When an unexpected gift drops in your lap, you can’t believe your luck, in fact you might refuse to believe it and reject what seems like too good to be true.
That was what happened to Melissa Mainier.
Mainier had a life-long dream to help others—she wanted to be a nurse.
She believed that hard work, and only hard work, would see her pay her nursing college bills. Waiting tables at the Peachtree restaurant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was the only way the then 21-year-old Mainier could see how to pay off her sizeable loan.
That was until Benjamin Olewine III came through the door of the Peachtree.
Olewine was familiar with good old-fashioned grit and hard work—he continued working into his 90s.
He’d built a multi-million dollar wholesale food distribution corporation. After selling the company to Sysco Corporation, he became Chairman Emeritus: a position he had held to that day.
Olewine was a regular at the Peachtree restaurant where Mainier worked.
Rooted in Harrisburg, Olewine cared deeply about the local community. A regular at the Harrisburg restaurant, he enjoyed chatting with the waitresses, getting to know about their lives and their ups and downs.
What Mainier didn’t know was that Olewine was a big-hearted philanthropist who had funded several local projects.
When Mainier mentioned to him she was working to pay for her dream of becoming a nurse, her determination to succeed against all financial odds struck a chord in him. He wanted to pass on some of his good fortune to this hard-working and caring girl.
After his meal he offered her more than a regular tip.
“I just needed to help her,” Olewine told CBS News. “I said, ‘Melissa, I’d be happy to pay your tuition,’” he said.
Totally astonished, Mainier didn’t believe Olewine at first. Surely this was a joke? He needed a few attempts to convince her he was for real.
“Bring in your tuition bill so I can pay the darn thing!” Olewine said with a chuckle as he recounted the story to CBS News.
Eventually, Mainier accepted his generous offer.
“I was thinking, I do have a bill sitting on my desk right now. So, I was like … well, I’ll bring it in for you if that’s what he’s asking for,” Mainier told ABC27 affiliate WHTM.
This elderly stranger’s huge gesture brought Mainier to tears.
“While I was in school, after he’d started paying for me, my dad passed away,” she said. “I just keep thinking of him right now. He’d be so shocked and just so happy for me,” she said.
And so Olewine paid all of Mainier’s college bills. All $30,000, according to The Huffington Post. She earned her nursing qualification through HACC, then graduated with her Bachelor’s degree from Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions in 2016.
Manier started her nursing career at UPMC Pinnacle’s General Osteopathic Hospital. As fate would have it, she happened to be working in the Benjamin Olewine Spine, Bone, and Joint Institute, a place that Olewine has supported for many years.
“The real icing on the cake is that Melissa is working in that area,” Olewine told WHTM.
Olewine’s generosity is legendary.
From funding a local nature and bird conservation center, and a culinary arts school at the Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC), to medical facilities, jazz youth camps, charities, and more, Olewine’s kind-hearted support is stamped on the Pennsylvanian landscape.
Giving a personal helping hand happened too.
“I always said I’d give back if I was ever able to do so,” he said, receiving a John Harris Award for outstanding community service in 2011.
Olewine was happy and proud to have fulfilled his dream of helping others. He passed away in May 2017.
But Mainier will never forget the stranger who, out of the kindness of his heart, paved the road to her destiny.
“I think that’s the most important part of the story is that he helped me, so I just want to help everyone else,” she told WHTM.