The following biographical sketch of Roger Grein was written by Zai Johns, a senior (Class of 2013) at Mount Notre Dame and a leader in Mount Notre Dame's Youth Philanthropy Council. Over the past three years, Zai has had the opportunity to spend many hours with Roger during our bi-weekly YPC meetings at MND. Zai was excited about the opportunity to share Roger's story for the Magnified Giving website.
If my seventeen years of life have taught me anything about life itself, it is that life is a roller coaster. You have your good moments, your bad moments, and even your moments where life is as constant as the stars. Why do we have these bad moments in our life if life is a gift from God? Well, honestly I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that question besides God himself. However, I have come to realize that those bad moments in life are usually challenges or struggles that God gives us for a reason. And he gives them to us to teach us something, or to work with him through his mysterious ways.
There is one person in my life that has overcome many challenges and struggles. Through it all he kept his faith in God. His name is Roger Grein. Roger has this incredible gift that God gave him, which is to never give up. Not once did Roger give up when the going got tough. He conquered and overcame the struggles with his determination, persistence, and dedication. Today Roger’s story is an inspiration to many. I hope you too are inspired never to give up through Roger’s story.
Frank and Thelma Grein
Roger was born in the year 1942. He was given to the St. Joseph Infant Home. Frank and Thelma Grein, a lovely couple, were unable to have children and had been on the waiting list for St. Joseph Infant home for many years. They received a call and were overjoyed, for their prayers had been answered. They adopted Roger, a six month old baby. That night they welcomed little Roger into their family.
Both Frank and Thelma fell in love with Roger, and would even stay up late looking at his beautiful blue eyes. Unfortunately Frank was called to the war shortly after Roger joined the family, leaving Thelma to take care of Roger all alone.
He may never…
One day Thelma noticed something was different with little Roger so she took him to the doctors. The doctors told Thelma that Roger had a spastic condition that was the result of a birth injury. (Many years later this was diagnosed as Cerebral Palsy). Besides this news, the doctors also told Thelma that Roger may never walk, talk, or even know her.
Thelma the First Angel
Once people found out about Roger’s condition they told Thelma to give him back. Others told her to exchange him for another child. Some told her he wasn’t worth all the trouble, and that he wouldn’t amount to anything.
However Thelma didn’t listen to any of them. She listened to God instead, and kept Roger. Throughout his life she never once gave up on him. She dedicated her life to helping him live his. Thelma loved Roger unconditionally, and knew that he had potential. She was the first angel in Roger’s life.
Learning to walk was one of Roger’s first challenges. The doctors had told Thelma that he may never walk. But she didn’t listen to their doubts, for she knew that he could overcome whatever he set his mind too. She took it one step at a time.
She would set him upright and together they would walk down the street as she gently repeated, “Heel-Toe, Heel-Toe.” This constant encouraging guidance helped him along the path, and kept him from tripping over his own two feet.
He learned how to walk, to talk, to ride a bike, and when he got older, he even learned to drive a car. And although these milestones took many times more effort for Roger than most kids because he had a disability to deal with, he never gave up.
From a very young age Roger loved sports. He tried out for all of the teams, but he never made a single one, even though all of his friends did. Roger, crushed and heartbroken, remained determined. He continued trying out, and it paid off.
The day after he tried out for basketball, the coach, John Buechner, called Roger into his office. Coach Buechner offered Roger a management position on the team, due to Roger’s incredible effort at tryouts. Roger accepted the offer even though it meant picking up sweaty towels and carrying water around. He was glad to be part of the team.
God’s plan was different than Roger’s original plan, but by following God’s will instead of his own, Roger found the purpose and happiness he longed for in sports. He never got to play in games, but he became a girls’ softball coach for 36 years. He led teams to play in championships all over the world including Hawaii, Mexico, Sweden, and the former Soviet Union.
Even at a young age, Roger was an entrepreneur. Once he saw the rewards of his hard work, he was hooked. He started when he was five years old collecting pop and beer bottles. A grocer down the street from his house would give him two cents for every pop bottle and five cents for every beer bottle he brought in. Roger would make one dollar to two dollars a day easily, and saved all of it.
