Genevieve Via Cava taught special needs students in the Dumont school district for nearly 45 years, according to local news reports. When she died in 2011, with no immediate family to speak of, she left the small fortune she had amassed to her students.
Owing to some bureaucratic red tape, however, the district had no idea the money was coming until this April, when they received a check for $1m.
“I wasn’t surprised that she was going to be donating something,” Dumont school superintendent Emanuele Triggiano told the New York Times, explaining that the teacher had mentioned leaving something to the district before she died.
He added: “The surprise was the amount of money she sent to us.”
The donation will now go towards one $25,000 scholarship per year, to fund the post-secondary education of a special needs student. The school district's business administrator, Kevin Cartotto, said the money would be placed in a fund that would accumulate interest, hopefully allowing the scholarships to continue for years.
Mr Cartotto told CNN that this was the biggest gift he has seen in his time at the school district.
Richard Jablonski, a close friend of Ms Via Cava and the executor of her will, said the small fortune the teacher had amassed was likely the result of her scrupulous penny-pinching. A child of the Great Depression, Mr Jablonski said, his friend rarely bought new clothes or took vacations. She even refused to buy the hearing aids she needed later in life.
“She was very kind-hearted, sometimes with a rough exterior, but very compassionate deep down,” Mr Jablonski told NewJersey.com. “She was very loving and won people over with her beautiful smile.”
Other remembered Ms Via Cava’s dedication to the school district, and how she would still drop in on classes even after retiring in 1990. James Kennedy, another friend, told NewJersey.com she could remember details about her students from years ago, and occasionally even helped them find jobs after graduation.
But Ms Via Cava’s students aren’t the only ones who’ll be benefiting from her generosity: According to her attorney, April Savoye, the teacher also left $100,000 each to five more organizations, including the Ramapo Animal Refuge and the Salvation Army.
"Because she had no immediate family of her own, and not even many not-so-distant relatives, it made sense for her to make this donation," Ms Savoye told CNN.