When Nancy Ridenour, PhD, APRN, FAAN, was a new faculty member at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Nursing early in her academic career in the 1980s, a colleague frantically urged her to step in and stop a promising student from dropping out.
“She was an absolutely outstanding student, so I ran down to the admissions office and sure enough she was putting in her withdrawal papers,” Dr. Ridenour says. “I’m grabbing her and I’m crying and saying, ‘You can’t do this.’ And she says, ‘I’m getting a divorce and I have two kids to support. I can’t afford it.’”
Dr. Ridenour told the student that what she really couldn’t afford was to give up nursing. She was a stellar student and would make a great nurse. She’d also lose her best chance at a good job for the rest of her life.
“So, I just wrote her a check right there,” Dr. Ridenour says. “Now she’s got her doctorate and she’s done really wonderful things.”
This story says a lot about Dr. Ridenour, who is retiring as The Maxine Clark and Bob Fox President of Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College. During her tenure at Goldfarb, which began in 2017, Dr. Ridenour has done everything she can to help nursing students excel. Among the numerous examples of these efforts include Dr. Ridenour’s leadership role in developing Goldfarb’s Path to Distinction strategic plan aimed at positioning the school as a national academic leader in nursing education, community engagement and impact, and research and scholarship.
A passionate supporter of the field of nursing and a diverse workforce, she has gone the extra mile—including opening up her own wallet—to make sure funds are available for students to graduate and have the opportunity to pursue advanced research and medical degrees.
And she’s done it over and over again throughout her extensive career that has included primary care, public health and academic positions in the United States and numerous international locations including Egypt, Jordan, China, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Cuba, Costa Rica and Peru.
Giving Back is at the Top of the List
No matter where Dr. Ridenour has lived and worked, giving back has always been a top priority.
“I think when people have resources, it’s important that they share them,” she says.
After joining Goldfarb, she created the Dr. Nancy Ridenour Faculty and Staff Enrichment Fund in 2018 to support Goldfarb employees who pursue additional education and training. She also made a personal gift to launch the Homer G. Phillips Nursing Alumni, Inc. Scholarship Fund in 2020 aimed at increasing diversity at Goldfarb. The fund honors the nurses who worked at the historic Homer G. Phillips Hospital, which served the St. Louis Black community from 1937 until 1979. Both funds were established at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
Most recently, in 2021, Dr. Ridenour established the Emergency Compassion Endowed Fund, also at the Foundation, which provides financial assistance to Goldfarb students who encounter unexpected emergencies or crisis situations that impact their ability to meet and successfully complete their academic requirements. She’s also an avid supporter of a separate donor-created compassion fund that was established in 2017.
Dr. Ridenour points to the Texas Tech student who almost forfeited her career as a perfect example of the need for these types of funds.
“No nursing student should have to quit because they had some sort of emergency they hadn’t planned on and can’t afford,” she says. “I’ve seen it over and over again. Their car breaks down, their mother dies, they have a house fire or something that just tips them over. If they graduate from nursing, they’ll have a good job for life.”
Paying it Forward to Honor Others
But Dr. Ridenour’s generosity doesn’t stop there. She regularly honors her friends, colleagues and acquaintances with donations on their birthdays, weddings and anniversaries, birth of their babies as well as tributes to memorialize their loved ones.
“We don’t recognize people enough, so I think it’s important to celebrate staff and faculty,” she says. “To me it feels more meaningful to put it toward something that would be lasting rather than to buy a bottle of wine or some trinket.”
In making these gifts, Dr. Ridenour tries to determine which funds at the Foundation might touch individuals based on what she knows about them.
“For some people, it has been very meaningful to them. For me, it’s creating a future legacy,” she says. “The more we can give, the more students have scholarships, the more faculty can have professional development, the more patients who can be seen, and a greater number of diverse nurses can graduate. Those are all positive things for the future.”
Dr. Ridenour says the recipients often tell her that this is the first time they’ve been honored in this way.
“What’s really gratifying is that it encourages them to give to what they’re really passionate about as well,” says Dr. Ridenour. “So, it’s paying it forward and creating a culture of philanthropy, too.”