Fulfilling lives, with faith, family, work, and philanthropy as anchors, bring obvious joy to Tom and Lori Caldwell ’82, BSN, RN. Their connection to Mount Carmel is long and deep, and began with Lori’s education and the outstanding clinical experiences provided, on which she built an amazing and successful career in neonatal/pediatric nursing.
In fact, both Lori and Tom share a lifelong commitment to children’s health care and nursing education. They first met as nursing students when they worked at The Heinzerling Foundation, now The Heinzerling Community, an organization based in southwest Columbus that provides housing, medical care, and other services for profoundly developmentally disabled children. Working part time to help pay for their nursing educations, Tom cared for mostly older children in the evenings and Lori worked in the daytime with the youngest patients at the center. One of the senior nursing staff members introduced them, and they connected again when Tom was visiting with the child of a family friend who was a patient at Heinzerling. Eight years later, Tom and Lori married.
Within their eight-year courtship, Tom finished his BSN at Capital University and Lori earned her RN certificate at Mount Carmel School of Nursing, now MCCN. “People knew that Mount Carmel grads were well-prepared to provide care on day one of the nursing career,” said Lori. Both Tom and Lori began their professional nursing careers at Columbus Children’s Hospital, now Nationwide Children’s. Tom worked in the emergency department and Lori initially worked in surgical intensive care. After 18 months at Children’s, Tom accepted a medical sales position. Lori remained at Children’s throughout her career, working full time for a number of years and then moving to part time when her children were school aged. She earned her BSN, one class at a time, from Franklin University while working.
The majority of Lori’s 25-year career was spent caring for the most fragile infants – generally newborns – as a member of the nurse transport unit at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Her team was responsible for safely transferring babies and children from the surrounding area’s hospitals to receive intensive and specialized care at Nationwide Children’s.
In the meantime, Tom had moved from medical sales into home health care, where he began the area’s first pediatric home care service provider and earned a minority ownership position in the enterprise. “No one was providing home health care for children at that time. The concept was ultimately very successful, and our company, Interim Health Care, grew from a start-up to an entity with 38 locations in five states,” said Tom.
In 2007, Tom made a decision to sell his portion of Interim and retire. Lori retired from Children’s a few months later. While good fortune in his business enterprise and Lori’s years of service at Nationwide Children’s allowed the couple an early and comfortable retirement, they both agreed they had more work to do. And with both of their children at home yet, they wanted to remain purposeful, productive, and humble. “We found ourselves in uncharted territory,” said Tom. “We had both been going so hard for so long, we had to regroup and sort out what was next for us.”
The Caldwells are quick to point out that they had exceptional mentors, many from the Catholic community they had been a part of throughout their lives, to help guide their volunteer, leadership, and philanthropic work. In addition to church and community leaders, they both point to Ann Schiele, PhD, RN, MCCN president and dean emeritus, as a powerful influence in their philanthropic endeavors. According to both of them, “She is a force of nature.”
“Even though our good fortune and hard work allowed us to retire comfortably in our 40s, we wanted to keep our lifestyle and our values intact,” said Lori. “Keeping life normal for our kids was important. It was a little out of the ordinary for them to have ‘retired’ parents at their age, but they adapted, we adapted and it all turned out just fine. Their children, Thomas, now 29 and a microbiologist, and Leah, 27, an accountant, both live and work in the Columbus area.
Much of Tom’s volunteer, leadership, and community work in retirement began with the Catholic Foundation, where he applied his business acumen and skills to committees, projects, and advancement. Lori gravitated to what comes naturally to her, working to help needy children through The Christ Child Society.
“She crochets everywhere,” said Tom with a chuckle, referring to the hats Lori makes for babies. She is one of 120 or so committed volunteers for the Christ Child Society, each working to provide essentials for needy newborn and children in the community.
For some, the work with Christ Child and the Catholic Foundation would be enough. Not so for Tom and Lori. Their belief in helping others and their love of the nursing profession motivated them to support scholarships and provide other financial support for MCCN students, through the Mount Carmel Foundation.
An initial endowment in December 2012 funded the Lori Burleson Caldwell Scholarships, awarded to MCCN students with solid grades, financial need, and an interest in pediatric nursing. “Recent scholarship winners have been stellar,” said Lori. “We enjoy connecting with them at the scholarship banquet hosted by the College.”
The Caldwell’s support didn’t end with the named scholarship. Tom was a member of the Our Legacy of Learning Campaign planning committee. “He served as a key stakeholder to help determine what support would provide the most impact,” said Mount Carmel Foundation Senior Development Officer Alyssa Fry.
“One element of the campaign was a natural fit for us,” said Tom. “In my former business, we had a fund for employees who had urgent and unanticipated financial needs. We applied this successful concept and created the Student Emergency Fund as one of the three focal points of support for the campaign. Lori and I made a substantial gift to help this fund.
“We earned good educations,” said Lori. “Our families always supported us, but we didn’t come from a lot of money. Nursing is such a great career and a college education is expensive. It gives us satisfaction to know we can help nursing students achieve their goal and maybe lessen the financial pressure they face just a bit.”
“Life requires flexibility and we were able to make our careers work in our family and in our life,” said Tom. “We have been blessed and we want to share that with others. We never knew we’d be in the position that we’re in, but are grateful that we can help.”
“Caring for others is what nursing is all about,” said Lori. “The need for nurses is so great and it’s a profession you can use in so many settings and roles. We felt the world needs more Mount Carmel nurses and we’re doing what we can to help meet that need.”