'Working Class' Philanthropist In Millville

Here’s a story of a multi-millionaire philanthropist, who never made more than $11 an hour in the 62 years he worked and does not own a TV or have a phone.

He can’t remember the last time he owned a television. The last thing he remembers watching on TV, Navone said, was the NASA moon landing in 1969.

He applied for his first job, at Wheaton Glass, upon becoming eligible to work on his 16th birthday. He said he was amazed at his first hourly wage – 75 cents – and thought it was a mistake. He said nothing and waited the two weeks to his first paycheck, and when he saw that the hourly wage was no mistake, he was elated.

What a great man to do what he did, and continues to do. And what a country to make it possible. Not a better example of how making the right choices, like making bad choices, can change your life.

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Although he was only schooled to the eighth grade, 78-year-old city resident Paul Navone has had a lifelong love affair with numbers.

It was that passion for math – or “figures,” as he likes to call it – that saved him from getting bored with his longtime factory job as a quality control technician at a local manufacturing plant.

Aside from keeping the drudgery at bay, it also proved to be a considerably lucrative relationship.

Although he never made more than $11 per hour in the 62 years he worked, Navone – who has neither a phone nor a television at his home – is a multimillionaire.

He gave away $1 million of his wealth earlier this month to Cumberland County College. And only weeks later, on Jan. 9, another school in the region is slated to announce that Navone has made yet another equally large gift.

At the McDonald’s restaurant on High Street on Sunday morning, Navone expressed surprised delight at the interest people have taken in him. With eyes twinkling, he wondered why anyone would think it exceptional that a wage earner with an unglamorous job would be able to amass such a fortune without it coming from a source like inheritance.

“Mine came from hard work,” he said.

According to his broker, Navone earned his wealth through frugal living coupled with what Navone described as “making the money work for (him).” He invested in stocks and bonds and always reinvested his returns, rarely taking any out of the market.

Upon learning more about Navone, however, his life story becomes increasingly intriguing. Navone never married and has always lived alone – he described himself as a “loner, almost to the extent of being a recluse.”

He has never taken advantage of his wealth in the way most people might: large houses, fancy cars, lavish vacations. He drives an old-model SUV and lives in a small house in Center City Millville.

He has never traveled outside the region other than to two places: the only leisure vacation he ever took was to New Orleans, La., by bus. His other adventure included a trip to Florida for a union convention on behalf of the union to which he belonged, the Glass Bottle Blowers Association.

He can’t remember the last time he owned a television. The last thing he remembers watching on TV, Navone said, was the NASA moon landing in 1969.

Navone’s broker, R. Douglas Smithson, said the septuagenarian has never received a windfall.

“Paul never inherited money,” Smithson said last week. “Paul started from zero. He just worked hard. He stayed the course even through the bad markets. Paul rarely ever took money out. He was the perfect client.”

The middle of five children born to immigrants from Italy’s Piedmont region, Navone grew up modestly in Depression-era Vineland. His family was by no means wealthy – “poor as church mice,” he said – and his father worked as a laborer laying railroad ties while his mother was a homemaker.

While his father was away at work, he said, Navone and his siblings cultivated half of the five-acre parcel in south Vineland they shared with another family, growing vegetables like sweet potatoes for sustenance.

He applied for his first job, at Wheaton Glass, upon becoming eligible to work on his 16th birthday. He said he was amazed at his first hourly wage – 75 cents – and thought it was a mistake. He said nothing and waited the two weeks to his first paycheck, and when he saw that the hourly wage was no mistake, he was elated.

“I was in seventh heaven,” he said. “I had always wanted a coat, a full-length coat. And I got it.”

He continued working at Wheaton Glass before moving on to the Millville Manufacturing Company,
where he worked his way up to weaver before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1951.

After serving two years in Germany, he returned to his job in Millville. He moved to Armstrong Cork, the factory at which he would work for more than 41 years as the plant itself changed ownership – and the products it manufactured – four times. He retired from his job as a quality control tester 12 years ago at the age of 66.

In the interim, he regularly worked 60-hour weeks. He made enough money to buy several rental properties throughout his life, either in Millville or Atlantic City, although he never owned more than three properties at any given time.

The rental income, he said, was what enabled him to save his paychecks for a rainy day.

“Very seldom did I have to dip into my weekly wages,” he said.

As his wealth increased, he continued living frugally. He also never aspired to rise through the professional ranks, preferring to remain a wage earner.

“Time and time again, it was proven that salaried people made less than hourly workers,” he said. “I never wanted a title. What good is a title?”

He still frequents flea markets and rarely buys anything at full price. His wardrobe is almost entirely second-hand, he said, except for “maybe the socks.”

“I don’t know when I buckled down and got serious about making money,” Navone said. “It just grew into my lifestyle. With age, it got more serious. I never denied myself anything, but I certainly never spent on something outstandingly lavish.”

The reason for remaining single?

“Nobody would have me,” he joked.

He also confessed that he did – just once – splurge somewhat on one shiny bauble: a three-diamond platinum ring, which he bought years ago for $800 at pawnshop on Philadelphia’s South Street. He has since sold it.

Despite his wealth, Navone said he has never let the money, or the ability give it away, get to his head. His current philanthropy, he insisted, is not due to illness.

He also still plans on making his daily pilgrimages to the High Street McDonald’s, where he announces bingo on Wednesday mornings for a group of other seniors who regularly meet at the restaurant.

“It still hasn’t registered in my mind, the significance of (the million-dollar gifts),” he said. “I think I’m the same now as I’ve always been.”

0 thoughts on “'Working Class' Philanthropist In Millville”

  1. I absolutely loved this story. This man is so beautiful in his outlook on life. I would like to travel to visit with him just to sit and listen to some of his stories. Thanks for the good read, I enjoyed it!

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