Paul Metzger was a millionaire, but you wouldn’t have known that by looking at his apartment.
“His home was very simple,” said Jim Duncan, president of the Billings Clinic Foundation. “He had a long couch, an end table, a lamp on that and very few other things around the house. He still had a rotary phone. He lived a humble life and never really took advantage of the opportunities that his success could have given him personally.”
This frugality and a knack for making wise investments helped Metzger to accumulate $38 million before his death in May.
But perhaps Metzger will be most remembered for is his generosity. He left his entire fortune to Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare. Each hospital will receive $19 million - the largest gift ever received by either institution.
“Most of the great healthcare organizations of our country have gotten where they are thanks to philanthropy,” Duncan said. “Think about the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins. A lot of those places carry the names of people that have had a profound difference through their transformational philanthropy. Mr. Metzger is just like that. You’re going to continue to see great things from our organizations because people like Mr. Metzger believe in them and are willing to invest further in them.”
Paul Metzger was born in Laurel on June 29, 1916. His parents, Louis and Nora Metzger, homesteaded on land south of the Yellowstone River between Billings and Laurel. It was here that Metzger learned to live simply - he didn’t live in a house with electricity until the early 1950s when he bought his own farm.
Farming was one of Metzger’s passions and he enjoyed experimenting with different crops. He eventually purchased and expanded his parents’ operation.
Metzger retired from farming life and moved into his apartment in Billings in the mid-1970s.
He then started developing his interest in stock trading. He became a member of the D.A. Davidson Co. the first week that it was opened. He came to the office every day and would often pass the time reading financial magazines and considering how to expand his assets.
“He was here every day, so the whole office can tell stories about him,” said Todd Preston, senior vice president of D.A. Davidson.
It was around this time that Metzger began considering the best use for the wealth he had accumulated. He eventually settled on giving to the hospitals because they had an immense impact on the community in which he had grown up.
Metzger made up his will nearly 30 years ago and never changed his mind .
“I’d ask him periodically if he wanted to put any restrictions on this big gift,” said Metzger’s attorney Gary Everson. “He always said, ‘No, the hospitals will know what’s best to do with it.’ He didn’t want to tie their hands – he wanted to help the community.”
D.A. Davidson employee Stacey Suydam added, “He was a true German. Once he made a decision, he didn’t budge. This was something he was set on from day one.”
Metzger died two months short of his 98th birthday, but his legacy lives on.
“Paul is a great example of the Greatest Generation,” said St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation President Dave Irion. “He started with little, worked hard, saved and believed in the importance of impacting the community in which he grew up.”
Both Duncan and Irion said they were excited about what the sizable donation would mean for their hospitals.
“We hope that these dollars will transform health care for generations to come in the Billings area,” Duncan said.
Irion added that the money would be given in an endowment-like fashion so that “these resources are going to be available for many years to come.”
Neither hospital currently has plans for how to use the money.
“In line with the magnitude of the gift, it is going to take both institutions time to analyze the long-term needs of the hospitals and the proper uses for this gift.” Irion said. “We have an awesome responsibility moving forward, but one thing’s for sure – today is a big day in Billings, Montana.”