R.J. McElroy is a remarkable figure in Cedar Valley history. In 1947, he launched Black Hawk Broadcasting Company that consisted of radio and TV stations, including Waterloo’s own NBC affiliate – KWWL TV. McElroy’s hard work and ambition, coupled with the business acumen of his successor Robert Buckmaster, leveraged a modest investment from 31 local business leaders into a successful company and eventually into a philanthropic gift to the community.
McElroy died unexpectedly in 1965. Even though he was only 56, he had already considered his legacy and made provision in his will for the establishment of a trust fund, the proceeds of which were to be used for the educational benefit of deserving young people in northeastern Iowa. Since then, the R.J. McElroy Trust has funded a broad range of educational programs – including scholarships, fellowships, internships, student loan funds and numerous other projects to benefit youth of all ages. Since 1980, the Trust has awarded $47-million in grants to nearly 1,700 organizations and agencies serving youth. In addition, the Trust has assisted 4,200 high school students with scholarships, and recognized over 300 teachers through the Gold Star awards.
Thousands of people in northeast Iowa thank R.J. McElroy for the influence he has had in their lives. It is ironic that McElroy’s own accomplishments were achieved without the benefit of formalized education. McElroy left school and home as a teenager to earn money for his family. He eventually found his calling in sales and broadcast. Many northeast Iowans remember the days when “Mac” conducted on-the-street interviews and gave away small loaves of bread on the Black’s Department Store corner in downtown Waterloo.