Honesty has its own rewards.
Three years ago, Highland Fire Chief Mike Kilgore opened a letter from a man whom he had never heard of -- Eugene Schmitt of San Diego.
In the envelope was a check -- a big check -- $10,000. But while the envelope had Kilgore's name on it, the money was not meant for him or his department. It was intended as a gift to the Highland-Pierron Fire Department.
Schmitt, a former resident of St. Jacob, had a cousin, Tony Stock, who was a member of the Highland-Pierron Fire Department. Schmitt intended the money to be donated to Highland-Pierron Fire Department in Stock's name.
"I knew it wasn't meant for me," said Kilgore. "So I gave it to Highland-Pierron."
Schmitt said he appreciated Kilgore's honesty.
"He could have cashed that check, and I couldn't have done a darn thing about it," Schmitt said.
Kilgore's honesty was rewarded two weeks ago when he received another envelope from Schmitt. This one contained a check for $20,000, and there was no mistaking the intended recipient.
"Since you were very honest about forwarding the check where I intended it, I want to give the same amount -- $20,000 -- to your group of fine men," Schmitt wrote in a letter that accompanied the money.
"I never expected that," Kilgore said.
Schmitt has given $20,000 to several other area departments, including Highland-Pierron, St. Jacob, Marine, Lebanon and Trenton.
Usually, Schmitt sent two $10,000 checks. However, in Highland's case it was just one lump sum.
Though he has lived in California for most of his life, Schmitt, who will turn 89 in January, said he still holds a fondness for the area.
"I have a lot of memories from when I was there. I used to like to go to the dances they had in St. Jacob and Highland in the '30s and '40s," he said. "My father had a lot of first cousins around the St. Jacob-Highland area."
Schmitt said he learned the lesson of a hard day's work while growing up near St. Jacob.
"I went to work when I was 13 years old. My folks hired me out for 50 cents a day, and they kept the 50 cents," he said.
Schmitt moved to California in 1941. He worked for Solar Aircraft Co., but he also invested in real estate and the stock market, both of which he did quite well in.
Though he was never a firefighter himself, it was those early lessons about working that inspired him to donate to fire departments.
"I wanted to give it to all those good men, who work hard for no pay," he said. "I'm also trying to help them save some money. I figure whatever I give them, it will be a tax relief for all those good people in those fire districts."
Like other fire departments Schmitt has donated to, Highland will place a plaque up in its firehouse dedicated to Schmitt and his late wife, Anne, Kilgore said.
The money will be used to outfit the department's new aerial ladder truck with portable equipment, Kilgore said. The new $500,000 truck is due to be delivered in about a year.