by Alex Hernandez
I stood there in the hallway, fidgeting, trying to keep still. I looked around, not knowing what to expect. Suddenly, a door opened behind me. I turned around to see a tall, elderly man in the doorway, his hand outstretched to greet me. ”Hello, I’m Roger Grein.” He said. I noted his interesting way of speaking. He invited me into his office and motioned toward the empty chair before me. I sat, bewildered by the dozens of trophies and plaques that adorned the walls. Mr. Grein shuffled toward his desk. With every step I thought he was about to fall, yet he made it successfully into his chair. He smiled sweetly. It was time for the very reason why I’m here: the sharing of his life’s story.
This was my first interview out of state – of course I was nervous. But that smile made me feel right at home. He is a man of humble beginnings; a philanthropist; a coach; the recipient of the Service to Mankind Award; and an amazing friend. He has traveled the world, leading young athletes to compete on an international level. He is the president of a foundation that has done innumerable things in the Cincinnati area for good, He is a self-made millionaire. And above all, he is a kind and hardworking man.
I learned that at six-months-old, Roger was adopted by Frank and Thelma Grein. Almost immediately, his adoptive father was sent away to war, leaving Thelma to raise him. Though his birth information declared him to be healthy, Roger’s development showed otherwise. His mother took him to several doctors to find the cause of his odd behavior. The doctors’ results revealed something shocking: the fact that Roger may be mute, immobile, and never truly know his own parents. But Thelma did not let this stop her or her son. She loved Roger and was determined to let her son live a wholesome life.
Roger recounted the persistence of his mother with a smile, and the day people told him he could never drive was the day Mrs. Grein let him take the wheel.
And after years of putting full-concentration into every step, Roger did it. He can walk, run, ride a bike, drive a car, and do everything he’s put his mind to. As a child, Roger decided to collect soda bottles, recycling them for money. He saved up his money and with it he bought a lawn mower. He then mowed his neighbor’s lawns for a small fee. Soon his small business was booming and he did 30-40 lawns a week from all over his neighborhood, thus, earning him the name “The Mower Boy”.
In high school, Roger tried out for every sport but unlike his friends, he was never chosen for the team. He was devastated, but even this did not put out his fire. He was determined to be a part of the team. The coach, seeing his persistence, asked Roger to be their water boy. He accepted, sparking his love and future in sports.
I looked around at the room completely filled with trophies and medals and wondered if he earned them all – and as if Mr. Grein saw the look in my eye, he answered simply, “These trophies here are only about 5% of the ones we won. I send most of them to be recycled for other athletes to use for their tournaments. All they need to do is change the name on the plaque.” My mind raced with questions. How did he do it?
Through diligence and effort, Roger Grein graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 3 years instead of 4 with a degree in finance, but struggled finding a job because employers didn’t think he was capable with his condition. But he pushed forward anyway and worked doing tax returns at what is now the “US Bank”. A year later he was fired for his penmanship, but was able to utilize what he’d learned with tax returns and apply it somewhere else. He decided he’d continue with tax returns and return to mowing lawns. All the while he’d pass out his business cards to his clients, saying to them, “Let me do your tax returns.” His success grew from 35 tax returns annually in his basement, to 1,800 returns a year in his own personal office. Not long after. Roger was requested to become the coach of his church’s All-Star Girl’s Softball team, named Sweeney Chevrolet. He accepted, seeing the opportunity to help these girls do what they love. With much hard work, determination, and faith, his team rose to the top. They frequently played games on a national and international level and even had the opportunity to compete in Sweden, Mexico, Hawaii and the Former Soviet Union. In only a few years with Roger as their coach, they became World Champions.
Mr. Grein led me to the pictures hanging around the walls, of him and his team in Russia, Hawaii, and other nations. His excitement was contagious and I could almost feel how much he loved working with them.
To Roger, these girls were not just a team, they were family. And with a man like Roger as a coach, they couldn’t help but feel inspired to push themselves as much as he did. Soon afterward, Roger traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, not knowing the life-changing experience he’d have there. During his stay, he visited a small orphanage he happened to come across. The children he saw there had barely anything, and yet, they were so happy and content. Roger realized how very blessed he was and all of the gifts he’d been given and how much he had taken for granted. He realized that so many people are in need and that he could do so much to help them.
In his swivel-chair, Mr. Grein paused to think. “See, I guess in my life I’ve been very lucky. I was always at the right place at the right time. But what’s important is that you learn to see an opportunity and take action.” And action is exactly what he took.
When he arrived back home from Oaxaca, Mexico, he told as many people as he could about his experience. Ever since then, they’ve raised thousands of dollars and together have left an amazing impact on hundreds of children in need – but the story doesn’t end here.
Since then, Roger has continued to pursue his passion for serving others, teaming up with several schools and organizations to spread the growth of philanthropy in today’s youth. In doing so, he even created a foundation of his own. Magnified Giving was an organization specifically for students in College and in High School, designed to help them see the great need of philanthropy in our world. These teenagers have done so much in the Greater Cincinnati area for good and it has left an impression on them to last a lifetime. Not only are they more active in the community, but they learn to appreciate the gifts and resources they have as students and kids here in the U.S. His devotion to helping others has led Mr. Grein to be on several talk shows; interviewed on television and in articles; give talks for people of all ages; and has truly been an inspiration to everyone he meets.
As the interview came to a close, Mr. Grein did leave some advice for our generation. I asked him how we, as kids – students, athletes, leaders – can be successful on a scale like his. He leaned over, smiled, and said:
Keep it simple. Love God and love others. It doesn’t take a Harvard genius to figure out life – you’re on a journey and good things will happen to you, but that does not mean there won’t be bumps along the way. Always keep this in mind. Faith and People are what is important. Keep striving and aspiring and you will reach the success you’re looking for.
On the way out I gave Mr. Grein a big hug and was grateful I had the opportunity of meeting him. That word “opportunity” bounced around in my mind – I had to take action. Roger gave the biggest smile yet, and after saying goodbye to Mr. Grein I walked though the front door and to the car. On the drive back, it hit me. I knew what I was going to do! Through a few acquaintances of mine I’m going to see how we can make Roger Grein’s Magnified Giving Foundation reach even more schools in the Northern Kentucky area. His video is posted on the website so you can all learn more about the program and get to know more about Roger Grein. See what you can do to help!
About the Author This interview was conducted in August 2012 by Alex Hernandez, a University of Cincinnati student. Alex and and his sister Elisa, are two of the co-founders of the Next Generation of Achievers (NGOA) youth digital newsletter where they interview people who have achieved success in their life and have had the blessing of helping others in their community. Alex and Elisa believe that Roger is an inspiration and example to others in the Greater Cincinnati area and beyond. They indicated that NGOA members were very grateful for the opportunity to interview Mr. Grein and hope that his story can inspire others to do amazing things as well.