Postal worker's fortune will help the blind

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- C.J. Teubert never made more than $6,000 a year during his career as a postal worker, and used to go around in secondhand clothes. He scribbled his "last will, etc." on the back of an old business letter without wasting a single word, much less paper.

But when he died at 91 in 1979, Teubert left an estate worth more than $3 million, most of which he dedicated to helping the blind.

More than 23 years after the death of the miser-turned-philanthropist, Huntington is starting to see the results of Teubert's vision.

With a $1 million grant from the Teubert trust and additional money from other charities, the American Foundation for the Blind, with headquarters in New York, has chosen this depressed former steel town as the site of a new laboratory that will test devices designed to make it easier for the blind to make their way into the work force.

Last month, the foundation opened an interim laboratory with about a half-dozen employees in what used to be a department store. The foundation plans to build a new lab in an industrial park just outside of Huntington. It is expected to be at least two years before it opens.

The center will become a "Consumer Reports-type laboratory for the blind," foundation spokesman Michael Sylvie said. He said his organization hopes to ease the 70 percent unemployment rate among the nation's blind with the testing of such things as speech synthesizers for computers.

The laboratory is still being designed and the foundation is unable to say how many people it will ultimately employ.

Teubert's bequest left the city with two mysteries, one of them more easily answered than the other: How did the civil servant amass such a fortune? And why did he leave it to the blind?

"Mr. Teubert dearly loved to read, and he told one or two of his friends that he couldn't imagine anything worse than losing his eyesight," said Jimelle Bowen, the trust's executive director. "He said, 'I feel sorry for the blind. They can't read and they can't see anything in this world.'"

'20th century Scrooge'

But no one is entirely sure how he accumulated his wealth.

Teubert (pronounced TOO-bert) never married, had no close relatives, and often wandered the streets of Huntington in cast-off clothes and tennis shoes he scrounged from the Marshall College athletic department.

"I think he could qualify as a 20th century Ebenezer Scrooge," said retired Huntington postmaster Roy Hatton in an interview several years before his death last year. "I never knew him to have a car. He walked practically everywhere he went, and with his clothing, you'd think he was a homeless person."

The wording of Teubert's will became the subject of a court fight that lasted more than eight years. Before the wrangling was over in 1987, the estate had grown to $9 million.

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