The Wrasse Story
An Immigrant's Tale
From a frugal, individualistic life -
a perpetual gift to students
"I was born in the province of Pomerania, Germany, in 1849. There were eight children in my family. My father was a carpenter in his spare time but spent most of his money on liquor. I can remember him coming down the pathway to the house kicking the kids around, cursing my mother, and stumbling drunk. "I was drafted into the Franco-Prussian War. I was a conscientious objector, so they put me in the hospital corps, but pretty soon I was on the battlefield carrying the wounded. "I came out of that with a couple of flesh wounds and got a job as a carpenter.
I saved enough money to come to America. I landed in Virginia. I saved $3000 to $4000 as a carpenter, but the bank went broke. I went to Missouri, and again the bank there went broke. I went to San Francisco and got another job as a carpenter. I found a German bank there that I trusted. I kept investing in first mortgages and savings accounts. "I began to buy insurance policies. I did this for 20 years until I was 89 years of age and they wouldn't sell to me anymore. They thought I would never die. By then I had $272,000 in face amount of insurance that paid me $58,000 a year! And I had never made over eight dollars a day in my life as a carpenter."
Mr. Wrasse's Life Style
Leopold Edward Wrasse's first major investment was in the 40-acre vineyard he acquired at Caruthers, 20 miles southwest of Fresno. This remained his home until he died in 1945. The money he invested in savings accounts and insurance policies was the result of his own labor in the vineyards, his wages as a carpenter, and his frugal manner of living. The few clothes he owned were purchased from the Salvation Army. He once refused to pay 35 cents for a used shirt he thought worth only a quarter, yet he gave a $1,000 check to the organization because the clerk was kind and understanding.
Mr. Wrasse lived out of doors most of the time, only moving his cot into the barn in severe rainy weather. He was a nature lover, and a nudist, disdaining both shelter and clothing. He ate from a single bowl he shared with his dog, slept in the open, and kept warm by exercise. This rigorous life he described as "living close to God in the Garden of Eden."
The simple diet which sustained the leathery farmer consisted of vegetables and nuts grown on his farm, including raisins which he dried from the grapes he gleaned after pickers finished his vineyard. He bought dry bread for 50 cents a barley sack and dunked it in his bowl. He did not use pots or pans, dishes or silverware. His ruin of a house had a stove, but no electricity. His electric pump provided power for his one modern convenience, a radio.
With such minimal needs for clothing or household items, Mr. Wrasse kept his living expenses under $7.50 a month, and as low as $1.19 a month. His accounts were scribbled on the backs of grape trays.
The Ideals of a Self Taught Man
Mr. Wrasse brought little with him to the United States except some definite high ideals and objectives. He was a Christian, but he did not believe in churches. His constant companion was the Bible, and his favorite passage was the Sermon on the Mount. His goals were to do good, to help others, to be honest and kind.
He was easily moved to tears by radio news of tragic accidents, of wars and of man's inhumanity to man. He loaned money to his neighbors in the Depression, and when many never attempted to repay him, he still retained his belief in his fellowman. He was impulsive in his generosity, but easily wounded by cruelty or indifference.
In 1938, he began his first gift to students, when he established the Wrasse Loan Fund at Cal Poly. Later he was honored by then Cal Poly President, Julian A. McPhee, and by the students who had received such loans and completed their education. Recognized as the state's "Number one farmer" for his influence on agricultural students' lives, he developed a fondness for Cal Poly that eventually led to a will which gave over half a million dollars for scholarships to Cal Poly students. It is the income from this gift which makes possible an average of 200 scholarships each year.
The Wrasse Scholarships
The character and beliefs of Leopold Wrasse are reflected in the terms of his bequest. The scholarships are inspired by his urge to help others. The fact that they are related to agriculture reflects his life as a farmer, his love of the outdoors, and his belief in hard work and thrift. For over four decades, Leopold Edward Wrasse's generosity has assisted students. His singular life is little known, yet his influence is greater than that of many who became wealthier and more famous-his undying monument exists in the lives of Cal Poly men and women.