- by Ashley Rea, Manager of Communication
Just over eight months ago, the ceremonial ribbon was being cut outside the new Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower, ushering in the beginning of a new era of pediatric care for the state of Mississippi. Looking at the seven-story pediatric tower adjacent to the existing Blair E. Batson Tower, it is difficult to imagine that the preparation for this $180 million expansion began only five years ago.
When leaders at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and Children’s of Mississippi began planning a children’s hospital expansion, they knew from the start that philanthropy would be a major part of taking the building from blueprints to life-saving pediatric care.
“From experience, we knew that a project of the size and scope of this expansion would need the strong support of philanthropists who share our dedication to improving the health of Mississippi’s children,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “We knew that Joe and Kathy Sanderson were the leaders who could accomplish this.”
From this goal, a vision for the future of pediatric care for generations of Mississippians to come was born. The Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi was launched by Joe F. Sanderson Jr., chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Sanderson Farms, and his wife, Kathy, in April 2016, and what occurred over the next five years was nothing short of remarkable. Having seen the quality of care at Children’s of Mississippi first-hand when their granddaughter, Sophie Creath, was a patient at Batson Children’s Hospital as a young girl, the couple jump-started the philanthropic effort with a $10 million personal gift.
“We believe that the hospital is at maximum capacity and is lacking in several vital areas,” Joe Sanderson said at the campaign’s launch. “The hospital is beyond capacity in the neonatal intensive care unit and is badly in need of additional space. Children have to be transported to the main facility at UMMC because of a lack of equipment at Batson. Children sometimes need sedation when being transported. And further, there needs to be additional facilities for pediatric surgeries, particularly cardiac surgery.”
If the $10 million gift from the Sandersons was a seed donation, it would soon bear fruit in the campaign, which was growing at a rapid rate. By August 2016, Friends of Children’s Hospital, a nonprofit that raises funds for the children’s hospital, had announced a $20 million commitment to the campaign.
“The expansion has been quite a journey for me, dating back to June 2011,” said Sara Ray, former board chair of Friends of Children’s Hospital. “I certainly didn’t dream at the time this expansion would evolve over the following years to become the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower at Children’s of Mississippi!”
After visiting Batson Children’s Hospital each year as part of the activities related to the Sanderson Farms Championship, Lampkin Butts, president and chief operating officer for Sanderson Farms, and his wife, Susie, also felt compelled to support the cause for children by personally donating $1 million to the campaign. “The children there left their fingerprints on our hearts,” said Susie Butts.
By December 2017, the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi had raised more than 60 percent of its $100 million goal in only 19 months. Although that milestone was certainly worth celebrating, the confetti that fell that day in December was in celebration of yet another milestone, the groundbreaking that signaled the start of construction for the hospital expansion.
“The fact that this groundbreaking happened less than two years after the launch of the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi shows how much we as Mississippians value our children and their health, and how generous the people of this state are,” said Joe Sanderson after the groundbreaking for the expansion. “The opening of this children’s tower will mean better outcomes for our children, but also better research, more top doctors coming to Mississippi and more jobs.”
Following site preparation in the winter of 2018, construction of the tower loomed on for nearly another two years before culminating in October 2020 for the grand opening of the Sanderson Tower, the moment all had been anticipating since the campaign’s creation in 2016. Even a pandemic could not contain the excitement of campaign supporters at the ribbon cutting ceremony who beamed with pride from beneath their Children’s of Mississippi face masks.
Now over seven months into the Sanderson Tower’s life-saving work, the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi’s fundraising total has reached more than 88 percent of its $100 million goal, but campaign organizers assure there is still much work to be done.
“We have so much to be proud of,” said Joe Sanderson, “but we can’t stop here. That we have raised this much in the space of a few years is remarkable, but the job is not finished. The full $100 million is required.”
To be successful, the cause requires all Mississippians to join in as each and every donation is appreciated, regardless of the size. “We each have different situations in life, but all of us share one thing in common,” said Joe Sanderson. “We love our children and want what’s best for them. Donations of all sizes will make sure that the best care for children’s illnesses and injuries is close to home and ready at a moment’s notice.”
Portions of this article are adapted from articles published in Under the Rainbow, a publication printed by the University of Mississippi Medical Center on behalf of Batson Children’s Hospital and Children’s of Mississippi, and on UMMC’s website.