Dale Schroeder was a simple, humble man from Iowa, who ended up changing the lives of 33 people forever. Schroeder worked as a carpenter at the same company for 67 years. He grew up poor and had no wife or children of his own.
His friend Steve Nielsen described Schroeder as a "blue collar, lunch pail kind of guy."
"Went to work every day. Worked really hard. Was frugal. Like a lot of Iowans," Nielsen told CBS Des Moines affiliate KCCI-TV.
When he died in 2005, no one could have guessed how rich Schroeder really was. "He had church jeans and work jeans," Nielsen said.
Schroeder had saved up a fortune 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,'" Nielsen said. Not only did Schroeder have enough money to send a few kids to college, he had enough saved to send dozens.
"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.
Kira Conard was one of them. In high school, she had the grades to attend college, but not the 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," she said.
Conard 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."
That's when her phone rang. "I broke down into tears immediately," Conard said. The man on the other end told her about Schroeder.
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.
Schroeder ended up paying for 33 strangers' college tuitions. The group, who has dubbed themselves "Dale's kids," got together earlier this month to honor the man who changed their lives. They're now doctors, teachers, therapists — and friends.
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."
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