One day, once Roger had saved enough, Thelma went with Roger to buy a Radio Flyer red wagon. He would go up and down streets collecting old newspapers the neighbors had saved for him. Hershbergs, the recycler in town, would pay Roger by the pound.
At the age of ten Roger had saved enough to buy a lawn mower. When he was 12 years old he was cutting 8 lawns a week. Because of his persistence, dedication to his costumers, and determination to get the job done, by high school Roger had more than 40 customers in his lawn mowing business. His costumers included Lockland’s mayor, school principal, and school superintendent.
Hard Work Pays Off
Using his gifts of determination and persistence Roger mastered his studies. He graduated high school, and three years later at the University of Cincinnati he graduated with a degree in finance. His dream was to be a stockbroker, but unfortunately with no connections into that world, he was never given the chance. But this didn’t stop him from entering the finance world.
He was out of college and wanted a job. All of his friends had jobs, but he could never get one. That is until a family friend helped Roger get a job at a bank. A year later Roger was fired. His boss told him, “You just don’t fit in.” And to make matters worse, Roger’s boss mentioned that he had bad handwriting as well.
Despite the blows from his boss, Roger wasn’t discouraged. He looked around for a job, but regardless of his degrees, no one would hire him. After he had proven what he could do, people still had doubts about him.
Roger couldn’t find a job, so he went back to his lawn mowing business. He came up with the idea of doing people’s tax returns, so he asked his lawn mowing costumers if he could do theirs. Then he made business cards and began passing those around to people he knew and to his costumers as well.
A few people accepted his offer. During his first year he did over 35 tax returns. He continued to advertise his tax return business, and more and more people took him up on his offer. His old coach, teachers, and even employees of nearby plants agreed.
By his third year Roger was doing over 345 returns, with his mom typing them up. In the year 1970 he opened up his own office in Reading to do tax returns. He was doing over 850 returns, and even had a staff of eight.
How Do I Serve Others?
Roger Grein has always been and will always be a follower of God. He had saved money from his tax return business, but instead of spending his earnings on himself, he asked himself; how do I serve others?
He was giving thousands of dollars by funding scholarships and charitable works as his business grew. In the year 1999, he gave $500,000 to Northern Kentucky University’s to fund softball scholarships and for scholarships to physically challenged students. But he still wanted to give more.
Just an Idea
In August 2001, Roger was having lunch with former NKU President Jim Vortuba. Jim told Roger about an idea for a student philanthropy partnership with the Mayerson Foundation. The students would give to local charities. A light bulb went off in Roger's head. He thought it was a great idea, but wondered if it was something for him to personally take on.
Who Do I Give To?
Each year Roger started struggling on deciding whom his money would best impact. Should he support the poor in Africa or the poor in his own city, Cincinnati? Should he feed the homeless, or educate the homeless?
As he was thinking of the student philanthropy idea, he came to love it more and more. If he could get the young people involved, charities would still get the money and he would be giving to a charity that could be greatly impacted with the money. The potential was huge. This program could change the outlook of young people. There could be little Rogers, who would use their time, talents, and treasures to help others. Instead of Roger making and learning from the decisions, they could.
Roger went on a retreat to reflect with God on what he should do and to pray for God’s guidance. He shared the idea with retreat master Father Jim Hoff. Jim got Roger an appointment with the President of Xavier, Father Michael Graham.
Xavier was interested in the program and started a course the following spring. The students had fun and saw the needs of others. At the end of the first year, Roger went to the award ceremony and saw the enthusiasm of the students, adults, and non-profit agency representatives. The program did affect people’s outlook!
Roger got the incentive to keep going with the program and expand it. But should he keep it local or take it to the national level? He went to other colleges and expanded the program with his own expenses. He was funding seven colleges.
