Cincinnati Philanthropist Roger Grein Is An Inspiration

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I’d like to tell you a little about the man with whom I have been spending a lot of time working with these past few weeks. His mother used to call him a ‘Gift from God” and I think she was pretty intuitive.

Roger Grein with Heidi Jark, Fifth Third Bank Foundation manager and honorary chair for the National Philanthropy Day Awards luncheon by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Cincinnati Chapter Photo credit:  Lowry Photo Group

Roger Grein with Heidi Jark, Fifth Third Bank Foundation manager and honorary chair for the National Philanthropy Day Awards luncheon by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Cincinnati Chapter Photo credit: Lowry Photo Group

Roger Grein was recently honored nationally and locally with distinguished honors for his lifelong generosity and focus on strengthening lives and communities. He was selected from 19,000 full time volunteers as the National Father George Mader Award by the Catholic Volunteer Network. Named after the Network’s founder, the annual Award is given to an organization or individual that encourages lay men and women to serve others locally, nationally, or internationally. Grein was also named 2012 Philanthropist of the Year from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Cincinnati Chapter.

The Man Behind The Awards

At 70, Roger is a simple man. He still lives in the modest house in Lockland where he spent many years of his life and comes to work every day in a nondescript building on Benson Street in Reading.

But inside those walls, inspiration comes alive. To the right of his desk are rows of softball trophies – some so tall they reach higher than my knee (And those, he says, only represent a fraction of the trophies he had. He donates them to charities.) Each trophy represents another milestone in his 36 year coaching career, a journey that led teams to world championships and travels to Hawaii, Mexico, Sweden and the former Soviet Union.

All of that is from a man who, in school never came close to earning a spot on sport teams. Roger was asked to chalk the base lines, collect towels and fetch water instead.

You see, Roger was never expected to excel – physically or mentally. He was six months old when Frank and Thelma took him home from St. Joseph Infant Home. His birth certificate read ‘disnormal baby.’ He might not walk, the doctors said. He might not talk. And he might never know them.

Thelma would have none of that. In her eyes, her son could do anything. “Heal-toe,” she used to say. She walked her son everywhere, made him study, helped him find summer jobs, taught him about giving back, and ensured he was included. She expected from her son what other mothers expect from their sons – great things.

 “The only time I realized I was different was when someone asked me why I walked the way I do,” Roger told me.

By the time he was around 11, he had already started a lawn business and joined an investment club. He used to get out of class to check the stock market, he remembers.

Roger studied finance at the University of Cincinnati, earning his MBA, but even with two degrees work was hard to come by. So he got back into the lawn cutting business and started handing out business cards, asking customers if they needed tax service.

That first year, Roger did 25 returns and his mother typed them up. By the third year he was doing 345 returns and had become the tax commissioner in three municipalities. In 1970, he was doing 850 returns with a staff of eight.

Unknown, however, even to family was that in his success, Roger was secretly giving away thousands…at one point, giving over half a million each year. In 1999 he gave Northern Kentucky University $500,000 for softball player scholarships Roger Grein quoteand to improve the girls’ softball field, and for students with disabilities.

It was about 12 years ago, after learning of an NKU philanthropy program for students, sponsored by the Mayerson Foundation, that he vowed to expand the idea. That promise led to his meeting with Father Michael Graham at Xavier University to start a similar program there, which led to 34 colleges and universities embracing his philanthropy education model through a program that is managed by Ohio Campus Compact. And, now to over 2000 local teens engaged in becoming young philanthropists through Magnified Giving.

The vision of Magnified Giving is for every high school student in America, beginning with Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, to someday have an opportunity to learn firsthand how to be generous and wise philanthropists through hands-on experience. Participating school groups are challenged to determine how they want to invest up to $2000 in a nonprofit.

The organization’s fourth year is seeing a record number of schools and students involved. Over 2000 students in 36

Roger Grein with students at St. Xavier High School

Roger Grein with students at St. Xavier High School

Magnified Giving programs (35 school-based and one community-based) are researching hundreds of nonprofit agencies, sending over 300 grant invitation letters, and will be awarding grants collectively totally nearly $60,000 at the 2012-2013 Award Event, scheduled for April 30 at McAuley High School.

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