A college degree can dramatically change an individual’s life in ways that are often felt across generations to follow. With the cost of higher education continuing to rise, it’s an opportunity that remains ever out of reach for many Americans.
So when Dale Schroeder neared the end of his life back in 2005, the hardworking Iowan shared a final request. Growing up poor and never starting a family of his own, Schroeder had no living descendants. After working at the same company for 67 years, the humble carpenter wanted to leave his personal savings to help others. Steve Nielsen, a longtime friend, says Schroeder had just one wish. “He said, ‘I never got the opportunity to go to college. So, I’d like to help kids go to college.’”
Nielsen described Schroeder as a “blue collar, lunch pail kind of guy,” to CBS affiliate KCCI, adding that like many Iowans, Schroeder “Went to work every day,” and “Was frugal.” What Nielsen and the lawyer didn’t know is just how frugal and generous Schroeder truly was. “Finally, I was curious and I said, ‘How much are we talking about, Dale?’ And he said, ‘Oh, just shy of $3 million.’ I nearly fell out of my chair,” Nielsen recalls.
Schroeder’s only instructions for his fortune was to send small-town Iowa kids to college. Instead of helping a few kids achieve their dreams, Dale Schroeder’s gift has gone on to send 33 students to college — many who never would have had the chance without the generosity of a kind stranger.
Kira Conrad is one of Dale’s kids as they’ve dubbed themselves. While she had the grades to attend college, her inability to pay for tuition would have kept her from attending if not for a phone call she received on the day of her graduation party. “I grew up in a single parent household and I had three older sisters, so paying for all four of us was never an option,” she said. That is until she was contacted and told that a man named Dale would be picking up the tab. “I broke down into tears immediately,” Conard said.
Conrad, like many of Dale’s Kids, has gone on to achieve great things. Some became doctors, others teachers, and most importantly, they were all able to start their new lives with zero student loan debt. Recently, the dozens of individuals who’ve benefited from his gift came together to honor the man who made their lives what they are today. All he asked in return was that those who benefitted try to “pay it forward” the best they can.
“You can’t pay it back, because Dale is gone, but you can remember him and you can emulate him,” Nielsen says, a fitting tribute to a man whose gift will continue to have a lasting impact long after it’s gone.