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Gift to Benefit Cardiac Center

$1.5 Million Gift to Benefit Cardiac Center

A hardworking southwest Iowa farm family, a strong belief in education of young people and the grace of God came together and resulted in a $1.5 million gift to the Creighton University Cardiac Center. The gift came through the generosity of former school teacher and farm manager Jacqueline E. Johnson.

A history of heart disease within Johnson’s family played a strong role in her decision to make a gift to the Creighton Cardiac Center. Her father died of a heart attack in 1980, and her brother had heart bypass surgery at age 51. In addition, several other relatives in her father’s family suffered with heart disease. In fact, Johnson, herself, was hospitalized following a heart attack. She remembers the exact date: May 28, 1996. “I try to forget it,” she said. “I remember lying there in the hospital room. I was so scared, not knowing what the future was going to hold for me. Fortunately, I was able to recover.”

The future would include a heartache of a different type — the sale of the Enewold-Johnson family farm. The land had been in her family for decades. Johnson served as the “hands on” manager of the farming operation. She was involved in the purchase of seed corn and soybeans, fertilizer, grain storage bins and other aspects of farm management. Johnson also managed the sale of the farm’s annual crops of corn and soybeans. Farming definitely continues to run through her veins.

“I searched long and hard and had many sleepless nights wrestling with what my father’s advice would be,” Johnson said. “I never thought I would part with my family’s land and had always planned to die with it in my estate. I had never considered the farm not being part of me and me not being part of the farm. I always envisioned it as a lifelong partnership.”

Johnson’s parents, Arthur and Florence Enewold, married during the Great Depression and farmed their entire lives in Mills and Pottawattamie counties in southwest Iowa. The Enewolds were hard-working people and good stewards of the land. Arthur and Florence instilled that work ethic in their two children. Jacqueline married Henry Johnson in 1953. Henry was serving in the U.S. Air Force at the time. They lived in base housing in Louisiana, where Henry was stationed. After completing service in the Air Force, the young couple returned to southwest Iowa, where Henry took advantage of the G.I. Bill to receive training, which resulted in a 30-year career at Western Electric in Omaha. Jackie served as a second-grade teacher at Rue Elementary School in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She eventually retired from teaching in 1975 to focus more on her strong farming interest. “I thoroughly enjoyed teaching,” she said. “I wouldn’t give up that experience for anything. Teaching the young children, so eager to learn, was very fulfilling for me.” 

After a very long soul-searching process, Johnson sold the family farm in the fall of 2007. Thankfully for Johnson, as one door seemed to close, another door was coming open. Johnson realized that she had the opportunity to write a new chapter of her life with the proceeds from the sale of her land. She turned to friends and business advisors to find opportunities she might be able to explore as a donor to causes that Johnson personally held close to her heart. The Creighton Cardiac Center was a “natural” for Johnson. She knew that family friend and advisor, Jon Narmi, MBA’73, had a daughter in the cardiology program at Creighton. Johnson asked if Ann Narmi, MD’03, a cardiac fellow, could come visit with her to tell her more about Creighton’s cardiology program and describe any needs it might have. Ann Narmi explained that the cardiology program was in need of additional funding, which would allow cardio fellows to conduct additional research and receive additional training beyond the scope of traditional programs. Johnson quickly empathized with Narmi and the needs of the cardiology program because of her own personal experiences.

It was after the meeting that Johnson realized she could turn the sale of the farm into a blessing. “I thought that I could help grow and nurture young, budding cardiologists, instead of corn and soybeans,” Johnson said. “God had a plan when we had to sell the family farm.”

That plan is now the Jacqueline E. Johnson Endowed Cardiology Education Fund, which will be used to help purchase training equipment and support cardiovascular education for Cardiac Center fellows and faculty. Johnson is especially grateful that her gift will continue in perpetuity, allowing young cardiologists aided by this gift to touch the lives of thousands of patients throughout their careers, and the careers of generations of cardiologists to come.

Johnson, modest and shy by nature, asked only one thing in return for her $1.5 million endowed gift, and that was an honor for her mother and father. The Cardiac Center auditorium will be named in honor of Arthur and Florence Enewold.

“They worked hard together on the farm and this is the result,” Johnson said. “I am sure they would have never dreamed to have something like this, something so tangible, in their memory. I am thrilled beyond belief that I was able to do this for them.

“I wanted to make a gift that was local and ‘hands-on,’ where I could see the benefit and impact within the community. This just seemed like the right thing to do. I know my husband, Henry, and my parents would be very happy with my decision, and that makes me happy.”

Creighton University is a Jesuit, Catholic university bridging health, law, business and the arts and sciences for a more just world.