NEW YORK (Reuters) - When Anton Marinovich turned 18, his grandmother gave him $1,000 with strict instructions to invest in the stock market. He chose Apple Inc (AAPL.O).
Seventeen years later, his investment is worth more than $240,000 and will bring him over $1,000 a quarter through the company's new dividend plan.
"It's pretty bananas," Marinovich said. "I always hear about all these people here in Silicon Valley falling into huge luck, but I never thought it would happen to me," said Marinovich, who is the director of sales at Equilar, a Redwood City, California-based executive compensation consultant.
Watching Apple shares soar more than 77 percent over the past 12 months has been a wild ride for people like Marinovich, who are firmly planted in the cult of Apple. Between him and his fiancee they own two iPhones, two MacBooks an iPad and 400 shares of Apple.
Many loyalists bought stock years ago when shares languished at double-digit prices. The held on to it out of a love for the company and its products. Now, they are being richly rewarded by a share price of around $600 and a rich dividend payout from Apple's cash pile of nearly $100 billion.
Nearly two dozen individual Apple shareholders interviewed by Reuters say they are not going on crazy spending sprees or vacations to Fiji, de spite the huge windfall they could get by cashing out. Practically none of them said they plan to sell, a loyalty that gives some of their financial planners heartburn.
That's not to say they aren't treating themselves - or breathing a little easier.
Marinovich said the comfort of his Apple investment cushion means more freedom in his spending habits. He recently bought himself a $2,000 Omega watch and is shopping for a new Audi to replace his Volkswagen Jetta.
Retiree Pat Harshbarger, 79, has seen her $13,800 investment in Apple rise to $46,000. That paper wealth has made the former nurse comfortable enough to consider taking a few more trips to Maine to visit family and one to Las Vegas, where she and her husband want to try their hand at the slot machines, she said.
Seventy-one years old Stan Merkin, a retired Dell and IBM programmer whose portfolio has gained about $100,000 just by buying Apple since late last year, said he will buy another 50 shares if the stock hits $650.
"What I have made in Apple gives me comfort about how I can live in retirement," he said.
Many loyal Apple shareholders see the stock as a "safety net" for their futures, one they believe only goes up.
"I am a firm believer in the company," said Marinovich's 31-year-old brother Erik M arinovich, who also bought 50 shares of Apple with money from his grandmother. The investment is now worth $60,000 more than he paid. "I am going to stay in this until retirement."
For Apple lovers in their 30s and 40s - those who bore the brunt of both the dot-com crash and financial meltdown - holding Apple feels a responsible move.
Nate Landau, 38, lived at the edge of the dot-com boom and bust. He has worked at eight different companies, mostly in the technology sector, since 1996. He still remembers the night his father brought home Apple's first computer, when he was 10 years old.
"I just remember using Mac Paint and really being blown away," said Landau, who once insisted a new employer provide him with a Mac even though the rest of the company had PCs.
"I see Apple as my rainy day fund," said Landau, who is now managing director of Internet publisher Food Republic. His investment of $15,000 in Apple stock 12 years ago is now worth $60,000 even though he sold 200 of his 300 shares.
Kristi Faulkner recalls a similar experience when she saw her first Mac Classic in a high school art classroom in Grand Prairie, Texas.
"It had this little, tiny four by six screen and it was the coolest art tool I had ever seen," said Faulkner, who with her two daughters currently own two Mac desktops, three MacBooks, two iPhones and countless iPods, iTouches and nanos.
Faulkner, now 44, is president of Womenkind, a marketing agency that targets women. She still feels a strong connection to Apple - one that extends to her stock.
"Apple made computers accessible to me as a girl and as an artist," she said. "If it dives tomorrow, I am not selling."
That kind of emotional attachment makes financial advisers more than a little nervous.
When Faulkner signed up with a financial adviser a year ago, all of her savings was invested in Apple and Internet search giant Google (GOOG.O).
"She told me to sell it and I said, 'are you kidding'," Faulkner said. She did trim back from 250 to 155 shares in Apple, but still made m o re than $82,500 off Apple since 2005.
Financial advisers regularly warn Apple groupies to get out of owning so much Apple - before they regret it.
"My broker is constantly calling me to tell me to sell it," said Jeff Gonzalez, a 31-year-old advertising director whose portfolio has gained more than $16,500 from the 31 shares of Apple he bought in 2005. "Every week I call him up and say 'Look you are wrong, it's gone up again'."
"Nothing is going to make me sell," Gonzalez said.
Even Apple lovers who are in the financial business have a hard time staying objective.
Matt Reiner, a 25-year-old financial adviser whose investment in 40 shares of Apple has gained about $11,000, knows he should get out while the going is good.
"I know there is so much euphoria around Apple, but it's very hard to sell a stock which seemingly has its products in everyone's hands," he said.
Reporting By Jessica Toonkel; Editing by Jennifer Merritt and Tim Dobbyn