July 14, 2006

A legacy of giving: Late repairman’s gift to benefit nine Catholic ministries

By John Shaughnessy

When he was in his 90s, Rudolph Gasper still drove his car, enjoyed bowling and even climbed on his roof to fix it.

Yet what stunned people even more was a gift he made—a gift that wasn’t revealed until the longtime sewing machine repairman died, three months after he celebrated his 100th birthday.

When his will was being read, it became clear that the man who grew up on an Indiana farm, married at the beginning of the Great Depression and lived most of his life in Indianapolis had saved nearly $1 million during his lifetime.

When his will was being read, another point also became evident: The quiet devotion that the father of three had shown to his Catholic faith in his lifetime was something he wanted to continue beyond his death.

While 40 percent of his estate was to be divided among his children, Gasper also wanted 60 percent of his $993,508.76 distributed among nine Catholic institutions and charities.

“I was amazed,” said his son, Bob Gasper. “I didn’t have the impression he was paid a lot of money for the work he did. I knew he was a frugal man and he was good at saving, but I had no idea of the amount of money. It just shows there were some charities that he felt deeply about. He didn’t talk much about his faith, but he was always faithful.”

Some of the beneficiaries of Gasper’s generosity are connected to his personal life.

St. Philip Neri Parish in Indianapolis was where he lived and went to church most of his life. The Sisters of Providence taught his children. Marian College in Indianapolis is where his son, Bob, is an associate professor of math. The Society for the Propagation of the Faith also benefited from a gift from his wife, Elizabeth, when she died in 1994.

The other five beneficiaries are the Columbian Fathers, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Saint Meinrad School of Theology in St. Meinrad, St. Augustine Home for the Aged in Indianapolis and the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center in Beech Grove.

Each received a little more than $66,000.

“We all hear these stories of the little old lady who scrubbed floors at the university and left millions of dollars,” said Jim Wathen, director of gift planning for the archdiocese’s Catholic Community Foundation. “It’s inspiring to rub up against one of those people. He’s not a person you associate with great wealth, but he was able to leave almost $1 million and he designated 60 percent for charity. The story is so inspiring.”

The inspiration extends beyond the gift that came after his death—threading its way back to the gift of his life and his faith.

The youngest of six children, Rudolph Gasper grew up on a farm in Jennings County in southern Indiana, where he learned the value of working hard and taking care of the resources that life gives a person and a family.

At 21, he moved to Indianapolis, where he noticed a young woman named Elizabeth Campbell during a Sunday Mass at St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) Church.

“He picked her up and gave her a ride to church one day,” recalled his daughter, Mary Miller, with a smile.

They married in 1930 as the Great Depression devastated the economy and lives in the United States. Still, he found a job as a sewing machine repairman. Because of the tough economic times, the couple learned to be frugal—except in their devotion to their faith and their love for their three children, Margaret Miller, Mary and Bob.

“They would visit shut-ins,” said Mary Miller, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis. “They’d look after people and look in on them. They always went to church. They always went to novenas and Holy Hours. I’d visit with Dad at the assisted living facility and we would say the rosary together. He was just faithful.”

That faithfulness shined through the 64 years of the couple’s marriage, including the last years of his wife’s life. As Elizabeth struggled with her health, Rudolph took care of her so she could stay at home.

That faithfulness also shined in his work.

“He was in sales and service with sewing machines most of his life,” Mary Miller said. “He retired at 62. After that, he repaired out of his house. He was still doing it in his early 90s. He fixed sewing machines at schools, convents and Marian College. All the sisters knew him. They sent him cards at Christmas.”

She still has the notebooks in which he meticulously listed the names of the people he helped and the costs of the repairs.

She still appreciates the example her parents set with their lives.

“We’re proud of them,” Mary Miller said. “They were common, ordinary people leading a common, ordinary life, and they left this tremendous impact.”

Her husband, William, nodded and said, “We have no idea of the lives this will touch in the future.” †


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