I met Hugo and Gert Ehlers in late 1994. I quickly discovered they were hard working people. Hugo worked at a steel factory and Gert taught physical education at a public school. Their two kids were already grown and living in different parts of the country. The Ehlers were always very careful with their money, dedicated savers, and good investors. They went to church each Sunday and were always involved in the community. They made it look easy.
They had both recently retired and started traveling more. They traveled to a total of 43 countries together and saw lots of interesting things. I asked them why they traveled so much. Gert said, “because we can afford it and we’re still healthy.” They continued to travel until their health wouldn’t allow for it. They were constantly active in the community. Always exercised. And rarely missed a Sunday at church.
When I first met the Ehlers, they had a lot of money in cash, some bonds, and no stocks. Being a portfolio manager at Shearson Lehman Brothers, it seemed like a strange mix. Over the next year, I brought most of their investments together in one place. We then decided how much cash they needed for emergencies, how much for income, and how much to put into growth. I put over 80% of their assets into a stock portfolio that I personally managed.
I almost felt like one of the family. Whenever their kids were in town, we’d all visit and talk about all kinds of things. I discovered they were a lot like their parents. Hard working, good savers, church and community minded – it was like they were carbon copies. Mom and dad had been a good model for them to follow.
As the markets did well, the Ehlers did even better. Their assets continued to increase going into the year 2000. Having seen such amazing growth, I sold most of their stocks near the end of January. I was thankful that they had done so well. Cycles can change quickly. The markets continued to move higher, making me feel like maybe I’d made a mistake. I began hearing predictions of the markets doubling in the next few years. It was the new normal.
Then came redemption. In late March of 2,000, the markets started a long, downward move. I didn’t know it was going to happen, but it did. The markets lost about 60%, and it looked like the end of the world. Lots of people lost a lot of money. And just when things were starting to look better, 9/11 happened. Another new normal was created, terrorism in America. However, it wasn’t the end. Over time, we reinvested and continued their journey of investing. It was a very hard time to be a portfolio manager. And even a harder time to be a good investor.
The Ehlers never got excited about much of anything. Buying a car or going to dinner, it was just one more thing to do. In their planning, we set up trust accounts and methodically decided how to pass their legacy on to the next generation. They were successful savers and investors. They lived a rewarding life and both lived into their 90’s.
Even after they had passed away, the kids had me continue to manage the assets until the estate could be closed. Wonderful people, just like their parents. Hugo and Gert have passed on, but their legacy will always remain.
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