Selfless Portrait: Man Leaves $150M to City of Elkhart

David Gundlach died suddenly and left his fortune to the struggling Indiana town. But three years after Gundlach’s death, the picture of Elkhart’s mystery benefactor remains just a sketch.

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The chartered jet was hard to miss.

Multimillionaire Guy David Gundlach, a childless bachelor well into his 50s, certainly owned plenty of valuables. Eleven homes scattered across the country and abroad—some with waitstaffs and groundskeepers, others containing oddities like family photographs, Legos, and, in one, a potty-training chair. Fifteen vehicles that included a Bentley and a Rolls-Royce. Hundreds of pieces of art, including a figurine of Salvador Dali’s Nobility of Time, which was one of many cast from the moustachioed surrealist’s two-dimensional works shortly before and after World War II. Pieces of furniture designed by Queen Elizabeth’s nephew. Countless packages of dress shirts and unworn slacks.

But Gundlach’s most singular indulgence was the use of a Cessna Citation X, the fastest civilian airplane in the world. Often his jet departed from the Los Angeles area, where the middle-aged man with a sweep of light blond hair was spending an early retirement looking for a golf game or a seat at a poker table, and arrived at his boyhood home: Elkhart, Indiana, where he had grown up as the son of a widow. The business jet, Cessna promises its well-heeled clients, “is going to get you where you’re going before anyone else.”

And though the aircraft sat nine, David Gundlach was usually a flight manifest of one.

The appearance of Gundlach’s jet at Elkhart Municipal Airport marked the coming of stories and scuttlebutt. He sold his overseas company for millions. He’s producing a Hollywood movie. He lost $10,000 on a hand of poker to Leonardo DiCaprio. One story that made the rounds put Gundlach outside Elkhart’s Elcona Country Club, where, upon finding a group of young men admiring his Rolls-Royce, he tossed them the keys and allegedly said, “Make sure you return it to me safely in the morning.”

Guy David Gundlach was a dutiful son to Marge Swift, but he will be best remembered for his star turn as the man who left millions to his recession-stricken hometown of Elkhart, Indiana.
Guy David Gundlach was a dutiful son to Marge Swift, but he will be best remembered for his star turn as the man who left millions to his recession-stricken hometown of Elkhart, Indiana.

On visits home, Gundlach would drive his mother, Marge Swift, in “the Rolls” to the country club for dinner. Swift would order a Johnnie Walker Black Label on the rocks, and Gundlach a glass of wine. “I would catch him up on everything in Elkhart—he wanted to know who I was dating,” says Swift, who remarried when David was a young man but was widowed a second time, leaving David with a pair of stepsiblings he saw infrequently. “Then he’d tell me what it’s like in the big world.”

People at neighboring tables would stare and whisper. At the height of the recession, Elkhart’s unemployment rate—once as low as 2.2 percent—was more than 20 percent, and, at one point, the town was losing manufacturing jobs faster than anywhere in the country. Pockets of old money still remained in Elkhart, but Gundlach’s wealthy lifestyle was a gilded curiosity.

Gundlach owned one of the most expensive and iconic homes in town, Beardsley Mansion. And though the home had captured his attention since boyhood, he never spent the night there. After dinners with his mother, Gundlach would gather his things, drive her home to the white ranch-style home of his youth, and park in the carport. There, he would retreat to his bedroom, untouched from his youth with football posters tacked to the walls, trophies and plaques poised on a shelf, and a bowling ball resting on the floor. He would curl into his twin-sized bed, toes almost dangling off the end, and drift to sleep. And, without fail, when he awoke in the morning, Swift served him breakfast in bed. Poached egg. Bacon. Toast. Juice. Milk.

But apart from chance sightings and rumors, most people in Elkhart knew very little about the man with the plane.

So, when Gundlach suddenly died at 56 and left the majority of his $150 million estate to the Elkhart County Community Foundation, the gift captured the imagination of his hometown and made headlines across the country. His largesse ranked as one of the 10 largest gifts of the year, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and The Wall Street Journal sent a reporter and a photographer to follow the story.

The private jet was hard to miss, but as it turned out, its owner was extremely elusive.

 

David Gundlach’s beginnings were far less ambiguous than his later years, and even somewhat pedestrian.

