An Iowa millionaire who amassed a secret fortune over his lifetime surprised 33 local teenagers after his death by covering the entire cost of their college tuitions.
Dale Schroeder, a carpenter from Des Moines who grew up poor and never married or had children, lived a simple, "blue-collar, lunch pail" life, his friend and attorney, Steve Nielsen, told KCCI.
"Went to work every day. Worked really hard. Was frugal. Like a lot of Iowans," Nielsen told the station. "He had church jeans and work jeans."
Unbeknownst to many, Schroeder had saved up quite an impressive sum of cash over his 67 years working at Moehl Millwork, Inc., a wholesale distributor based in Ankeny, Iowa — and he went to Nielsen with special plans for his fortune before his death, in 2005.
"He said, 'I never got the opportunity to go to college. So, I'd like to help kids go to college,'" Nielsen recalled. "He wanted to help kids that were like him, that probably would have an opportunity to go to college but for his gift."
"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."
In total, Schroeder was able to send 33 young adults to college before his funds ran out, many of them like Kira Conard, a top high school student from Winterset, Iowa, who grew up in a single-parent household and could not afford to take the next step in her education.
Conard said her life was forever changed one day when she got a phone call informing her she was on the receiving end of Schroeder's generosity.
"I broke down into tears immediately," she told KCCI.
Conard and the other 32 young adults whose tuitions were covered by Schroeder — some now doctors, teachers and therapists — have dubbed themselves "Dale's kids," and gather periodically to honor his legacy.
According to Nielsen, there was just one thing Schroeder wanted in return for his generosity.
"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."