Alum’s adventurous, frugal life leads to generosity
Marvin Elston lived a quiet, frugal life of high adventure. As a computer engineer for Scripps Institution of Oceanography, he lived aboard a research ship for months at a time exploring the ocean and the world. Between voyages at his home port of San Diego, the lifelong bachelor spent little of his income on what most would consider essentials, preferring to live simply and modestly, amassing a small fortune over the course of his life.
Born in 1933 in Cameron, Mo., Elston entered the world in the middle of the Great Depression. He and his brother attended a one-room school and when their parents weren’t able to make ends meet, the boys sometimes went hungry. After high school, he joined the U.S. Air Force and later took advantage of the G.I. Bill to attend college, graduating from the University of Missouri in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
By all accounts, Elston greatly enjoyed the opportunity to see the world afforded by his career with Scripps.
“Among his more interesting projects was his work with Dr. [Jacques] Cousteau on his ship, the Calypso,” remembered former MU Engineering Dean Jim Thompson from conversations with Elston. “He also enjoyed taking long vacations on merchant ships that would travel all over the world. He would be one of only a few passengers on those freighters.”
These high seas vacation cruise adventures on container ships didn’t put much of a dent in his pocketbook.
Elston had no family after losing his parents, and his brother died at a relatively young age. He became close friends with his financial advisor, John Martindale, eventually adopting Martindale’s family as his own.
Martindale said Elston expanded his net worth through solid investments in technology and “stable homegrown” companies in Kansas City.
“Marvin also was an astute real estate investor, buying and selling over a half-dozen properties in San Diego,” Martindale added.
“Through the course of years, [our interactions] became less work and took on a more personal basis,” Martindale said. “We spent holidays and birthdays with him, and our kids called him Uncle Marvin.”
When he passed away in 2012, the life-changing impact his education and his time at Mizzou had on his life resulted in Elston leaving most of his fortune to the MU College of Engineering for scholarships.
In November, Martindale, who serves as trustee for Elston’s estate, and his wife Tresa, attended the College’s scholarship dinner to make a presentation of the third payout from Elston’s estate. They also came to meet the five current student recipients of the Marvin Elston Scholarship and to share stories of the stoic man who worked hard and spent his income sparingly in order that other MU Engineering students might have the same shot at a fulfilling life and career that he so enjoyed.
In November 2010, Elston and the Martindale family celebrated Thanksgiving at the Hotel del Coronado on the beachfront in San Diego. Standing on the boardwalk outside the hotel, Elston reminded his adopted family that he wanted to be buried at sea.
“Well Marvin, how do we come visit your grave and leave flowers if you are in the ocean?” Tresa asked.
“You come to this very spot and wave to me,” he replied.
In July 2013, the Martindales chartered a boat and honored Elston’s wish, putting him to rest “with ceremony and flowers” in the ocean just off the coast from the hotel. And as Elston suggested, each time they make a trip to the Hotel del Coronado, they stand on the boardwalk and wave to him.