How A Sharecropper's Son Anonymously Became USC's Biggest Donor
LOS ANGELES, CA — He’s among the most generous philanthropists in Los Angeles History, but few would recognize his name. And that’s just how billionaire B. Wayne Hughes Sr. wants it.
Hughes, the son of a sharecropper who would go onto make his fortune as the Public Storage magnate, has quietly given $360 million to USC between 2010 and 2015. All the donations were anonymous because, according to Hughes, charitable work is its own reward. And, so, without a word of publicity, Hughes became the most generous donor in USC history.
A USC publication this week leaked the identity of the university’s biggest benefactor. The extent of his generosity is all the more notable for the lack of buildings or monuments named in his honor. “To walk the USC campus is to be presented with a list of its benefactors. Donor names shout from classroom buildings and dorms, the food court and the swimming pool, the news desk at the journalism school, and even the yard of the Catholic church,” noted the Los Angeles Times. “But for the man believed to have given more money to USC than anyone else, there are no engraved facades or illuminated signs.”
Hughes, 85, has told associates that publicizing charitable work diminishes it. He “has intentionally chosen to live his life in a way that he avoids the spotlight,” his attorney said.
His reticence about his wealth is a rarity in Los Angeles, where wealth and self-promotion often go hand in hand, according to The Times.
Hughes’ humble approach to philanthropy mirrors his humble roots. He was born to a sharecropper who fled the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma. He grew up in poverty in the San Gabriel Valley, and attended high school in Alhambra before he won a scholarship to USC in the 1950s, sending him on a life-changing journey.
He opened his own real estate firm and invested $25,000 in his first storage unit in the 1970s. It quickly made a profit, and before long his brand, Public Storage, would become synonymous with the industry itself.
His early investors were lifelong friends he made at USC. Those friends inluded Lynn Swann, Marcus Allen, Rodney Peete and O.J. Simpson. He stood by Simpson through his murder trial and according to a defense attorney, worked behind the scenes to help plot a successful court strategy, The Times reported.
Public Storage would become the nation’s largest self-storage company valued at more than $40 billion, according to reports.
But friends say you couldn’t tell Hughes was one of the richest men around. He wears jeans, loves In-N-Out Burger and spent years eating breakfast at the same Coco’s several times a week, the Times reported.
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