Dale Schroeder lived a simple, frugal life. Born poor, he wasn’t afraid of an honest day’s work.
Nearly every day for 67 years he carried his lunchbox to work at the same company, Moehl Millwork in Des Moines, Iowa, as a carpenter. At night, two pairs of jeans hung in his closet — one for work, the other for church. Described as “quiet and shy,” he never married and never had children.
When Schroeder passed away in 2005, at the age of 86, he left behind a rusty Chevy truck…and the keys to a bright future for 33 unsuspecting kids.
A Lifetime of Honest Work Turned Into a Life-Changing Opportunity for 33 Kids
Shortly before his death, Schroeder approached his lawyer and friend, Steve Nielsen, for help with his dying wish. He wanted his secret life savings, a whopping $3 million, to be used for something he never had the opportunity to get — a college education.
Nielsen was shocked when the “blue-collar, lunch-pail kind of a guy,” told him of his fortune.
“I said, ‘How much are we talking about, Dale?’” Nielsen told KCCI. “And he said, ‘Oh, just shy of $3 million.’ I nearly fell out of my chair.”
Schroeder had Nielsen set up a scholarship fund for small-town Iowa kids to go to college.
“He wanted to help kids who were like him, that probably wouldn’t have an opportunity to go to college but for his gift,” Nielsen said.
For 14 years, Schroeder’s money fully funded 33 young Iowans’ college dreams.
“Dale’s Kids” Gather to Honor the Carpenter Who Made Their College Dreams a Reality
In 2019, the money ran out. But not before 33 young lives were forever changed by a humble carpenter they never even met.
One of those kids was Kira Conrad. She was one of the last kids to benefit from Schroeder’s scholarship.
“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,” Conrad told KCCI. “[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.’”
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Kira wanted to become a therapist but she didn’t think it would ever happen. That is until she received a fateful phone call from Steve Nielsen with life-changing news. Her $80,000 tuition would be paid in full, all thanks to Dale 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.
However, for a room full of college graduates, that’s exactly what happened. In 2019, all of “Dale’s Kids” gathered for a celebration to honor the man who had made their dreams possible.
Teachers, doctors, therapists, and more all sat around the old carpenter’s lunchbox to talk about Schroeder and the amazing impact he had, not just on their lives, but also on their families lives and everyone they touch.
A Carpenter’s Only Hope Was That They Pay It Forward
The scholarship wasn’t completely free, however. Schroeder had one stipulation. He asked that the recipients pay it forward.
“All we ask is that you pay it forward,” Nielsen shared. “You can’t pay it back, because Dale’s gone. But you can remember him and you can emulate him.” A small price to pay for a life irrevocably changed.
In a world where wealth and material possessions are often seen as the measure of success, the story of a humble carpenter stands as a testament to the idea that true wealth lies in the positive impact one can make on others’ lives.
Schroeder didn’t just change the lives of 33 kids. He left behind a legacy of generosity and kindness that will be felt by generations to come.