Giving is better than receiving. This adage is one most of us have heard since we were little. It’s a tough sell to many children. Yet, time and maturity bring us to the truth. This past week, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I witnessed an act of selfless giving unlike any I’ve heard of before, let alone witnessed.
Rudi Roeslein came into my life eight years ago. The changes I’ve personally experienced directly and indirectly because of his influence have been life altering. A few years after meeting him, I asked to join his company, Roeslein Alternative Energy (RAE). He hired me, and I’ve spent the last five years at RAE as the company’s Director of Communications. While I have learned a lot about business by being close to Rudi, the lessons I have learned about life from hearing his words and observing his actions, far exceed those taught in any board room.
This column doesn’t have much to do with the outdoors, but I must share this story. Rudi and I do share a common love for nature and traditional sporting pursuits. That’s what brought us together. Our business is rooted in the restoration of prairie and always takes into consideration the ecological and environmental impacts of any efforts we make. Business has been good to Rudi, leaving him with wealth beyond what he ever imagined. His generosity with time, money, and attention is reflective of his humble roots.
Rudi was an immigrant who came to the United States at 8-years old with his family after World War II. They had been displaced from their home and spent years living in camps, until a family sponsored them to move to St. Louis. Starting over in a new country, with very little money wasn’t easy. Rudi learned early in life to value those you love more than material possessions. Now, at 75 years old, Rudi is living out his personal moto of “What more can I do?”
A few years ago, he called me into his office to talk about diversity. He said he was not happy with the lack of diversity in the company’s internship program. Much of the work done at Roeslein is engineering and construction. Neither of these disciplines are teeming with people of color. So, Rudi said to develop a path that could lead more minority students to our internship program. This led me to Cardinal Ritter College Prep in downtown St. Louis.
The school’s website states, “Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory High School is a Catholic urban high school which educates primarily African-American young men and women who are both traditional and non-traditional college bound students.”
Currently, 439 students are enrolled at the high school. The character of the collective student body, the administrators, teachers, coaches, and everyone I’ve met associated with this school is incredible. It is so humbling to meet these young men and women. To hear their stories and to learn of their aspirations. And to hear about the success so many are experiencing post-graduation.
The great takeaway for me from this relationship with the school is how potential is clearly unlocked through opportunity. When simply given an environment conducive for success, most young people, regardless of race or socio-economic status, will chose the path to a brighter future. At Cardinal Ritter, this is evident.
At a point in his life when giving means so much more than receiving, Rudi and his wife of 54-years, Judy, decided they wanted to give a gift to each of the students at Cardinal Ritter, and Rudi’s St. Louis high school alma mater, St. Mary’s. Their goal was to show the students people who do not even know them, love them. And that there are people out there, beyond heir small inner circle, who want to invest, emotionally and economically, in helping to steer the students towards a life with less hardship.
Rudi asked me to join him last Wednesday at Cardinal Ritter just before lunch. The school gathered all the students in the gymnasium. Rudi was introduced and proceeded to give a short, but powerful speech about his own upbringing and his family’s struggles to make ends meet. He delivered a message of hope and love, and hard work and determination. Then it was announced that very student at Cardinal Ritter was to receive a gift of $250 from Rudi and Judy. The gymnasium exploded in a roar. There were screams and shrieks of joy. There was laughter and there were tears.
All Rudi asked of the students was to consider using some of the money to benefit others. To pay it forward for members of their family. He received hugs and high-fives. Took selfies and ended up on the local news. That’s not why he did it, though. He did it because he remembers listening to his parents try to figure out how to afford Christmas gifts for him and his brother nearly 70 years ago. He’s known struggle and he’s known excess. Through both periods of his life, he’s maintained character and goodwill towards others is what matters most.
We celebrate Christmas because Christ gave his life for us. We cannot match the gift Jesus gave to us, but we can try to do good for those we share this world with. As you celebrate this holiday season, consider asking yourself, as Rudi does each morning, what more can I do?
See you down the trail…
Pic: Rudi Roeslein with students at Cardinal Ritter after gifting every student $250 for Christmas.