Pardon my goofiness

I Can’t Thank the Late Rex Schrader Enough

Rex SchraderRex Schrader’s earthly life came to a close on Friday, and he left a torch for us all to carry. Rex showed me what that flame entailed and how to carry it.

In short, that man changed my life.

I feel indebted to continue what he modeled during the 18 years of our friendship. Rex personified the character traits many have found lacking in me at different points of my life. As I’ve journeyed to follow better the teachings of Jesus, I’ve found I’ve been following Rex’s footsteps as well.

Rex taught me how to be holistically generous.

Rex hired me out of college to manage the advertising for his incredible business, at the time probably the largest land auction company in America. I didn’t own a car or furniture. I had no money for an apartment deposit. Rex let me live in his basement for free; he invited me up to his dinner table. He gave me his personal truck keys and a trailer to retrieve furniture and appliances, when I finally moved out. (I moved into an apartment complex that he had sold to give the proceeds to his church’s building fund.) When I totaled my car a few months later, he gave me his car to drive until we bought a replacement.

But his financial generosity paled in comparison to his relational generosity. I had never done graphic design for anyone other than a professor. I made mistakes that impacted his brand, his income, and his personnel. I was opinionated despite arriving to Columbia City, Indiana, from a myopic worldview. Rex had invented an entire kind of auction before I was born and had changed the auction industry more than I ever will. And yet he forgave me. He coached me. He extended both grace and mercy. He asked questions instead of chiding me. He lobbied others to tolerate me. When I asked to work remotely back home in Maryland, he did one better. He brought on my replacement, let me work while I unsuccessfully submitted 40+ résumés back in Maryland, and then found a Midatlantic auction company that wanted my services. A few months later, that firm became my second client—after Rex gave me one of his joint venture partners to be my first. Rex’s business bought my company’s first computer and software and let me work off the purchase over time. His name as my former boss directly or indirectly brought me all of my clients those first few years. If you had worked for Rex, you were qualified—no portfolio needed.

Rex taught me how to earn accolades with grace.

I came to Schrader Real Estate & Auction with a lot of insecurity and a desire to prove myself worthy of respect. Rex’s company offered a chance to do just that. In the 27 months I worked on Rex’s staff, our design team won more than 50 state and national advertising awards. I remember one state convention, where I was offered—no joke—a dolly to wheel all of our plaques out to Rex’s truck. We practically wallpapered the hallways of our headquarters office in decorations engraved by auctioneer associations. In most cases, Rex sent others up to the podium to collect the prizes. His name was on the award, but he sent me or a coworker to the stage, to the limelight.

Out of my brokenness, I took too much credit for that success. On the few occasions when I noticed that, my attempts at humility were at best awkward and at worst comical. I remember Rex walking into my office on a quiet afternoon—I think after everyone else had clocked out—and told me the best way to receive a compliment was to thank the giver for their kindness and encouragement. He added something along the lines of “Redirect the conversation to their generosity.” I have recalled that advice hundreds of times over the past two decades in both personal and professional settings.

Rex taught me the power of public praise.

Fast forward several years, and I was giving a seminar at a national convention. To this day, I think it was the largest crowd I’ve ever addressed in a professional setting. Rex slipped into the ballroom to observe, standing against the back wall. (I now cringe at the content of that talk and its Powerpoint, which included how to use the then-new technology of QR codes.) Afterwards, several folks made their way to the podium to ask questions or thank me for volunteering. Rex waited for that line to die down instead of slipping out to another seminar. Instead of coming up to the podium or waiting to grab me in the hallway afterward, he walked out into the middle of this big room, waited to catch my eye, pointed at me, and loudly declared, “Ryan, I am proud of you!”

I’m crying as I type. I well up every time I tell that story, and I tell it often. He knew what he was doing. He knew my past, my struggles, my brokenness. He forsook the dignity of a hall of famer, the composure of a nationally-respected entrepreneur. He was E.F. Hutton. He knew that whole room would absorb that praise and that I would drown in it. He knew he was also teaching me how to do it for others.

Nine days before he died, I mailed Rex a card to thank him for changing the trajectory and quality of my life.  Because of the holidays and his hospitalization, I doubt he got to read or hear those words. (I had no idea he had been in the hospital or that hospice was around the corner.) I wanted him to know I wasn’t wasting his investment. So, I rattled off a few recent accomplishments he made possible. It was an incomplete list, because almost everything my business now provides was possible only because of his training, his influence, and his direct generosity. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve marveled at how crazy my life story is and thought, “If it weren’t for Rex and Gene [his business partner] . . .“

I can’t wait for the next time I see Rex, when we will both know fully what his influence accomplished. I look forward to reflecting on the Sovereignty that poured our lives into the same pitcher. In the meantime, I’m going to keep pouring into others as a conduit of both God’s love and Rex’s legacy. And from my office now, I lift my finger to the sky to declare to everyone, “Rex, I’m proud to have worked for you!”

1 comment

  • September McConnell

    Ryan, this was one of the best tributes I’ve ever read. Thank you for the words that so perfectly reflected his character, his heart. I’m trying to write a tribute to him in the Community Foundation’s annual report and realize that anything I can offer will fall far short of your wonderful reflections. We were lucky to know him!

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