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Giving back

“The man who dies rich dies disgraced.” —Andrew Carnegie

My favorite read is a biography. I love true stories of individuals who overcame tremendous obstacles like poverty or poor education or a physical handicap to succeed through hard work and intelligence. We sometimes say of the self-made Sam Waltons and Oprah Winfreys that they epitomize the American dream.

One other thing “self-made” individuals have in common is someone who gave them a break that made a world of difference in their success.

Take Andrew Carnegie. In 1848, his family moved from Scotland to Pennsylvania in search of work. At 13, Andrew was working full time as a bobbin boy, changing spools of thread in a garment factory 12 hours a day, six days a week, to support his family. He made $1.20 per week.

Ultimately, Carnegie made a fortune in steel and became richer than John D. Rockefeller.

Colonel Anderson, a gentleman with a library of more than 400 volumes, gave teenage Andrew Carnegie a break. Anderson opened his library each weekend to boys who worked at the factory and encouraged them to borrow any book. Years later, Carnegie wrote, “Only he who longed as I did for Saturdays to come can understand what Colonel Anderson did for me and the boys of Allegheny.” Carnegie vowed then that if he ever became wealthy, he would imitate his benefactor.

Carnegie used his fortune to endow 2,811 libraries, making him the United States’ patron saint of libraries.

He told young people they should spend the first third of life getting well educated, the second making money and the third giving it away.

Carnegie also donated 4,092 organs to churches “to lessen the pain of the sermons.”

Getting a lucky break, plus adding a dash of humor, may carry one far.