Gundlach made his fortune in the insurance business, but he started out working for IBM in downtown Los Angeles. He landed there after attending Chapman College, a small private school in Orange County. After graduating at the top of his high-school class in Elkhart, he had originally enrolled at the University of Southern California but had run-ins with a few football players who lived on his dorm floor. One day, he reportedly marched into coach John McKay’s office to complain about their bullying. When he didn’t get the response he wanted, Gundlach transferred. One of Gundlach’s longtime acquaintances said he “could rub people the wrong way” and had “a personality that attracted controversy.”

Gundlach enjoyed his time at IBM, but that wasn’t his dream. When he was in fifth grade, his grandmother had financed a tour that took him through England, Germany, and Italy. When Gundlach returned, the trip was all he could talk about. Swift was a longtime subscriber to The Wall Street Journal, and even as a young boy Gundlach read the paper. “Someday, I’m going to work for Lloyd’s of London,” he announced when he was 12 years old. His mother and grandmother laughed at the thought of him working at the iconic insurance market known for underwriting the legs of Betty Grable.

After a few years in Los Angeles, Gundlach made good on his promise and became a consultant in London, with Lloyd’s as a client. He researched every aspect of the insurance business: how the management was organized, how insurance was handled, how profits were made. An idea began to germinate—he could run a business better.

In 1997, Gundlach founded Hastings Direct, a car-insurance company that provided policies and products by phone and, eventually, online. He hired Andrew Bowen, a computer programmer, and both worked long hours to get the company off the ground.

During this time, Gundlach developed a system to streamline his life and allow him to dedicate his time to his work. He stopped doing laundry and instead bought new dress shirts, underwear, and slacks every week. He had little time for friends outside the  realm of business, eating dinner with Bowen nearly every night for 10 years.

The sacrifices seemed to pay off. Hastings Direct took a novel approach to determine driver risk, and the business grew rapidly. Eventually, Gundlach expanded his international company to include home, motorcycle, and van insurance. In 2006, after he had spent more than 35,000 hours building Hastings Direct from scratch, Insurance Australia Group offered to buy it. The deal was staggering: $260 million. He accepted. Elated, Gundlach called his mother to tell her the news and began to plan a huge celebration for his acquaintances, business connections, and hundreds of employees. He wanted nothing but the best gourmet food and top-shelf alcohol. But Gundlach would later confide that on the day of the party, he walked in to find the room nearly empty.

According to a source, the London employees felt Gundlach lacked social skills, sensitivity, and awareness, and were glad that he was selling the company and would be out of their lives. “[The boycott of the party] hurt him deeply,” says the source. “But have you heard the stories about him, that he would never wash his underwear? He’d just go out and buy new stuff. People thought he was odd and eccentric, but he was oblivious to that.”

 

After Gundlach sold Hastings, London lost its appeal, though when he returned to the U.S., he seemed to be in search of a new life he could never quite find. Over the next few years, he developed a Gatsby-like quality of flashing wealth in hope of being noticed.

In Malibu, one house caught Gundlach’s attention: a sprawling modern structure made of glass and marble and steel. Suzanne Somers and Barry Manilow had homes on the same street. The sparkling diamond perched on the sand cost Gundlach $20 million. A golf-lover, Gundlach also joined the Wilshire and Riviera country clubs. There, he hoped to play with celebs like Pete Sampras and Laker great Jerry West, but most already had their regular foursomes, and he seldom got invited.

Guy David Gundlach's possessions were many, including 11 homes scattered across the United States and abroad.
Guy David Gundlach’s possessions were many, including 11 homes scattered across the United States and abroad.

One evening, he found himself at a local gallery opening for an artist named Yuroz. The two men talked about his paintings, and Yuroz introduced Gundlach to his wealthy patrons. That night Gundlach bought an $80,000 painting. The unveilings of Yuroz’s work became a routine, giving Gundlach a reason to wear a tuxedo and drive his Bentley and mingle with the rich and famous. In the span of a few years, Gundlach amassed 10 or so Yuroz paintings—and finally a social circle, if only for a few hours during the events.

Gundlach remained so obsessed with golf that associates say he would hit range balls until his hands bled. He would often talk about wanting to play at Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters. The elite Georgia club is by invitation only, and when one wasn’t forthcoming, Gundlach bought a $4.5 million plantation halfway between Atlanta and Augusta on Lake Oconee, an oasis for wealthy city-dwellers. It was the most impressive house on the lake, but he failed to pique locals’ interest.

Around that time, he also bought the Beardsley Mansion, the historic home in Elkhart he had admired as a boy. Gundlach approached the owners at Elcona Country Club and asked them to name their price. For $1.7 million, the house was his.

