Successful Idaho Falls investor reflects on his philanthropy

AP

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  • In a Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018 photo, Bill Maeck sits for a photo with a portrait of his wife Shirley Maeck at home in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Maeck still trades on a daily basis. A friend encouraged him to begin to share his wealth. Maeck has donated to a wide range of organizations focusing on education and the arts. "I want to broaden the views of kids," said Maeck. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP)

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    In a Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018 photo, Bill Maeck checks on his investments at home in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Maeck still trades on a daily basis. A friend encouraged him to begin to share his wealth. Maeck has donated to a wide range of organizations focusing on education and the arts. "I want to broaden the views of kids," said Maeck. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP)

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    This Jan. 4, 2018, photo shows William Maeck's copy of Benjamin Graham's "The Intelligent Investor" in Idaho Falls, Idaho. While other workers on the bus to the National Reactor Testing Station slept or played bridge during the 1960s, chemist William Maeck studied the Standard and Poor's stock guide. Maeck credits the book with his market prowess. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP)

  • In a Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018 photo, Bill Maeck sits for a photo with a portrait of his wife Shirley Maeck at home in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Maeck still trades on a daily basis. A friend encouraged him to begin to share his wealth. Maeck has donated to a wide range of organizations focusing on education and the arts. "I want to broaden the views of kids," said Maeck. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP)

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    In a Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018 photo, Bill Maeck checks on his investments at home in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Maeck still trades on a daily basis. A friend encouraged him to begin to share his wealth. Maeck has donated to a wide range of organizations focusing on education and the arts. "I want to broaden the views of kids," said Maeck. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP)

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    This Jan. 4, 2018, photo shows William Maeck's copy of Benjamin Graham's "The Intelligent Investor" in Idaho Falls, Idaho. While other workers on the bus to the National Reactor Testing Station slept or played bridge during the 1960s, chemist William Maeck studied the Standard and Poor's stock guide. Maeck credits the book with his market prowess. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP)

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) While other workers on the bus to the National Reactor Testing Station slept or played bridge during the 1960s, chemist William Maeck studied the Standard and Poor's stock guide.

The approach was "simple." During the 50-odd-minute ride from Idaho Falls to the desert site, Maeck poured over columns, calculated numbers in his head and marked future investments on the page.

"I had a lot of time riding the bus," Maeck said.

Maeck, 88, retired from the lab long ago, but still follows the stock market. It's earned him a fortune far greater than any Department of Energy salary could provide.

For decades, that fortune has been funneled into dozens of organizations and nonprofits. Last year, Maeck donated $500,000 to build an education center at the Idaho Falls Zoo, $750,000 to renovate the Civic Center for the Performing Arts and $1.73 million to improve College of Eastern Idaho facilities.

Though earlier donations were anonymous, William J. and Shirley A. Maeck Family Foundation contributions have become common in Idaho Falls.

And there will be several more before Maeck is done.

"A friend of mine said 'Give the money away with a warm hand. Don't wait until you die, because you never see the results,'" Maeck said. "So I would rather see the results of it. And I think what we've done has been very good."

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Maeck grow up modest. He shined shoes through grade school in his father's barber shop in Wausau, Wisconsin, a town not much smaller than Idaho Falls.

He eventually studied chemistry at a University of Wisconsin extension two blocks from his childhood home. After graduating, Maeck served in the U.S. Army Chemical Corps "watching A-bombs go off in the Nevada desert" then moved to Idaho Falls in 1955.

Maeck was among the first few waves of people to work at the National Reactor Testing Station, which was established in 1949 and would eventually become Idaho National Laboratory. The job offered a stable income to Maeck and his wife, Shirley, a surgical nurse.

The stock market would become another source of income.

Maeck credits "The Intelligent Investor" with his market prowess. The 1949 value investing book, a copy of which sits in the living room of his unassuming retirement community apartment, was written by Columbia University professor Benjamin Graham, who mentored billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

In 1970, Maeck was familiar enough with the stock market to create the limited investment partnership, WILMAC, that would earn his early fortune. He was urged to create the partnership by a friend from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission who had his own partnership, and who later would become president of a New York brokerage firm.

Maeck said the skills he learned in chemistry weren't very different from the skills that made him a successful investor.

"In analytical chemistry you try to find a little bit of this and a little bit of that I would do the same thing when deciding whether I wanted to buy a business," he said. "All you have to do is some arithmetic."

WILMAC's average return to partners was 17.6 percent. About 50 people typically comprised the partnership, which included Maeck's family members, Idaho Falls residents and scientists across the DOE lab complex.

EMERGING FROM THE SHADOWS

Running WILMAC became Maeck's primary job after retiring from the lab in 1990. The year also marked the William J. and Shirley A. Maeck Family Foundation's formation.

Initially, Maeck gave anonymous donations. Why?

"I don't know. At the time I guess I didn't want my name blown up. I just wanted to do it low-key," he said. "And it worked out."

Because of a friend associated with the facility, one of Maeck's early gifts went to Shriners Hospital for Children. He also donated to local school districts.

Maeck benefits personally meaningful "niche" organizations, often involving educational facilities.

The Museum of Idaho, in particular, has received more than $1.5 million from Maeck since 2002. A significant chunk of the money is funding the museum's current expansion.

It's not just the dollar amount; it's about how the dollars are given. Maeck is fond of the matching grant, wherein the initial grant is dependent on an equal grant given by another organization.

Maeck's $750,000 donation to the Civic last year was matched by the city of Idaho Falls.

Maeck also provides scholarships to CEI, where he took night classes when it was Eastern Idaho Technical College. Scholarships to local high school seniors are given annually; he also set up a program for University of Idaho chemistry students.

The University of Wisconsin's School of Veterinary Medicine has a scholarship named for Shirley, who grew up on a farm and loved animals.

The Maecks travelled extensively, including to Europe and Arizona, where they spent winters. They ran retriever trials together, fished and went to church. Shirley's death took an emotional toll on Maeck, said Terri Frickey, friend and foundation trustee.

Many people benefit these days from charity made in Shirley's name. It's only natural to Maeck.

"If I made $100 selling a stock, half of it was hers," he said with a smile.

Maeck said his support of education and art comes from a long-held desire to expand the horizons of children who come from an insular place.

"This city is very self-centered. It's a community that needs to broaden out wider and wider to get different interests going. Quote me and I'll hang someday, but that's my feeling," Maeck said. "You've got to bring different ideas in rather than having the same thing going on all the time, and the only way to do that is through different people and education."

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Information from: Post Register, http://www.postregister.com

 

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