By David Hamrick
In a world where news is made daily about celebrities’ crass behavior and over indulgence, and talking heads in the media seem to say whatever inflammatory rhetoric will get them the most press, it is refreshing and heartening to learn about a family, and two sisters in particular, who lived their lives differently.
Carrie and Lena Glenn were born in the late 1800’s on a farm on Highway 321 South in Gaston County. Children of William Davis Glenn and
Sarah Torrence Glenn, they were two of ten children, five boys and five girls. Interestingly, none of the girls ever married.
All ten children went to college (one died while at Catawba College) and became teachers, professors, librarians, cotton executives, and a medical doctor. From a letter written in 1973, Carrie Glenn wrote:
”Our father was for many years an elder in the Presbyterian Church until his death in 1911. He had a large family, and we were brought up to work and serve save and spend only what was necessary, for one never knows what his future needs might be. He never accumulated much money, but spent most of what he had trying to educate his children. He said that if he left them money or property, somebody could take it from them, or they could run through it themselves and have nothing, but if he gave them an education, nobody could take that and with the education they should be able to take care of themselves…”
And take care of themselves they did; all of the children were self-sufficient. Carrie was a graduate of the Normal (now UNCG) and received an M.A. from Peabody College in Nashville. She was a teacher in Gastonia City Schools and a supervisor and teacher in Gaston County Schools. Lena graduated from the Normal and Carnegie Library School in Atlanta, and was a librarian at the Gaston County Public Library.
After retiring the sister
s lived in the family home at 407 South Chester Street in Gastonia, where they lived for over 55 years. They worked, attended church, visited with relatives, and tended their yard and extensive vegetable and flower gardens. Lena particularly was known for growing beautiful bearded iris. The sisters never married and lived simply and frugally, relying on the trust department of The Citizens National Bank in Gastonia to invest their savings.
In 1961, well into retirement, they moved to The Presbyterian Home of High Point where they lived out their days. It was at the Presbyterian Home when they were in their 80’s that the sisters resolved to leave their life savings to a foundation in their names. Around the same time, they also gave the lead gift that created The Glenn Sisters Society to benefit residents in need through The Presbyterian Home of High Point Foundation.
While today the Glenn Foundation is a nonprofit corporation, it was established on August 30, 1971 as an indentured trust with a gift of $25,000. The sisters were afraid that they might outlive their income if they contributed more than that while they were alive. They had faith in those initially selected to administer their “committee,” as the trust indenture stipulated that a leader from the First Presbyterian Church of Gastonia should always sit on the governing board. After their deaths, the Foundation acquired Carrie and Lena’s combined estates of close
to three million dollars. To leave such sizable estates was shocking to those who knew them but it was a remarkable testament to the sisters’ discipline and sacrifice.
Shortly after the Foundation was established, Carrie and Lena wrote a letter to one of the trustees explaining that their sole purpose in creating the Foundation was to try to have any money they might leave to “go where it is needed most and will do the most good”. Outside of the founding document, this is the only guidance the sisters ever gave. From its modest beginnings in 1971, the Foundation has granted almost $7.7 million dollars.
The Glenn sisters lived lives that were, simple, frugal, and charitable. It is remarkable how two seemingly unremarkable sisters could have such a lasting impact, and do so much good, even now, thirty some years after their death.
Both sisters are buried with other family members at Oakland Cemetery on Franklin Boulevard in Gastonia.
For more information, contact Laura Lineberger, Executive Director at 704-867-0296, or [email protected], or at www.theglennfoundation.org. The Foundation may accept unrestricted gifts of cash or cash equivalents. Each opportunity will be individually assessed.