Some of his homes had a specific function. One of Gundlach’s first regular social hangouts was a Friday-night poker club. Players like Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t want to drive to Gundlach’s Malibu spread in rush-hour traffic, so he hosted them in his $8 million home in Beverly Hills instead.

Along with extravagant homes, Gundlach also financed a Hollywood movie. He gave Dean Zanuck, grandson of movie studio impresario Darryl Zanuck, $5.5 million to produce Get Low. The 2009 film starred Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, and Sissy Spacek and told the story of a hermit from Tennessee who throws his own funeral while he is still alive. Soon, word spread that Gundlach had a fortune and was interested in financing films. He threw barbecues for stars and countless movie professionals looking for a producer. Making real friends, however, remained difficult.

 

One day at work, Bobby Kloska got a phone call. The voice on the other end wasn’t immediately familiar.

“Hey, this is David Gundlach—remember me? I’m back in the United States. I would love to take you and your dad out for dinner and take you for a pontoon ride.”
Kloska was stumped. But he made niceties and plans to meet. Then he called his dad to refresh his memory.

As a teen, Kloska had worked at Elcona Country Club; Gundlach was in his late 20s. On visits to see his mother during the summertime, Gundlach would often make his way to the clubhouse in search of a golf game, but among some golfers he had a reputation for being socially awkward, argumentative, and hyper-competitive. A few  even ducked out of the room when they saw him coming. Others were more direct, saying, “No, I’m not playing with you.” Kloska and his father noticed that Gundlach had trouble finding a foursome and often made room for him in their group.

As the old golf partners reunited over dinner, Kloska, now in his 40s, began to remember the David Gundlach of his youth. He still spoke with a lot of sarcasm, and his love of debate remained intact. So, too, did his grating use of proper nouns. “You would say, ‘Let’s get in the car and get something to eat,’” explains Kloska. “He would say, ‘Let’s take the Rolls to Geoffrey’s.’”

Gundlach told Kloska and his father about Lloyd’s of London and Hastings Direct, meeting celebrities, and producing movies. Talk then turned more serious. He began to ask them questions about happiness and life’s purpose. Those golf games more than 30 years earlier—the ones that had slipped Kloska’s mind—had really meant something to Gundlach, who then tried to build on the relationship long after that meal. Over the next several months, they stayed in touch over e-mail.

Still, Kloska was surprised when Gundlach invited him and his wife, Margy, to the Get Low premiere. The Kloskas felt like they didn’t really know Gundlach that well. But after some initial hesitation, mostly related to flying across the country at a moment’s notice, they decided to go. At the airport, Kloska drove his car 10 feet from Gundlach’s Cessna, and the pilot escorted him and Margy aboard. Four hours later, they were on the balcony of Gundlach’s Malibu mansion.

Guy David Gundlach produced a Hollywood movie with award-winning actors Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Murray.
Guy David Gundlach produced a Hollywood movie with award-winning actors Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Murray.

One night on the trip, Gundlach, the Kloskas, and a few others were enjoying an extravagant meal at a local restaurant. Margy got up and excused herself.

“I’ll be right back,” she said. “I just have to use the ladies’ room.”

“Okay, well, when you get back,” Gundlach said loudly, “I’ll explain to you what a virgin is!”

Margy paused. The joke didn’t make sense or appear to be funny, but she felt she had to retort.

She looked him in the eye and shot back: “Okay, and then I’ll explain to you what an asshole is.”

Gundlach burst into laughter.

After days of not quite knowing how to relate to their brash host, the Kloskas began to realize that he didn’t quite grasp social cues or the concept of tact. Now they were finally speaking his language: sarcasm. “David was a hard guy to get to know and a hard guy to be friends with until I got that interpretive key,” Kloska says. “I think he was misunderstood in his life.”

With this insight, the trip passed without further incident, and eventually Gundlach told Kloska he was thinking about making Elkhart a more permanent home. “When I’m around people from Elkhart,” Gundlach told him, “I like myself better.”

 

During trips to Elkhart, Gundlach often had dinner with a woman named Liz Naquin Borger, who managed his mother’s finances, and her husband. He asked them about reputable charities in the area and began to work on his estate plan.

Elkhart’s slogan, “The City with a Heart,” was more than just a play on the town’s name. Along with the entrepreneurial spirit that had produced numerous successful companies and millionaires, there came a sense of responsibility, an honor code. Perhaps no one embodied this better than Arthur “Art” Decio, founder of Skyline Corporation, a company that produced towable RVs and manufactured homes. Decio was so successful that he appeared on a 1965 cover of Time magazine’s “Millionaires Under 40” issue. But more importantly, Decio donated millions of dollars to charity, served on several advisory boards, and volunteered his time and leadership. Not only was Decio one of the wealthiest men in Indiana, he was also one of the most respected and admired. “David told me that Art was an inspiration to him—he wanted to be like Art,” Kloska says.

