My Outlook

Putting the 'us' in genero'us

He was described as a humble man who lived simply. A friend said he had two types of clothes; work jeans and church jeans, and was a "lunch pail kind of guy." So when he died 15 years ago no one could have guessed he had almost $3 million in the bank. 

Iowan Dale Schroeder grew up poor and never had the opportunity to go to college, so before he died he put a plan together to put kids from small town Iowa on the postsecondary path. The 33 strangers who were the beneficiaries of his generosity got together in July to honor the man they never met but who opened doors for them they never could have imagined. 

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In elementary school I had a friend named Siri. She was younger than me but our families spent a fair amount of time together. One day Siri was in a store with her parents when she spotted a doll she wanted. Her parents told her if she saved up her money she could probably buy the doll.

After several months Siri had enough to make the purchase, but she never bought the doll. When she emptied the jar containing her savings she presented the money to her parents and asked that they send it to help children who didn't have any dolls at all. Siri didn't tell us what she had done. She was never prideful about it. I only found out though a conversation with my parents some time later. Many memories could come to mind when I think of our years of friendship, but this is often the one that does. Despite all we shared, this generous act, in which I wasn't a part, stands out.

My little girls were with me when I was paying for parking at the airport several years ago and realized I didn't have enough cash. As I frantically searched for loose coins in my purse an older couple standing near the kiosk asked if they could help. I assured them I would just start over and use my debit card instead but they insisted on offering cash to make up the difference. I got my receipt, thanked the couple, and as we made our way out of the airport my 6-year old remarked how nice the people were and added, "It was something just like daddy would do." And she was right.

Analysts warn about a worrying trend. Giving is down; not only in terms of dollars, but time as well. This is further amplified by the concern that subsequent generations don't seem to be as charitable as the one that proceeded it, so we wonder what the landscape will look like for charities or faith-based organizations or any fundraising activities that rely on giving.

We often say kids learn what they live. The same is most certainly true of adults as well. The more consistently we witness generosity, on any scale, the more likely we are to be generous as well. There's a cyclical effect that causes ripples of all sizes to spread in the most unlikely of places…or people. Dale never met the kids who went to college thanks to his frugal living and generous giving, but they all most certainly have an example to emulate. Just imagine the spin-off from those 33 individuals. 

Most of us have people who taught us the value of giving. Not the ones who are the loudest about it or who donate the biggest amounts, but the ones who quietly go about living a life that is motivated by a generous spirit. One that can be demonstrated by the youngest of children or the oldest of adults anywhere from department stores to college campuses to airport kiosks. 

Whether it is a mom or dad, friend, neighbor or even a stranger, examples of generosity are happening all around us. The amounts are less important than the attitude, since an act of generosity causes more of a wave than we realize. Maybe we could take a moment and think about the people who have been a Dale in our lives, and then determine how we can be a Dale for someone else in turn. That's my outlook.


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