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Humble Carpenter Secretly Saved All Of His Money His Whole Life So He Could Leave $3 Million To 33 Kids He Never Met

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College is, of course, staggeringly expensive and out of reach for many of us. Dale Schroeder of Des Moines, Iowa knew that, and the selfless way he decided to help has made him a legend in Iowa.

When he passed away, the Iowa carpenter left $3 million to 33 kids he'd never met.

Schroeder was a humble man who grew up poor, knew the value of a dollar, and never forgot it.

His frugality was legendary. He worked as a carpenter for the same company for 67 years, and was described by his friend, Steve Nielsen, as a "blue-collar, lunch pail kind of guy."

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According to Nielsen, Schroeder lived a simple life. Shy and quiet, he was the kind of guy who had "work jeans" and "church jeans," and "went to work every day. Worked really hard. Was frugal. Like a lot of Iowans," he said. 

So when Schroeder passed away in 2005, the people in his community assumed he didn't have much to leave behind. They quickly found out they were very wrong — in the best way possible.

Schroeder had been secretly scrimping and saving his entire life so he could send kids to college after he passed away.

Schroeder never married and never had kids of his own, so that helped with his savings. But even Nielsen, who was also Schroeder's lawyer, was shocked by how much he had been able to scrape together during his life.

"He said, 'I never got the opportunity to go to college. So, I'd like to help kids go to college,'" Nielsen said.

That lofty goal of course gave Nielsen pause, given Schroeder's humble life.



Nielsen went on to tell Des Moines' KCCI, "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." 

Schroeder's friend Walt Tomenga said that it wasn't just nickels and dimes from his carpenter paychecks he was socking away.

Carpenter Secretly Saved Money So He Could Will $3 Million To 33 Kids He Never MetPhoto: Julia Sudnitskaya / Shutterstock

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He'd also been not cashing his years of social security checks. Tomenga said that when he passed, the stack of checks was an inch and a half thick, all waiting to be spent on young people's educations.

Schroeder's fortune provided 33 students with college funding ranging from $5,000 grants to full-ride scholarships.

Schroeder was adamant that he wanted his money to go directly to students, not to an institution or charity, so Nielsen and Tomenga set about forming a 501(c)3 of their own.

They then enlisted the help of an outreach arm of the ACT testing authority, which helped develop a process that included essays and interviews to decide which students would get help each year to ensure Schroeder's money reached the right kind of kids — the ones who needed help the most.

One of those kids was Kira Conard. She wanted to be a therapist but had no means to pay for an education. She told KCCI the dilemma "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 when she got the call that she had won one of Schroeder's scholarships — an $80,000 full ride — she "broke down into tears immediately."

Conard was just one of nearly three dozen students whose lives were changed by Schroeder's generosity between 2007, when the first round of scholarships went out, and 2019 when his $3 million fortune was finally fully spent. 

Carpenter Saved Money So He Could Will $3 Million To 33 Kids He Never MetPhoto: fizkes / Shutterstock

Now, the scholarship winners call themselves "Dale's Kids" and occasionally meet up as friends, discussing their careers as therapists, doctors, and teachers. Nielsen has told them that Schroeder had just one simple request of them before he died.

"All we ask is that you pay it forward," Nielsen told them. "You can't pay it back, because Dale is gone, but you can remember him and you can emulate him."

Good advice for all of us.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.