In the past, Gundlach, too, had invested in various philanthropic efforts. When he lived in London, he was active on the charity circuit, once plunking down $10,000 for a dinner. He traveled to Romania, Morocco, Russia, and Sri Lanka to support orphanages and create scholarships for underprivileged children to study abroad.

0714-DAVIDMTNSome of his giving efforts ended in disappointment. He invested in a friend’s organization and it failed, and he was never repaid. When he was on his home-buying spree, Gundlach purchased a place to stay in Las Vegas for his frequent weekend visits. He heard that in Nevada, the foster-care system ended at 18, and many of the young adults ended up homeless. So he bought a small apartment building to house them and hired a friend who was between jobs to manage it. He wanted the project to give the residents hope. But the manager was not qualified to provide the young men who lived there with the support and mentorship they needed. Many of those Gundlach sought to help through the endeavor struggled with behavioral problems, and after several administrative issues, the project was shut down.

But things changed in July 2011, when Gundlach met with Pete McCown, the incoming president of the Elkhart County Community Foundation, and revealed he had left money to the organization in his will. “Dave, that’s terrific,” McCown said. “I’m sure we’ll have 30 years to figure this out. The two of us will probably be old
men playing golf together.”

Secretly, McCown was wildly curious about Gundlach’s net worth and the details of his estate. But, in the moment, it would have been rude to inquire. Instead, he asked a logical follow-up question.

“Dave, what are you hoping to accomplish with this gift?”

“Kiddo, as I understand it, the community foundation exists to do good in my hometown, where my mom lives,” Gundlach said. “It seems to me that you and your board will make better decisions as to how my money is used than I would.”

The meeting marked the last time Gundlach would visit Elkhart.

 

Gundlach unexpectedly died of a heart attack in Malibu on October 16, 2011. There was a small funeral in Elkhart with few attendees.

Borger, the advisor, was stunned. Gundlach was only 56 years old. She had just talked to him three weeks prior. His mother, still sharp, was 93. Borger never imagined he would die first and so soon.

Years ago, Borger had helped him set up his mother’s affairs in the case of her passing. And when Gundlach had finished planning his own estate a few years earlier, he had asked Borger to act as the trustee. She was honored, but because of her role as a financial advisor, she thought it was best if her parent company handled that duty.

However, after analyzing Gundlach’s assets, Borger’s parent company—which had changed since the agreement was created—declined to act as executor because the estate was so complex. But every day that the estate went unattended meant another bill past due and employees going unpaid. After sleepless nights, much deliberation, and all the proper approvals, Borger decided to act as executor herself.

She studied Gundlach’s assets for hours. She discovered multiple homes, each with phone bills, housekeepers, gardeners. Fleets of automobiles. Bank accounts, investment accounts, ownerships in various companies. She had to determine: What did he own? How did he own it? Who lent him money? Whom did he lend money to? Who are his employees? After a regular workday, Borger came home and managed the estate until after midnight. On weekends, she and Gundlach’s lawyer flew to the various homes to take inventory.

Guy David Gundlach collected hundreds of pieces of art.
Guy David Gundlach collected hundreds of pieces of art.

On the first assessing trip, the two stayed at the Malibu beach house and never set foot on the sand. Instead, they gathered documents, met with tax specialists, and checked on the property. A few days later, they flew to Las Vegas to do it all again. In total, Borger amassed 18 file cabinets worth of documents. At one point, a team of 17 attorneys worked on the case.

Aside from the physical parts of Gundlach’s estate, Borger knew there was a Swiss bank account worth more than $100 million. But getting the money would be a battle. There were disagreements about Gundlach’s wishes. Layers of companies had to be untangled. There were multiple wills in multiple countries, legal disputes about ownership of assets, and major lawsuits in Switzerland and Gibraltar.

There were also other snags. A couple who had served as Gundlach’s chefs, chauffeurs, cleaners, and personal assistants believed he would leave them an inheritance. Time and time again, people said Gundlach had talked of wanting to “set up” various people he knew. But the estate said otherwise—the overwhelming majority of Gundlach’s money was going to Elkhart.

“Many of the people who knew David held out hope of a windfall for them,” Borger says. “Some had expectations.”

