“Since you’re reading this, my life is obviously over and I want to thank you for the joy you have brought to me here on earth.”
With that greeting after his own passing, Lyle Reigel launched an exercise that taught dozens of friends and family about the hard work and satisfaction involved in giving.
Lyle was a humble, hard-working man who grew up with 11 siblings on a farm near Marshfield. He quit school after the eighth grade to help on the farm, though he earned a graduate equivalent degree (GED) while serving in the United States Army.
Lyle became a master electrician and founded two successful businesses – Reigel Electric Corp. and U.S. Paper Converters Inc. He lived by the motto: “Leave it better than you found it.”
Lyle died July 8, 2016, at age 76 following a motorcycle accident. He had described “Lyle’s Last Wish” in a letter written in 2010. Twenty groups or individuals were to divide $100,000 to give to charities.
“During our time together, we have identified needs and potential to make this world a better place. I have allotted $5,000 for each (group) of you to donate … to a charity that most typifies our relationship together and a need in that area,” Lyle wrote.
“This was so much bigger than giving away a pot of money,” Lyle’s wife, Victoria, said. “Lyle’s Last Wish made people aware of the many opportunities for giving and the responsibility of being good stewards. Some individuals actually designed programs to address needs and others doubled the impact of their gifts by offering challenge grants!”
The charities chosen reflected Lyle’s deep faith, work ethic, stewardship and desire to help others to help themselves. They focused on humanitarian causes – local nonprofits addressing issues such as hunger or domestic abuse and others family and friends supported across the country and around the globe helping people facing injustices.
The grants were distributed from the Lyle and Victoria Reigel Charitable Fund within the Community Foundation. The Community Foundation helped by researching the charities and processing the grants.
“It’s interesting what different people saw in Lyle,” Victoria said.
Lyle’s Last Wish introduced their grandsons to philanthropy. The Community Foundation provided a list of family-friendly charities in the Sheboygan area, where they live, then Victoria set up business meetings with selected directors and the children, ages 4, 6 and 8.
“This is where philanthropy starts,” Victoria said. “Awareness. Compassion. Volunteerism. Sharing.” The boys bought a memorial brick at Bookworm Gardens and gave Maywood Environmental Park money for birdseed, “because Boppa always fed the birds.”
They also purchased children’s prayer books for a rural Catholic church and provided money for sandals for barefooted kids in the Dominican Republic after seeing pictures from “Oma’s” mission work.
A group of 48 friends and family gathered at the cemetery to offer a prayer and a toast for Lyle and then met at a restaurant to share their stories.
Lyle’s letter asked that his guests “get together to share your experience and to celebrate your challenge. And when you do, please make it a party! I can only imagine the fun of having all of you together and I sure wish I could be there. But trust me, I intend to be watching. Thank you for this last wish. May God bless you.”