Frugal WWII Vet Leaves $3.3 Million to Skid Row Charities

More than two dozen nonprofit organizations working with the indigent and homeless on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles will receive gifts totaling $3.3 million from the estate of a seemingly cantankerous recluse with a generous heart, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Born in Minnesota to Swedish immigrants, Delmer Clarence Kallberg lost his father at a young age, struggled through the Great Depression, and served aboard the USS Ticonderoga in World War II, suffering hearing loss in a kamikaze attack on the ship. After the war, Kallberg, who worked as an attorney for the Veterans Administration in Los Angeles representing veterans who needed legal assistance, married and adopted his wife's son. The marriage fell apart, however, and the son, who had had trouble connecting with the emotionally unreachable and obsessively frugal Kallberg, became estranged from his father until just a few years ago.

"He was a complicated man and stubborn as all get out," said the son, Jeffrey Kallberg, a music professor and associate dean for arts and letters at the University of Pennsylvania. "He had fights with most everybody he knew, including family and me."

After they reconnected, Jeffrey Kallberg saw that his father's frugality, solidarity with the poor and destitute — some of whom were his clients on Skid Row — and emotional distance were products of his Depression-era upbringing and increasing isolation as a result of his hearing loss. After his father died in late 2013 at the age of 98, Jeffrey was astonished to find that his father's long-term investments had turned into a small fortune, which he had left to Jeffrey, independent public television station KCET, and the West Los Angeles VA. "If there are any funds remaining," his will read, "they shall be distributed to the various charitable organizations on the so-called skidrow."

Since Kallberg had not specified which charities were to benefit from his estate, his attorney, Ted Wolfberg, researched and drew up a list of about thirty nonprofits, including the Downtown Women's Center, Inner-City Arts, and Dream Machine Boxing Ring, which will receive bequests of more than $100,000 each. Downtown Women’s Center COO Molly Moen told the Times the gift could help fund a program to aid abused women with mental health issues. "We didn't know his name," said Moen, "but he will have this lasting legacy of caring about and impacting so many people."

"My father was not a man who made friends easily," Jeffrey Kallberg wrote of his father in a note to the charities that benefited from the senior Kallberg's generosity. "But he felt strongly that one of the purposes of his life was to fight for the 'little guy' (as he termed the most indigent of his clients), and it was in this realm that he most easily allowed his humanity to show through."

Steve Lopez. "Man With Soft Spot Leaves $3.3 Million to Skid Row Charities." Los Angeles Times 03/24/2015.