In August 2012, almost a year after Gundlach’s death, Borger and McCown were out having lunch at a restaurant in Elkhart when she received a call. Borger excused herself, and moments later emerged from the kitchen, dancing and waving a tiny piece of paper that appeared to be ripped off the bottom of a receipt. She sat down and slid the scrap across the table to McCown. On top of the roughly $35 million retrieved from selling homes and other assets, the balance of the majority of Gundlach’s European assets had just been transferred to the foundation’s bank account: $113,794,000.46.

 

It’s difficult to imagine Gundlach’s money finding a better home than Elkhart, a poster child of the Great Recession.

While he was making his estate plan, Elkhart’s economy was shriveling. Elkhart County was the RV capital of the world, making more than 60 percent of the recreational vehicles sold in the country. But in 2008, RV shipments dropped 33 percent. In February of that year, unemployment stood at 4.7 percent, but by October it had more than doubled. Things became so dire that, at one point, the Elkhart City Council passed a law that limited residents to one garage sale per month.

In early 2009, unemployment hit 15.3 percent, the highest in the nation. That year, President Obama visited the town to promote his $800 billion–plus stimulus plan. By March, unemployment spiked to 20.3 percent. MSNBC.com started “The Elkhart Project,” for which a team of reporters took turns living in the town over the course of more than a year, recording stories of struggle and recovery to depict the crumbling of Middle America.

Like most U.S. cities in the last couple of years, Elkhart had recovered from the recession naturally and, because of the quick rebound of the auto industry, at an accelerated pace. But Gundlach’s gift would allow nonprofits to make up for lost time and unleash their ambitious hopes. And once the foundation announced the amount of Gundlach’s benefaction, it wasn’t unusual for people to call McCown at home or stop him. “I would walk into a restaurant,” he says, “and people would recognize me and come over to talk about the gift.”

The Elkhart Community had no shortage of ideas about what to do with Gundlach’s money. Pete McCown received about 400 e-mails full of suggestions each day.

Usually, gifts to the foundation had very specific requirements, but the simple wording of Gundlach’s will meant the nonprofit could do whatever it deemed fit. The Elkhart community had no shortage of ideas. McCown received about 400 e-mails full of suggestions each day, and his associates got even more for requests as varied as facilities for aging parents to solutions for the town’s feral-cat population. “While it may be an unnoticed issue to many,” wrote one e-mailer, “there is a need to be compassionate to abandoned animals and we have far too many wild cats that are being euthanized in this area and me and a group of other people are working away at that. I hope the community foundation might consider this an opportunity to do something about this issue.”

At the Elkhart County Community Foundation’s annual board meeting in the fall of 2012, the members split into two camps. Many of them, overwhelmed by the attention and responsibility, wanted to take time to think about how the money should be allocated. One suggested that they devote a year to devising a plan. Other members, including McCown, wanted to begin spending right away.

The foundation decided to place Gundlach’s money in its Fund for Elkhart County. Each year, the group typically gave away a portion of that money based on a system: They averaged the amount in the fund from the previous 16 quarters and gave away 5 percent of that total. For the past several years, that had equated to around $500,000. Each quarter, nonprofits in the community submitted grant requests to the 12-person committee for consideration. To satisfy those who wanted to do good right away while deciding what to do next, the group added $1 million of Gundlach’s gift to the amount slated for the 2012–2013 fiscal year, tripling the total funds they usually gave out.

That fall, the foundation decided to set aside the bulk of 2013 to conduct what it called the “Community Listening Tour.” The members met with small groups made up of ministers, homeless people, teachers, Amish farmers, and business leaders, asking each faction about funding priorities. Most people said some version of the same thing: The money should be spent with a focus on children.

But even with a target for the giving, the foundation still wasn’t sure exactly how the money should be dispensed. Starting on July 1, 2014, the committee would be  doling out $4.5 million. The next year, $6.5 million. The responsibility of handling  this much money weighed on them. They would have to adjust their system. McCown, along with grant committee member Jill Richardson and a few other volunteers, visited 30 foundations coast to coast in search of guidance.

On October 9, 2013, the Elkhart County Community Foundation finally unveiled its proposed plan. McCown explained that there would be four new committees: youth development, quality of life, vibrant community, and key initiatives, which would handle appeals for more than $250,000.  The only problem: They had 10 times the applications to process.

 

With a plan in place, nonprofit leaders began dreaming bigger dreams.

