DES MOINES-AMES, Iowa (CNN) – An Iowa man offers a life-changing gift–not one, but 33 times.
The generosity of a single carpenter who lived in Ames has altered the future for people he has never met.
Four years ago, Kira Conrad was stuck.
“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.
So at her high school graduation party, she was preparing to break the news that college wasn’t possible.
“Almost made me feel powerless, like, I want to do this, I have this goal but I can’t get there just because of the financial part,” she said.
But that’s when her phone rang.
“I broke down into tears immediately.”
The man on the other end dropped the name, Dale Schroeder.
“He was very quiet. Dale was shy,” said Dale’s friend Steve Nielsen.
This man Kira had never met grew up poor, never married and worked as a carpenter for 67 years at the same Des Moines business.
“He was that kind of a blue-collar, lunch pale kind of a guy. Went to work every day, worked really hard, was frugal like a lot of Iowans,” Nielsen said.
And 10 years before Kira’s dilemma, had walked into his lawyers office.
“He said I never got the opportunity to go to college and so I’d like to help kids go to college,” Nielsen said.
Then came the jaw-dropper.
“Finally, I kinda was curious, I said how much are we talking about Dale? And he said, oh just shy of $3 million and I nearly fell out of my chair,” Nielsen said.
When Dale died in 2005, the guy who owned two pair of jeans left behind a rusty chevy truck and instructions to send small-town Iowa kids to college.
“He wanted to help kids that were like him that probably wouldn’t have an opportunity to go to college but for his gift,” Nielsen said.
“For a man that would never meet me, to give me basically a full ride to College, that’s incredible. That doesn’t happen.,” Kira said.
Dale Schroeder’s obituary said he died having no descendants.
On Saturday, the 33 Iowans he put through college gathered around his old lunch box and dubbed themselves Dale’s kids.
The man they never met changed the course of every life in the room.
These doctors, teachers and therapists started their careers with no college debt, but they found out there was a string attached.
“All we ask is that you pay it forward. You can’t pay it back, because Dale’s gone. But you can remember him and you can emulate him,” Nielsen said.
Making sure the generosity of an Iowa carpenter reaches patients, students and strangers all over.
After paying the full, $80,000 college tab for Kira and 32 other Iowans, Dale’s account finally just ran out of money.
(This story was originally published on July 19, 2019)