WILLIAMSTOWN, New York. In this leafy-green suburb of Buffalo, there are few institutions that rate higher in the eyes of residents than the local public library. “We’re especially proud of our historic displays,” says Library Director Edith Quigley, who holds a Master of Library Science degree in addition to a black belt in karate which she has been known to use on wayward children who talk too loudly. “This month we have a stuffed buffalo, and next month we’re bringing in the first known hairbrush owned by a resident of Erie County.”
But no one loved the library more than Dewey Heuser, a long-time patron who died last week at the age of 91. “Mr. Heuser was always very punctilious about paying his fines,” says Quigley. “If a book was due on Saturday and he brought it back on Monday, he’d insist on paying an extra nickel for Sunday, even though we have historically waived charges for that day on account of townspeople’s Sabbath duties.”
Known for his frugal ways, Heuser lived modestly, which is why trustees were shocked when they learned from the executor of his estate of the size of the bequest he had left the library in his will. “We were totally floored,” says Edward H. Ritchie, Jr., a local lawyer whose father served on the board before him. “We literally did not see it coming–at all.”
When news of the gift got out, the library’s staff was similarly flabbergasted. “We expected it to be like one of those human interest stories in the paper, where some old miser who loved reading leaves you a million dollars,” says Quigley. “Instead, Mr. Heuser lived up–or down–to his reputation.”
Heuser’s direction to his executor was that the library should receive the grand sum of $100, a not-inconsiderable amount to give to a Boy Scout troop or ladies’ sewing circle, but far below the standards set by other cheapskates around the country who vie for eternal renown by saving deposit bottles and going without luxuries in order to give seven-figure gifts. “He was such a gentleman, always very gracious to the staff,” says Ritchie. “I had no idea he was such a cheap bastard as well.”
Heuser’s estate would have been in the mid-seven figures, consistent with other lonely men and women who wouldn’t pay a nickel to see an earthquake and at the end of their lives have accumulated significant sums that they leave to eleemosynary institutions, but he depleted his assets over time in his desire to ensure that almost none of his wealth would go to future generations.
“Dewey was an aficionado of internet porn, and felt very strongly that libraries shouldn’t allow patrons to access such perverted smut on computers that could be viewed by young kids on their way to Saturday morning Story Hour,” says Quigley, as she wipes away a tear she sheds at the thought of losing enough money to double the size of her institution’s endowment. “I just wish we could have found some way to satisfy his desires and gotten our hands on all that cash.”