Not since 1975 has Ralph Schmidt been without a mustache.
That was his senior year of high school and even the most adamant pleas of family and friends haven't convinced him to part with it.
But Richland Northeast High's principal finally may have a good reason - make that 15,000 reasons.
Schmidt has pledged to cut off his mustache if the community raises $15,000 for one of his favorite charities.
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It's part of "Cash for the (mus)Stache," a campaign to raise money for Camp Kemo, a summer camp for pediatric cancer patients and their siblings.
"I've had this request before. I've never granted it," Schmidt said. "My wife has never seen me without it. My (two high-school and college-age) children have never seen me without it."
What prompted him to consider it this time was a request from Richland Northeast senior Caleb Brown, whose mother died this past summer after a three-year battle with cancer.
"It broke my heart to see her slowly fade out of my life," Caleb said. "Instead of going out with my friends, I cared for my mother. I also spent many hours at hospitals and hospice centers."
Determined to make life better for other families dealing with cancer, Caleb sought a way to help.
"I decided I was going to make a difference to help fund a good cause. Mr. Schmidt caught my eye, and I thought 'What if?' So I struck a deal."
Several weeks ago, Caleb approached Schmidt at school and asked what it would take to cut his mustache. Caleb's bargaining chip - a fundraiser for Camp Kemo - clicked for Schmidt.
The principal's wife, Jeanne Schmidt, has served as Camp Kemo's director the past 10 years.
"I was thinking about Camp Kemo, but he really confirmed my belief that that was the program that it should be donated to," Caleb said.
Still, Schmidt set an ambitious bar.
"I wasn't going to accept just any amount," he said. "So we agreed on $14,000."
Caleb went one better, raising the goal to $15,000.
Since Schmidt agreed to the challenge, the school has held several fundraisers. So far, the efforts have raised about $1,000.
Other fundraisers are planned. The hope is for Schmidt to shave his mustache during a school-wide assembly before the end of the school year.
Caleb is confident about raising the remaining $14,000 needed for that to happen.
"I don't believe I can change the world, although I wish I could," he said. "I just want to live knowing that I made a difference toward the greater good. My heart, soul and devotion is contained within this fundraiser, and I will succeed."
Schmidt, for one, hopes he does. "If they raise the money, they'll get to see the man behind the mustache," he said. "I am very honored to be a small part of it."
The principal said it is gratifying to see a student look so selflessly beyond himself.
"The example here is that even though you face adversity, you can find a way to make a difference," he said. "Caleb is making the difference in the lives of these children with cancer and their experience at Camp Kemo, and I know his mother is very proud of him."