Dale Schroeder was a simple, humble man from Iowa who worked as a carpenter for the same company for 67 years. He grew up poor and had no wife or children of his own. He lived frugally, owning only two pairs of jeans: one for work and one for attending church on Sundays.
When he died in 2005, no one could have guessed how rich Schroeder really was. He had amassed a fortune of $3 million over the years. He had no living descendants, so before he died, he went to his lawyer with a plan for his money.
“He said, ‘I never got the opportunity to go to college. So, I’d like to help kids go to college,'” Steve Nielsen, Schroeder’s lawyer who helped arrange the scholarships, told CNN.
Not only did Schroeder have enough money to send a few kids to college, he had enough saved to send dozens. He specified that the scholarships should go to small town Iowa kids who wanted to attend one of the three state universities: University of Iowa, Iowa State University or University of Northern Iowa.
“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 remembered.
Schroeder’s friend was shocked by his secret fortune. So were the strangers who received pieces of it. They are known as “Dale’s Kids”, and they met for dinner in 2019 to honor the man who changed their lives.
They are now doctors, teachers, therapists and other professionals who graduated debt free thanks to Schroeder’s generosity. They are also grateful for his gift and want to pay it forward by helping others.
Kira Conrad was one of them. In high school, she had the grades to attend college, but not the money. She wanted to become a therapist, but saw no feasible way to pay for school.
“[It] 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.
That’s when her phone rang.
“I broke down into tears immediately,” Conrad said. The man on the other end told her about Schroeder.
“For a man that would never meet me, to give me basically a full ride to college, that’s incredible. That doesn’t happen,” she said.
Schroeder left specific instructions for his money: send small town Iowa kids to college.
“He wanted to help kids that were like him, that probably would have an opportunity to go to college but for his gift,” Nielsen explained.
There’s just one thing Schroeder asked for in return.
“All we ask is that you pay it forward,” Nielsen said. “You can’t pay it back, because Dale is gone, but you can remember him and you can emulate him.”
Schroeder was a humble man who never sought recognition or fame for his deeds. He was a “blue-collar, lunch pail kind of a guy,” Nielsen said. “Went to work every day. Worked really hard. Was frugal. Like a lot of Iowans.”
But his legacy lives on in the lives of 33 people who are making their mark on the world thanks to his kindness.
– A carpenter saved his whole life to fund college scholarships and helped 33 strangers go to school for free, CNN, July 19, 2019
– Dale Schroeder Iowa: Carpenter used his secret fortune to send 33 strangers to college after he died by creating scholarship with saved $3 million fund, CBS News, July 24, 2019
– Iowa carpenter paid for 33 students to attend college with $3 million fund, The Des Moines Register, July 19, 2019
– Scholarships from a secret millionaire, The University of Iowa, July 2020