Extraordinary generosity oftentimes comes from the most ordinary people. Just ask Jack Cross.
He knew Robert Unterkircher was a generous person within the first five minutes of meeting him—and from an ordinary encounter at the age of 16, went on to develop an extraordinary friendship that lasted a lifetime.
Cross was 16 years old, changing his first car’s oil at the local gas station in Danville, Iowa, when be met Robert for the first time. “Bob came in, and I didn’t know him from a fence post. I overheard him talking to the gas station attendant about needing help baling hay. I told him me and my brothers could help. He said to come on over!”
Robert Unterkircher—at least two decades older than Cross at the time—took kindly to the high school student, and the two developed a special friendship that sustained long after Cross graduated high school. “I adopted the Unterkirchers, and they adopted me,” he said.
Robert married his wife Edith in 1953. Their reserved, respectful, down-to-earth and caring manners complemented each other perfectly. Since the Unterkirchers didn’t have children, Cross often felt like a son. “Years ago, I was stationed in Mississippi in the military. We were leaving for Vietnam in a few days, and they told me some guy was in the lobby to see me. There stood Bob. He was on his way to Florida for a trip and thought he’d see what Jack was up to. That’s the kind of person he was.”
Cross also admired Edith’s willingness to help at the library, the church, and the nursing home. “She was an angel—she had a special way of caring for others. She was available whenever anyone in the community called on her.”
Robert was known as being able to fix or build anything—a lifelong farmer with an engineer’s mind. “Bob’s aunt told me that when he was a boy, he took his mother’s sewing machine apart several times and put it back together, and it operated even better afterward,” recalled Cross. “He let me do a lot of my own figuring out on projects. It’s how I learned. I still think to this day, ‘What would Bob do?’”
When Bob passed away in July 2003, and Edith on Easter Sunday in 2016, Cross’s heart was heavy. But he jumped into action as co-trustee of their estate. Cross wasn’t surprised when he learned that the couple had gifted a generous portion of their estate to the Community Foundation of North Lee County (CFNLC)—a Geographic Affiliate Fund of the Quad Cities Community Foundation.
When Steve Koellner, CFNLC’s advisory board chair, and Joe Kowzan formed the Community Foundation of North Lee County in 2005, their main goal was to retain a portion of the wealth transfer in local Iowa and to give people an opportunity to put that wealth toward good use, possibly for a favorite organization or charity.
The Unterkircher estate gift will support Hope Haven Development Center in Burlington—a nonprofit dedicated to helping children and adults living with disabilities and mental health issues lead fulfilling lives. “It will be a great benefit to the community and to Hope Haven,” said Koellner. “The meeting where we found out about the gift and the Unterkirchers’ desire to help this community, was the most moving meeting I’ve ever been part of.”
“Bob and Edith had commented to me in the past that since they didn’t have a large family or children of their own, it would be nice to help people who couldn’t help themselves,” Cross said. “Giving to Hope Haven fits in with their character. They were swell people who judged a person more on character than money.”
Julie Anderson, director of development and community relations for Hope Haven, said the Unterkirchers became familiar with Hope Haven and its services almost 32 years ago. “They saw the value in our mission and wanted to help,” she said. “They viewed their support as an investment in people, investing in individuals with disabilities and wanting to make life easier and better for them.”
Bob and Edith participated in each capital fund drive Hope Haven held over the past 30 years and never wanted recognition. They gave quietly and generously, helping others only for the joy of giving. “They were genuinely good and ordinary people helping others for all of the right reasons,” Anderson added. “The legacy they established is a true reflection of the lives they lived and their desire to take care of the good individuals served by Hope Haven.”
As for Jack Cross, he now lives near Middletown, Iowa with his wife, Joyce, who was also a friend of the Unterkirchers. Bob helped Cross get established in farming. Cross then transitioned to the sheet metal construction trade for 18 years, and his final job was working for the Burlington Northern Railroad from which he retired in 2010. With a great smile, he says, “I now spend my time pestering my wife.”
Cross’s memories of the Unterkirchers will always be dear to him. “If there were more people like Bob and Edith in the world, the world would spin just a little straighter.”