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During his teen years on the exciting isles of Trinidad and Tobago, Vito Lara, Ph.D., 61, knew that he would not follow his brothers into a singing career. “I didn’t have the voice for it,” he admits jovially. While his family became successful on the entertainment circuit-Lord Lara and the Lara Brothers are famous calypsonians-Vito stolidly followed his heart into finance.
After meeting his wife, Celestine, 57, at a party in his homeland when he was 25 and she 21, they soon wed. “She hasn’t been able to get rid of me since,” he declares. The couple emigrated to the U.S. in 1963. Between 1967 and 1969, Lara earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees (and in 1985, his doctorate) from Howard University, Washington, D.C., while Celestine became a registered nurse.
From 1967 to 1973, Vito worked at The World Bank in Washington, D.C. in the economics department. After which, he moved to Trinidad, where he worked for the Industrial Development Corp. and later the Ministry of Finance. Later, he took a job as a professor of economics and finance at the University at the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C., and began to practice what he preached, contributing the maximum 10% to his 401(k), 15% of which was matched by the college. When his wife began to put away $50 monthly, Vito was encouraged to stash $150 a month in mutual funds and annuities. By 1980, though their credit-card debt had ballooned to about $20,000, the Laras used their savings to buy a home in Hyattsville, Maryland.
As their investment portfolio grew, so did the Lara’s financial vision: why should it stop with them? In 1991, their daughters Deborah, 30, and Amanda, 32, joined an investment club, putting away $200 and $300, respectively, per month.
In 1993, Vito became the first recipient of a General Mills’ Professorship at Columbia University, but in 1996, after 17 years with the UDC, he was laid off. Undaunted, he assessed his net worth. Landing on his feet by hosting investment seminars, Vito withdrew $100,000 from his 401(k) in 1997, putting $50,000 into a TIAA-CREFF health insurance policy. With Celestine now working as the clinical director at HMI Home Care, the Laras bought a second house in Glendale, Maryland, with the remainder of his 401(k) money and profits from his investments. He rented out the first house and the couple moved to Glendale.
But the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Daughters Deborah and Amanda used the profits from their investments to buy their own homes, Deborah in 1996 and Amanda in 1998.
Now an investing instructor at Bowie State University, Bowie, Maryland, Vito is toying with the idea of playing the stock market with about 25% of his investment allocation each month. “I’m thinking of continuing with my mutual funds, but I want to take on a little risk with stocks and see how that turns out,” he says. By incorporating a stock exercise in his classes, for which students have an imaginary sum of $100,000 to invest, Lara