CONCORD, N.H. -- The directors of several charities knew for nearly a decade that Evelyn Arell planned to donate money to their organizations when she died. But they had no idea just how generous the donations would be.
Arell, 96, who died in September of liver cancer, left more than $5 million to 24 charities and organizations. The groups received letters this week detailing their share.
"It's a huge gift," said Bob Larsen, director of the Friends Program, which will receive about $250,000. "For Concord, I kind of think this is a Bill Gates-Warren Buffet kind of gift."
Arell, a former hairdresser, had created a trust with her husband, Noah, who founded the New Hampshire Bindery in Concord. He sold the bindery and invested the money before his death in 1987.
As the investment grew, Evelyn Arell added more organizations to her will, said the couple's accountant and friend, Herb Burnham. The Arells had no children.
Burnham said Evelyn almost didn't consider the money hers, and always was looking for ways to increase it so she could give more to charities.
"She said, 'We always felt this was our way . . . of giving back to the community that was so good to us,' " Burnham said.
The Rotary Club of Concord will receive the largest donation: 25 percent of the trust, or about $1.25 million. Ten groups, including the Concord Regional Visiting Nursing Association, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Concord chapter of the American Red Cross, will get about $250,000 each. Other groups will receive gifts ranging from $50,000 to $150,000.
"Without question, this is the largest they've ever received," Burnham said of the Rotary Club. "It's going to have an impact, and it will be a lasting impact."
Evelyn Arell grew up in Methuen, Mass., and moved to Concord when she married Noah Arell, a Concord native, in 1938. When her doctors told her that her cancer had spread last summer, she declined the chemotherapy they proposed.
"She said, 'I'm 96 years old. It's time for me to move over and make room for somebody else,' " Burnham said.
Burnham said he urged Arell to meet with some of the organizations she would be helping.
"She didn't want anybody to know," he said. "I said, 'A lot of people would want to thank you.' She said, 'That's OK. I just don't need that.' "