Swede Roskam traces his desire for a college education back to a grade B comedy. “When I was a young guy, about in the sixth grade,” recounts Roskam, “I went to a Blondie and Dagwood movie called Blondie Goes to College.” After watching that film, Roskam determined to go to college.

But there were problems. The country was struggling through the tail end of the Great Depression, and few even thought of college. Moreover, remembers Roskam, “My dad was only making 25 or 30 dollars a week.” Roskam managed, with his father’s help, to start college, but he had to quit after one year when money ran out. Convinced he would never go back, Roskam was not exactly a case study of future success.

Then something happened that became, to use a phrase from author Charles Williams, “a terrible good.” Among the many casualties of World War II was a young soldier named George Jenkins. George’s parents, hoping to piece together something positive out of their grief and tragedy, decided to use their son’s military insurance money to help finance someone’s education. Swede Roskam, through a fortuitous sequence of events, became that someone. Roskam finished his education, married his wife of now 37 years, raised five children, and became vice-president for a major Chicago-based corporation.

It is a Dickensian tale that causes Roskam’s usually confident voice to crack and his eyes to water. But his experience left him with a strong belief that he was called to help others as he was helped so many years ago. “In the providence of God,” he says, “I think I was selected 40 years ago to start Educational Assistance Limited.” EAL is a six-year-old, nonprofit business in Wheaton, Illinois, that helps hundreds of youth get a college education.

As EAL’s ...

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