Candy Yoder, the president and CEO of CAPS (Child and Parent Services), took out some dusty building plans she had rolled up and put on a shelf in 2008. She issued a challenge to reduce abuse and neglect in Elkhart County by 30 percent by 2020. There was no longer the excuse, “Oh, well, that’s not realistic because there is never going to be funding,” she says. The tone in meetings changed from helpless to hopeful. For Rob Staley, the executive director of Crossing Educational Center, the gift meant the possibility of strengthening programs that teach school courses to students in the county jail, developing job-training programs, and offering microloans to those who want to start their own business. Horizon Education Alliance executive director Brian Wiebe thought of launching a positive-parenting program. Rod Roberson of Church Community Services saw the potential to feed more people, meaning less hunger and violence. Stephanie Patka, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County, envisioned changing the culture of mentoring so more adults would volunteer to work with at-risk students. Kevin Deary of the Boys and Girls Club began planning a building in which to provide year-round, full-service programming in a clean, healthy, safe environment.

“You’re going to face $20 million worth of requests,” said McCown. “How enthusiastic are people going to be when they have heard ‘no’?”

At a recent lunch with a few new foundation volunteers, McCown offered a reality check. “People’s expectations have been heightened, and you’re now going to be sitting on grant committees where you’re given a budget next year of $1 million. And you’re going to face $20 million worth of requests. How enthusiastic are people going to be when they have heard ‘no’?”

There haven’t been any major squabbles yet, but leaders worry tensions could rise as the amount given increases. The grant-selection process begins this month.

 

Though Marge Swift still owns the white house where Gundlach was raised, she now resides in an assisted-living facility. She hasn’t spent much of the $5 million her son left her, nor has she offered suggestions on how the rest  should be spent. Mostly, Swift just misses her only biological child. “He was one in a million,” she says, her eyes wet with tears.

For the Kloskas, their memory of Gundlach is starting to fade. But Bobby sees it as his duty to tell a truthful story of the benefactor. “He very well could come to be the next mythical figure [of Elkhart] that the kids talk about,” he says. “I would hate for him to be lionized to something he wasn’t. He was a complicated, complex man, and I think in that is a great example for people—that we are all limited in some ways, but that we can transcend that and be good.”

Nobody knows for sure what led Gundlach to give his fortune to the Elkhart County Community Foundation, but perhaps a clue lies in Beardsley Mansion, the home he owned in Elkhart.

When Gundlach was a boy, he and a group of schoolmates would meet at the local park to play hide-and-seek  and  then take off racing around town on their bikes. He would get out ahead, wheels turning, legs pumping hard, onto Beardsley Avenue. Careening along the river, passing rows of colorful, middle-class houses, Gundlach often turned right onto Greenleaf Boulevard to gape at the estates.

Of all the homes, Beardsley Mansion was the most impressive. It sprawled along four lots, huge compared  to the jam-packed parcels along the river’s prime real estate. Two of the lots were occupied by the mansion itself, a two-story red-brick home with oversized windows facing the water. The other two lots held a large swimming pool and a French-style garden. Across the street, horses galloped at the family’s stable. Swift said Gundlach always loved the house and toured it every chance he got.

0714-VERTARTThe home was once owned by the descendants of Elkhart’s founding father, Havilah Beardsley, one of the most well-known men in the town’s history. And just like Art Decio, he was a wealthy, self-made man. With his donation and connection to the mansion, Gundlach appears to have joined a select company of visionaries who shaped Elkhart.

When asked if Gundlach had always been generous, his mother responds quickly. “Very, very,” she says. “It seemed like something he was born to do.”

Even with the liquid assets moving forward into community coffers, Gundlach’s prized Beardsley remains unsold. The house is bigger than it was in Gundlach’s youth—the previous owners invested in a riverside addition. The pool was filled in long ago, and the garden lot was sold. There are no longer horses across the road. A dozen or so families have toured the historic river home now on the market. They have inspected the open-concept kitchen and living room—perfect for entertaining, though Gundlach never did. They have toured the upstairs bedroom where Gundlach kept his things but never slept.

So far, the estate hasn’t captured anyone’s attention like it did Gundlach’s. The $990,000 home with a formal dining room and library simply isn’t designed for the modern family. Some of the prospective buyers have remarked that it’s too much house. For others, the location isn’t as alluring as it once was. One woman, upon leaving Beardsley Mansion, said, “If I was going to spend $1 million on a home, I would want to make more of an impression on the street.”

David Gundlach would’ve understood.

 

This article appeared in the July 2014 issue.

 

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