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Iowa carpenter pays college tuition for 33 students

AMES, Iowa (CNN) – An Iowa man offers a life-changing gift – not once, but 33 times.

The generosity of a simple carpenter who lived in Ames has altered the future for people he’s never met.

Four years ago, Kira Conard was stuck. The Winterset native 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,” she said.

So at her high school graduation party, she was preparing to break the news. College wasn’t possible.

“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.

But that’s when her phone rang.

“I broke down into tears immediately,” she said.

The man on the other end dropped the name: Dale Schroeder.

“He was very quiet. Dale was shy,” Steve Nielsen, Dave’s friend said.

This man Kira had never met grew up poor, never married and worked as a carpenter for 67 years at the same Des Moines business.

“He was that kind of a blue collar, lunch pale kind of a guy. Went to work every day, worked really hard, was frugal like a lot of Iowans,” Nielsen said.

Ten years before Kira’s dilemma, he had walked into his lawyer’s office.

“He said, ‘I never got the opportunity to go to college and so I’d like to help kids go to college,'” Nielsen said.

Then came the jaw-dropper.

“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,” Nielsen said.

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

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

Kids like Kira.

“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.

But for 14 years, it has. Dale Schroeder’s obituary says he died having no descendants.

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.

“That’s incredible,” Conard said.

These doctors, teachers and therapists started their careers with no college debt. But they found out there was a string attached.

“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,” Nielsen said.

Making sure the generosity of an Iowa carpenter reaches patients, students and strangers all over.

After paying the full $80,000 college tab for Kira and 32 other Iowans, Dale’s account finally just ran out of money.


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