A Spanish Village Stays Afloat, Thanks To Corona Beer Tycoon : Parallels Antonino Fernandez, who made his fortune from Corona beer, died in Mexico in August at 98. But he never forgot where he came from — a tiny village in northern Spain that he helped support for decades.

A Spanish Village Stays Afloat, Thanks To Corona Beer Tycoon

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

After the wealthy founder of Corona beer died last summer, age 98, some news went viral. He was said to have left his fortune to the tiny village in Spain where he was born. The report said each resident would get $2 million.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

That part of the story turned out to be false. There was no will that left money to strangers. But as reporter Lauren Frayer learned on a trip to the village, the Corona tycoon did invest millions in his hometown during his lifetime.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN)

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Like many small Spanish villages without enough people for a store, a truck pulls up here daily, beeps its horn and sells groceries out the back. I ask elderly shoppers how many people live here. The number's so small they start counting on their fingers.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I don't know.

FRAYER: In the 20th century, people quit the Spanish countryside in droves, fleeing rural poverty for jobs in the city, but a handful of retired farmers who stayed in Cerezales del Condado on the northern plains of Leon got lucky. They're now sharing the wealth of Antonino Fernandez, who was born here in 1917. He later immigrated to Mexico where he made his fortune with Corona beer. Before he died last summer, he gave about $8 million to a cultural foundation he created here.

LUCIA ALAEJOS: We are heading to the new headquarters which will be open next April. It's the last investment of Antonino Fernandez.

FRAYER: Foundation spokeswoman Lucia Alaejos walks me up to a soaring glass and timber arts complex still under construction that towers over this humble village.

ALAEJOS: We do, like, a jazz festival, puppet shows, workshops, an exhibition, also, during the summer - so more than 30 activities.

FRAYER: I ask the construction workers if they've ever seen facilities like this in a village this size.

JAVIER LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "Not in towns 30 times this size," says Javier Lopez as he shovels sand. Antonino Fernandez hadn't lived here in about 75 years, but he visited most summers and just paid for stuff, says Maximino Sanchez, head of the neighborhood council.

MAXIMINO SANCHEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "The cemetery, paved roads, new sewers, renovations to the church, a chapel, gardens, a fountain" - Sanchez rattles off a list, improvements he estimates cost Fernandez millions over the years.

SANCHEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "He was just a nice guy. He didn't owe us anything," he says as we walk down a street named after Antonino Fernandez and into the town's only bar, which serves only Corona beer of course.

(CROSSTALK)

FRAYER: In Spain, everyone dreams of winning the famous Christmas lottery El Gordo, the fat one. It's a group thing. Whole villages win. Local Bruce Lopez Gregory says he feels like this town has won the lottery every year since Antonino Fernandez struck it rich.

BRUCE LOPEZ GREGORY: It's incredible what he has done. I don't have words. It's just improved the life level. It's priceless.

FRAYER: Antonino Fernandez wanted to keep his hometown alive. And last year, a young couple with two children moved in. This spring, the new art center on the hill will hold its grand opening, and Corona beer will be served. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Cerezales del Condado, northern Spain.

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