Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — Just think what she could have done for green beans.
Instead, Central Lake native Cleo Purdy became a special education teacher in California and started investing in real estate. When she died in January she left a staggering $12 million to the children in her hometown.
Purdy left the money to the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, which will use it to fund early childhood education efforts in Central Lake and projects that help Central Lake families remove themselves from poverty.
“She was always bragging about Central Lake,” said Purdy’s niece, Nancy Gibbard-Sulz. “She wanted to help the children. To uplift the children. She wanted them all to be lifted up and to know you could make something of yourself.”
And uplift them she has. Purdy already funded an addition to the Central Lake Schools property that houses classrooms for early childhood education.
“It was home,” said Phil Ellis, executive director of the Community Foundation. “She was born and raised (in Central Lake,) and that was home for her. She saw education as a way out of poverty. She felt very strongly that to service the educational developmental needs of early childhood was (a way) for kids and their families to find a pathway out of poverty.”
Things may have been different if her father hadn’t sent her out into the world.
Gibbard-Sulz said Purdy grew up on the 80-acre family farm on Ellsworth Road, graduated from high school and then went to school briefly in Chicago. She soon expressed a desire to return to the family farm and sell green beans.
Her father, Herbert, immediately shot down the idea.
“She called her dad and said, ‘I’m coming home,’” Gibbard-Sulz said. “I’m going to sell green beans like I did my senior year’ and her father told her ‘No you are not. You are going to go out in that world and make something of yourself.’”
Purdy became a special education teacher in California and started investing in real estate. The longtime Santa Barbara resident invested in a small duplex and fixed it up herself. Her real estate career took off from there.
“Cleo always told me that as a young girl she knew she had to buy real estate,” Gibbard-Sulz said. “Her mother and her grandmother would play Monopoly for days, and she always said that this was her first education on how to buy and sell property.”
Purdy knew what she wanted to do, and she did it.
“She wanted to (give) to the kids,” Gibbard-Sulz said. “She just wanted to help children.”