Oregon Curmudgeon Bequeaths Millions to Build Youth Sports Park

Wesley Howard, a recluse who was considered the meanest man in Medford, Oregon, during his lifetime, surprised his neighbors by bequeathing an estate worth more than $11 million to construct a youth sports park on his sixty-eight acre farm, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Howard, who died of a stroke earlier this year at the age of 87, never married or left Oregon. He lived his entire life in a century-old farmhouse, retrieved his water from a hand-dug well, and used an outhouse. The farmhouse, which hasn't been painted in fifty years and is partly covered in moss, attracted curiosity from local children, who would frequently sneak onto the property to eat fruit from the orchards, hunt for quail and pheasant, and hit golf balls to break windows. Howard was known to chase them off the farm with a shotgun in hand.

According to documents filed by Howard's attorney, the estate includes his farm, valued at $8.2 million; ten more acres nearby worth $1.8 million; municipal bonds worth well over $1 million; and more than $70,000 in a checking account. The hermit was also a packrat: The house was filled with bundled newspapers and magazines dating back to the early 1900s; his boyhood toys, including cast-iron blocks and a slingshot; and antique pieces such as oil lamps and butter churns. An auction of the items recently drew more than $1,200 and raised another $70,000 for the Howard Memorial Sports Park.

The gift for a new sports park left Medford residents stunned. "We'll never know if Wes Howard had a Scrooge-like epiphany or if there was always a charitable soul hidden beneath his gruff exterior," said an editorial in the Medford Mail Tribune. But a few of Howard's neighbors believe he was always a gentle and private man who was constantly harassed by children. Ivan and Twyla Bryant, who lived across from Howard for more than forty years, recalled that any child brave enough to knock on his door on Halloween would get an apple, pencil, and maybe a smile.

Tomas Alex Tizon. "He Let His Millions Do the Talking." Los Angeles Times 08/20/2003.