Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

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Comeback story. Texan Richard Wallrath had lost everything — his job, his family, his hope in the future — to the personal demon that is alcoholism. But, fortunately, for him and all the people whose lives he has since gone on to touch what, at the time, seemed like the end of his story was actually just the beginning.  The dramatic film Deep in Heart, hitting the DVD market today (May 7), tells the true Texas story of Wallrath’s faith-driven rise from the ashes of his own despair.

But Wallrath didn’t merely halt his slide into the abyss or even just get back to where he was to start with. Through prayer and hard work, he became a very wealthy man and, eventually, was driven find a way to share his blessings with others. Along with his family, he built a successful window business and used that success to become the all-time highest individual donor of educational scholarship to Texas 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America).

I recently spoke with humble philanthropist about how his personal story became the basis for a movie he hopes will help redeem lives.

JWK: How did this movie come about?

RICHARD WALLRATH: I am a philanthropist and I started my own educational foundation, giving 4-H and FFA scholarships. We give 142 $10,000 scholarships every year, 71 4-H and 71 FFA.  I had done a book a number of years ago on my life and the movie producer called and he suggested that we do a movie of this book and we did. This is the result of it. The money that’s made from this movie is going to go into replenishing my educational foundation.
JWK:  What was your involvement with the film — other than, of course, it being based on your story? We’re you on the set as a consultant?
RW: Yes, we were on the set quite a few times. The cast did a wonderful job. Val Kilmer is in it. Jon Gries (aka Uncle Rico of Napoleon Dynamite) plays me.  He did a wonderful job. He’s a very good man. I think it just really turned out great.
JWK:  What was it like seeing your difficult story portrayed before you — and then seeing it on film later?
RW: Some of it was okay but some of it you don’t want to live twice. You know, some of the bad parts you don’t want relive.
JWK:  So, it was difficult to watch.
RW: Well, sure. I’ve watched it four or five times and that was enough. Another reason we did it is I’m a recovered alcoholic. I’ve been sober today for 16,533 days which is 23 days, 3 months and 45 years.
JWK:  Wow! What do you hope people take from your story?
RW: The truth is every family has got two or three members that are hung up on some kind of substance abuse. Hopefully, they can see (in) this movie that I was able to get out of the abuse of alcohol and recover and do something with my life. (I want to) give those people some hope that they can get out of the mess that they’re in. Hopefully, some people will be able to identify with my way of life and the things that I’ve done. It seems like I’ve accomplished (a lot) but I did nothing more than use the 12 Step Program to run my life and business by. And it worked.
JWK: You made quite a comeback. How did you make your money?
RW: I was destitute and unemployable with five children…When I sobered up, I took a job selling windows to builders and was quite successful at it for a three or four year period. I was making a lot of money but I figured I could do a whole lot better by myself. I didn’t know anything about the window business but I had been a builder all my life. I had a mortgage company that offered me five construction starts if I wanted them — which was a half-million dollars. It was hard to say “no” but, if those things don’t sell, you hung up for half million. Anyway, I thought it all through and I went to Mexico. I do all my thinking down by the seashore where I can hear the surf. That puts me real close to God and (makes me realize) how small I am in this big universe. I prayed to God that I could make the right decision — to go in the window business or the building business. I’ve made so many wrong ones (but) I made the right one when I decided to go in the window business — and it did work. All the intellects and the bankers, the CPAs (and) attorneys (said) “It won’t work. You don’t have enough money.” I had 40 grand saved up. We never failed to pay a bill on the 10th of the month and it did work. They didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.
After about 23 years, we sold (the business) for over $100 million…I got into giving back when I heard a man speak by the name of (R.G.) LeTorneau from Longview, Texas…He started a college over there…He was a very dynamic man. I heard him speak at a Chamber of Commerce meeting and I was still drinking at the time but he made a mark on my life with the things he said. He said, when he started in business, he started giving 20% of his earnings to God. He said that through the years he just made so much money he didn’t know what to do with it. He finally decided he was going to give God 80% and he was going to keep 20%.  And he said (his business) really caught on fire then. It really got to making money then. That’s kinda where I got the idea. Through the years I’ve used (my money to help kids get) an education. I finally set up my own educational foundation.
I don’t believe in giving anybody anything but, when you give a child an education, you give them something no one can steal from them and you give them something that they can make their dreams come true with. That’s why I’m such a firm believer in education. I don’t have any education. I’m dumber than a sack of rocks but I know that we’ve got to educate our youth. If we don’t we’re lost at the post.”
Note: It’s pretty clear that Richard Wallrath is much more than a “sack of rocks.” His story will, hopefully, be an inspiration for anyone who thinks they’ve reached the end of their rope. He has found — as I, in my own way, have found — that, no matter how much you think you’ve screwed up, there’s always hope through the Grace of God. Surrender to Him and  never give up.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
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