last week, and the bequest worth $22 million willed by Barbara Stokes Dewey of Palos Verdes Estates, revealed by the foundation in late November.
Despite the difference in the amounts of the bequests, the gifts are the two largest single donations ever made to the foundation, vice president Jennifer Leonard said.
Although friends and acquaintances of both knew the two were financially comfortable, no one seemed to suspect that their holdings ran into the millions. Mollring, who died of heart disease last April, and Dewey, who died of leukemia last October, had no taste for ostentation and never spoke of their holdings, friends said. (Although Mollring died before Dewey, the foundation only learned of the bequest recently as a lengthy probate neared conclusion.)
Had Not Met
Mollring and Dewey apparently had never met before their deaths last year. Dewey was acquainted with foundation officers but Mollring was not.
The Los Angeles-based community foundation has a $60-million endowment and annually gives an average of about $6 million to a wide array of charitable projects in Southern California, mainly in the areas of arts and humanities, education, environment, health, human services and public affairs.
Mollring, 71, an engineer who worked in the aircraft industry before founding his own business, and Dewey, 72, an administrator at a giant engineering and construction company, began the journey to wealth in the postwar boom that fueled Southern California.
Mollring, born in Kansas City, Mo., founded a hydraulic engineering company and derived most of his money from the sale of that firm about 1970, according to longtime family friend Mary Louise Schwennesen. Dewey, a native of Cameron, Mo., was the beneficiary of a large bequest of stock from Ralph M. Parsons, who founded the Parsons Corp. of Pasadena. She was a trusted aide to Parsons.
While both willed the bulk of their estates to the community foundation, Mollring and Dewey chose different uses for their funds. Dewey's gift, in installments of about $1.1 million over 20 years, was unrestricted. It will more than double the foundation's $20-million endowment in unrestricted funds. Mollring's smaller gift, bequeathed as a lump sum, was earmarked for medical research, and his will stipulates that "no part of the funds be applied for any religious purpose."
"He was a good man but he didn't belong to any established religion," said Schwennesen, the only other beneficiary named in Mollring's will, which bequeathed her $75,000. The will, dated Dec. 9, 1976, directed that his body be cremated "without embalmment or casket" and that his ashes be scattered over the Pacific Ocean from a "suitable airplane" while a "simple memorial service" was held aboard the aircraft. Mollring, a lifelong bachelor, had no survivors.
Schwennesen, a friend of both Mollring and his mother and stepfather who died in the 1960s, said Mollring, an avid reader on scientific topics such as astronomy, had once owned two airplanes and "a couple of boats." But, she added, "In his later years he didn't seem to care to spend that much on himself. I was surprised at how much he had."
According to an inventory of his estate, Mollring, who retired after selling his business, invested widely in tax-free bonds, most with a value of $100,000 or more.