LOWELL, Mich. (AP) -Farmer Willis Hatch and his schoolteacher wife, Arlene, lived simply but blissfully together for 57 years before dying in an auto accident in November.

Now, about 70 of their friends and neighbors are surprised to find themselves a collective $1.6 million richer as the beneficiaries of the late couple’s frugality and generosity.

The recipients of their generosity were bequeathed certificates of deposit ranging in value from $5,000 to more than $100,000. The couple’s estate was valued at $2.9 million and included the CDs, the farm and some stocks.

“Isn’t that something?” said Sandra VanWeelden, 72, whose family, including three grown children, received about $250,000 from the Hatches, who never had children of their own and lived into their early 90s.

Before they retired, Willis – known to his friends as “Ish” – worked their 80-acre farm just south of Lowell, and Arlene taught at Lowell Middle School.

The couple went everywhere together: church services, community pancake breakfasts, school plays. They enjoyed winter trips to Brownsville, Texas, but allowed themselves few other luxuries.

“They was normal people, good people,” Harry Erickson, 72, told The Grand Rapids Press for a story published Thursday. “And it didn’t matter to them if you had one dollar or 10, they’d be your friend.”

Judging by the amount of money they doled out, the couple had many friends, including fellow parishioners at Alto United Methodist Church, where many of the beneficiaries are members.

“We, the whole church, are obviously grateful to them, and grateful to God that he gave them to us,” said the Rev. Dean Bailey.

Added Bailey’s wife, Jan: “They left a lot to the people they’d loved, and I think everybody was surprised.”

That included the Baileys, who were notified that the Hatches had left the church about $50,000 toward a fund trying to raise $800,000 for a new building. Their gift, said the pastor, represents “about a year’s worth of our fundraising capability.”

AP-ES-01-17-08 2254EST

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