California businessman donates more than $1M to high school students, staff in burned town

A California businessman saddened over the destruction of one town due to a deadly wildfire gave $1,000 each to students and staff members at a local high school Tuesday.

Bob Wilson, a restaurant owner and real estate developer, made the donation to Paradise High School’s 980 students and 105 teachers and staff members. He said he thought of the donation after reading about the students’ hardships. His donations totaled $1.1 million, according to the Associated Press.

Wilson, 90, said his own high school memories inspired him to help make the kids smile. He said he wanted to “give a little freedom to do whatever they wanted to do and maybe take their minds off what happened for a short period.”

“High school had a great impact on my life,” the San Diego native said. “In fact, I would say it was the first, last and only truly carefree time.”

Loren Lighthall, the school’s principal, said he thinks 900 students lost their homes because of the fire. The massive blaze killed 88 people across Northern California.

In this photo provided by Paradise High School Principal Loren Lighthall, Bob Wilson, a San Diego restaurant owner and real estate developer pained over the destruction to the town of Paradise caused by the deadly Northern California Camp wildfire, holds some of $1.1 million to hand out to students and staff members - $1,000 each - from Paradise High School, at an assembly in Chico, Calif.

In this photo provided by Paradise High School Principal Loren Lighthall, Bob Wilson, a San Diego restaurant owner and real estate developer pained over the destruction to the town of Paradise caused by the deadly Northern California Camp wildfire, holds some of $1.1 million to hand out to students and staff members - $1,000 each - from Paradise High School, at an assembly in Chico, Calif. (Loren Lighthall via AP)

“Bob's donation puts money in each kid's pocket right now for food, gas, clothes, for essential things,” Lighthall said.

The event Tuesday was also a chance for students to come together.

“It’s been good to see everybody,” student Kate Minderhoud told the Paradise Post. “Everyone is just so excited to see everyone.”

Jaycee Bawley told the newspaper it was a chance to see her “Bobcat Family” again.

“It’s been an amazing experience seeing everyone here,” she said. “And seeing the donor who gave us the money out of the kindness of his heart.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.