HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -
College paid for with kindness? A Harrisburg area waitress received a life-changing tip from a loyal customer with a big heart and deep pockets.
Shuffling with his walker, Benjamin Olewine III gave Melissa Manier a big hug as he got off the elevator. Manier, a nurse, began chatting with Olewine about her job. The two sounded like they were long-time pals, but they're really just strangers.
A few years ago, Manier waited tables at the Peachtree Restaurant and Lounge in Susquehanna Township. She worked for tips in order to help pay her way through college. One day, Olewine went to his favorite restaurant and had Manier as his server.
"First, when he came in, I had no idea who he was," she said.
Unaware she was serving the area's biggest philanthropist, Manier chalked up Olewine's chatter as another friendly customer.
The World War II veteran became fond of Mainer's personality and demeanor – her determination.
On a typical day, the two described a life-changing conversation.
Manier: "I was working at the front desk."
Olewine: "I asked her about how she was paying for books…"
Manier: "I said, I have student loans but, [I am] gonna have to pay them back."
Olewine: "I said, 'Oh, well just give me the bill and I'll take care of them for you.' "
Manier: "At first, I didn't exactly understand what he meant."
Olewine: "She left me know how [paying for college] was a struggle."
Manier: "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."
The 25 year-old said she was skeptical at first, but Olewine paid off her outstanding debt and continued to pay every cent of her tuition bills and book expenses.
Manier said she was in disbelief and shock and felt undeserving of such fortune.
When asked how much this meant for her and her family, Manier broke down in 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."
Mainer studied to become a nurse and earned her BSN through HACC. Her area of interest landed her a job out of school.
"I'm so happy I got the job here, because it's a perfect fit," she said.
Manier is now working as a nurse at PinnacleHealth's General Osteopathic Hospital in no other than the Benjamin Olewine III wing. Last October, the new patient floors were named in his honor after he donated many funds over the years to the spine, bone, and joint institutes.
"The real icing on the cake is that Melissa is working in that area," Olewine said.
To go from struggling waitress to a successful nurse with a new career is very surreal, according to Manier. She said to be debt-free at her age is still hard to grasp.
"Anytime I get a bill that he helps me with, I still feel strange asking him because he really doesn't know me," she said. "It's just crazy."
Mainer said she is currently enrolled in online classes through Drexel and will soon earn her bachelor's degree. Olewine has suggested she forward her education and earn a master's degree, all while flipping the bill.
Whether its karma, fate, or just the way things work out, the fact that Manier chose a field that focuses on helping others and paying it forward is not lost on the young woman.
"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 said.