The Wabash response to a friend's small gift stirred Robert "Bob" Schwab '56 to begin donating regularly more than 50 years ago-a tradition that recently led Bob and his wife, Martha, to establish a charitable remainder trust for a significant amount.
"My dear friend Jim Purdy and I graduated together, and he had gone away to the Army," Bob recalls. "The next fund drive, for 1957, Jim sent a letter with his $25 check saying, 'I'm sorry, this is all I can really afford at this time.' And Byron Trippet (then Wabash's president) sent him a personal letter back saying, 'What you give is not important but rather the heart you give it in.'"
Bob has been giving and visiting the campus ever since, fondly recalling his days on the football team and as part of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, where he was smitten by Martha at a party. Retired after 40 years with Walgreens, Bob and Martha live in the Chicago suburbs, near their two daughters and six grandchildren-the oldest of whom is a Little Giant.
"Martha and I jointly would give something to the College every year," Bob explains. "Then came one of their big drives 10 years ago, and we gave a significant amount. And then through our attorney we set up the charitable remainder trust. Martha and I get income from it as long as one of us is alive.
"It wasn't hard to do at all. The main thing is that (Director of Gift Planning) David Troutman has such a wonderful way about him; he makes you feel comfortable. He knows where we live and he always visits when he comes up this way. And he's got ways of explaining things that make so much sense."
As strong a supporter as he is, Bob as a high school student in Chicago had no plans to attend college-and became the first in his family to do so.
"I was a senior, and it was April. I had a good friend named Bill Halloran, and one day he said to me, 'What are you going to do next fall?' I said I didn't know; I had worked in my dad's delicatessen since I was 11 years old and figured I would do that. But Bill said, 'I got accepted to this good men's school, Wabash. Why don't you check it out with me?' About two weeks later my mom and I went down there, and we met Garland Frazier, the football coach, and that did it. I was not an excellent student in high school, but I did play football.
"Then came June, right after we graduated, and I said to my other friend, Jerry Schneider, 'What are you going to do this fall?' He said, "I don't know, probably still deliver meat from my dad's butcher shop." So I asked him to look into going to Wabash with us. About a day later, Bill called and said, 'I'm not going to Wabash; I just got accepted to Princeton!' But Jerry and I went, and we both joined Phi Psi."
The adjustment to the academic rigor at Wabash was not easy for Bob.
"At Wabash I found a love like a stern father might give," he explains. "The professors could have just turned their backs, but instead they nurtured me through with discipline and a great deal of kindness."
Bob said he is especially grateful for Wabash broadening his horizons.
"I think the roundness of the education that you get is the most important thing," he says. "One small example: I took an art class, the history of art. The professor taught me about painting, though I never picked up a paintbrush. But shortly before retirement I did pick up painting-and for four or five years I painted watercolors that are all around my house and my daughters' houses. I never would have done that if I hadn't gone to Wabash."
Bob earned his degree in economics and political science while working his way through school and playing football, earning a letter all four years as a tackle, end, and placekicker. His senior year planning was a lot better than in high school; the day after he graduated he started at Walgreens.
"That November, Jerry Schneider called me and said, 'Do you think Walgreens will hire me? I don't want to lay cement anymore; it's too darn cold.' He and I started together in kindergarten, through high school, through college, and then were at Walgreens together!"
Bob spent most of his career at Walgreens as a buyer and merchandise manager. He served on a team that reported directly to the company president and suggested ways to revamp the company. He earned an MBA at the University of Chicago in the '70s and retired early at the age of 62. He and Martha, who was an elementary school teacher, still live in the house they built in 1960 in Libertyville, Illinois (they've remodeled it twice). They have been married for 58 years.
"After I first saw her at that party, sitting on the couch with one of my fraternity brothers, I wanted to get her phone number-but he wouldn't give it to me!" Bob recalls. "At Christmas time when he was gone I rifled through his desk and found her number. Our first date was December 22 or 23; I went to Terre Haute where she lived and we had pizza. It wasn't long before I gave her my fraternity pin, and we got married that August."
They travel to the area at least three times a year because Martha's family farm is nearby, and they usually visit the College and take in a sporting event. Bob urges other alumni to get involved and to give back to the best of their ability.
"I'd say to other alumni: Think of your financial picture, think what's going to happen after you leave this world, set aside a plan for your family members, and then set aside for the rest of humanity the best you can," Bob says. "And 'the best you can' might be helping some young men achieve the same goals that you set and succeeded in-through supporting Wabash's ability to give scholarships. I don't know any finer way to honor the human race than to continue to get men to think critically and act responsibly the way Wabash does."