Five years later, in 2006, Roger learned of Campus Compact. Campus Compact is a non-profit organization composed of eleven hundred colleges campuses. He thought to himself; if I get them involved, then the program can spread to all of the colleges in America. He signed a contract with them. They ran the student philanthropy program, and all Roger had to do was sign a check.
Everything was going smoothly, non-profits were being helped, students' lives were being touched, and everyone was happy. The feedback was positive, and the future looked bright.
A New Opportunity
One day Roger shared the program with Sister Rita, President of Mount Notre Dame High School. After their conversation he thought about doing the program at a high school level. Sister Rita got him an appointment with local philanthropist Dennis Doyle.
The Student Philanthropy Program, later named Magnified Giving, was born through the relationship with Sister Rita, Dennis Doyle, Sparkle Worley, and Todd Forman, a teacher at Mount Notre Dame. Todd spread Roger's vision and found seven local high schools eager to participate in the program. Roger now had 16 colleges and soon 7 high schools in his philanthropy program.
Roger had over $7 million from his businesses and savings over the years invested in the banking industry. In 2008, the economy turn a downturn. Since Roger was not diversified, what was once worth $7 million became $65,000. The funding for the programs came to an abrupt halt.
What Do I Do?
Now emotionally devastated, Roger felt responsible. The money he lost was for other people and now it was gone in the blink of an eye. Questions kept running through Roger’s mind, while he became depressed and felt guilty for the money disappearing.
In order to get through this tough time, Roger went on a retreat to talk and pray to God. He realized that he had given it his all, and that he had never given up throughout the journey. He struck out, but at least he had swung the bat. He didn’t like how it had ended, but he accepted it.
In order to clear his conscience, he went back to the 16 colleges, and apologized to each President face to face. He had felt guilty about what had happened even though it wasn’t his fault.
However, the President of Mercy College in Toledo told Roger that they would continue the program without him. With this news, Roger found hope. Many other colleges also understood the value of the program and found funding to keep it alive.
He Became a Beggar
Roger knew the value of the program, and how it impacted lives. He thought of a way to fund the program by asking people for donations. He would become a beggar. He sent out over 3000 letters in which he shared the good works of the program. Money began to come back in from the people Roger had touched over the years.
What once was just a simple idea now is a growing local non-profit organization that teaches the youth in the local Cincinnati area (and beyond) about social needs, the charities addressing those needs, and how to give back to their community. There are now hundreds of supporters, 35 participating schools and youth programs, over 300 donors, and an expanding board of directors. Over the years Magnified Giving has been able to survive due to the donations of generous people eager to see their investment magnified.
The 2012-2013 school year marks the fifth anniversary of Magnified Giving in which we will be able to celebrate the persistence, dedication, and determination of one man, Roger Grein. Magnified Giving continues to grow each year, and one day it will hopefully spread nationally.
Roger Never a Failure
Throughout his whole life people doubted and gave up on Roger. They said he wasn’t good enough, and he wouldn’t amount to anything. But Roger did. God gave him angels in life to support him, such as his mom, his basketball coach, and numerous others.
Roger’s greatest achievement was never giving up. When the market crashed in 2008, he found another way to fund the high school program. When his boss from the bank fired him and no one else hired him, he started his own business in the finance world. No matter how tough things got, or how many people told him he couldn’t do it, he persisted through and overcame the challenges.
Besides never giving up on his goals when things got tough, he never gave up on himself. Even though people throughout his life gave up on him, he listened to the few people that never did: his mom, his basketball coach, his mower customers, the staff at multiple colleges and high schools, and most importantly, God.
Today Roger still does tax returns in Reading Ohio. He is also the President and Founder of Magnified Giving, speaking to hundreds of students every year, sharing his life story. He has spoken around the world, and his story is an inspiration to adults and youth alike.
I have been deeply inspired by his story and touched by his passion for helping others, and I look up to Roger as my role model. I have been truly blessed by God to have Roger in my life. He has taught me many things about philanthropy which I will never forget, but the best thing that he has taught me is to never give up.
Thank you Roger!