Iowa carpenter left bequest that paid college tuition for 33 people in need

Iowa carpenter left bequest that paid college tuition for 33 people in need

AMES, Iowa — An Iowa man offered a life-changing gift not once, but 33 times. The generosity of the simple carpenter who lived in Iowa has altered the future for people he's never met.

Four years ago, Kira Conard was stuck. She had the grades to be a therapist, but not the tuition money.

"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," Conard told KCCI.

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So at her high school graduation party, Conard was preparing to break the news that college wasn't possible for her: "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."

But that's when her phone rang.

"And I broke down into tears immediately," said Conard.

The man on the other end dropped the name Dale Schroeder. The man, who Conard had never met, grew up poor, never married and worked as a carpenter for 67 years at the same Des Moines business. Ten years before Conard's dilemma, Schroeder had walked into his lawyer's office.

"He was very quiet. Dale was shy," said his friend, Steve Nielsen. "He was that kind of a blue collar, lunch pail kind of a guy. Went to work every day, worked really hard, was frugal like a lot of Iowans. He said, 'I never got the opportunity to go to college, and so I'd like to help kids go to college.'"

When Schroeder died in 2005, the man who owned two pair of jeans -- church jeans and work jeans -- and who left behind a rusty Chevy truck also left behind instructions to send small-town Iowa kids to college.

"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," said Nielsen. "He wanted to help kids that were like him that probably wouldn't have an opportunity to go to college but for his gift."

"For a man that would never meet me to give me basically a full ride to college, that's incredible. That doesn't happen," said Conard.

But for 14 years, it has happened for many Iowans.

Schoeder's obituary said he died without descendants, but last Saturday night, 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. They are doctors, teachers and therapists who started their careers with no college debt.

But they found out there was a string attached. After paying the full $80,000 college tab for Conard and 32 other Iowans, Schroeder's account finally ran out of money.

"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," said Nielsen.

It was Schroeder's desire to make sure his kind of generosity would reach patients, students and strangers all over.