Earlier this year, Warren Buffett announced Berkshire Hathaway would put up $US1 billion as part of a promotion from Quicken Loans to reward anyone who filled out a perfect NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket.
However, a day later we wrote about Buffett’s challenge, we got an email from Rhonda Hess, a retired kindergarten teacher and mother of three other teachers. She thoughtfully laid out her frustration that such a huge sum would be rewarded for what amounts to dumb luck, and detailed her family’s concerns about paying off their sons’ college loans. With her permission, we published her remarks:
…Life is good and don’t get me wrong, we are blessed. We have so much more than countless others in the world and we know that. We have the luxuries of a roof over our heads and a car and can pay our bills even though most months are tight. However, the college loans drag on us like a ton of bricks. With them, we have no flexibility. Now we worry about things like how we are we ever going to replace the roof or the furnace when they quit. Any type of health issue would be devastating. Our finances depend totally on our prayer life and we are very thankful, God has been faithful. Why couldn’t Mr. Buffett’s organisation instead of giving a billion dollars to one lucky person for something as frivolous as a basketball bracket (and I had three sons that played the game and love it) help LOTS of families that struggle to always do the right thing and never seem to get a break on the hardwood court of life…
The next day, we got another email.
“I would love to get in touch with Diz & Riz if possible and help pay off their loans (anonymously),” the individual said.
We did not think we would be crossing an ethical line by serving as an intermediary. After confirming his identity, we asked him to send us his legal counsel’s contact info, which we then passed along to the Hesses.
A few weeks later, we got an email from Rhonda and her husband Doug saying college loans they held for two of their sons had been paid off.
“We’ve prayed a lot of years about these college loans,” she told BI by phone. “We really had never seen a way that we could pay them off quickly ourselves, and our fear had always been that our kids would end up strapped if something happened to us, like if we died suddenly and our kids would suddenly be strapped with them. Our kids worked hard, they had their own college loans they’d been paying them off. This was so unexpected, it’s really a miracle.”
The individual would only allow us to say that he is a partner at a hedge fund, and owns a media firm on the West Coast. He said he was simply struck by the parallels between the Hess family and his own — he also has three sons — as well as the devotion to teaching demonstrated by the entire Hess family.
“People who are gainfully employed, with real jobs that help people in society, who teach our youth, are stuck in a structure where they can’t get out from under [their debts],” he told us. “There’s no program or mechanism to help them work through that,” he said. “It was clearly frustrating and weighing heavily on them.
He explained that the story came out at a time where he was feeling particularly fortunate, and that it felt inequitable to him that a family like the Hesses should have to struggle.
“There are ways to do things that are more scalable, but this was a way to do something that was very direct and meaningful to them, and I was fortunate in a position.”
Andrew Hess, 33, is an adjunct Bible studies instructor at Colorado Christian University in Colorado Springs, and also teaches at his church. He serves as writer and content manager at Focus on the Family. He’d taken out loans to pay for his psychology degree at Taylor University in Indiana. The Hesses deferred to the benefactor’s judgment to disclose the amount paid off, and but he declined to do so.
“I’m pretty busy, I’d kind of put it out of my mind,” Andrew Hess said. “Of course I was hopeful that it actually would work out. Then on the morning, of my mum forwarded the email they’d gotten from loan service that said ‘we received your payment.’ We were all kind of rejoining together, that’s how i found out, I responded to thee email just saying ‘Praise the Lord, that is outstanding.’ I think my words were ‘unbelievable.’ “
The benefactor does not believe America needs to rethink how it does charity. But he does hope others will be inspired to make a similar gesture.
“It would be terrific if someone else thought of something that was as directed and impactful on certain people’s lives as opposed to something more diffuse, where the money run through organisations where it’s difficult to follow.
“If people think through anything having read that I did this, it would be just how rewarding, how impactful this was for them [the Hesses], from the perspective that you can do this, that I had the wherewithal to help somebody I had never met before. That carries more significance for me than donating to the Red Cross…I think doing a random good act, it makes me feel and continues to make me feel really good.”
The Hesses now say they will focus on helping others around them, despite their apparent lifelong commitment to doing so. They are grateful that the benefactor recognised the effort teachers put into their profession.
“I think teachers are sometimes misunderstood,” Rhonda Hess said. “Unless you have teachers in your family, I don’t think the public really, truly understands the hours that teachers can put in. It’s easy to think ‘Oh teachers are off all summer,’ or that type of thing.”
Even so, she quickly added, “We think teaching was just wonderful careers for us. We love being teachers.”