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A serendipitous gift

School of Nursing alumna and scholarship recipient Trina Sommerlatte made more than a good first impression on donors Claud and Mary Virginia Jacobs.

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Mary Virginia Jacobs could tell Trina Sommerlatte was special from the moment the young nurse walked into her husband’s hospital room. She just had no idea how special.

It was Thanksgiving weekend 2009. From the moment the two women met they shared an important interest: the health of Claud Jacobs, who was recovering from heart surgery at Citizens Medical Center in Victoria, Texas. They shared a profession, too: Mary Virginia was a retired nurse. They even shared an alma mater: The University of Texas at Austin.

But there was one more bond that nobody suspected. It was the reason the Jacobses looked so familiar to Trina that day. At first the 2007 School of Nursing graduate thought she had cared for Claud before. Or maybe it was Mary Virginia. They said no, but Trina persisted. “Names don’t ring a bell, but faces I usually remember,” she said.

Puzzled, the three speculated about mutual friends before it came to them — they had met at the university in 2005. The occasion: a luncheon honoring scholarship donors and recipients. The Jacobses had donated money for a nursing scholarship; Trina had received one. But Trina hadn’t received just any scholarship. She had received the Jacobses’ scholarship.

The couple had stepped into the future and prepared their own nurse.

“You can give scholarships all your life and never know what they can mean down the road,” Claud said. “Here my life was on the line, and that person who I helped to get an education was taking care of me. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

The next visitor to Claud’s hospital room walked in on the couple crying. “I still cry,” Mary Virginia said. Claud, too, gets teary at the memory. “It’s emotional,” he said. “You could live a lifetime and never have an opportunity like this.”

The possibility of getting something in return for their gift had never crossed the Jacobses’ minds. “The scholarship was given to honor my mother,” Mary Virginia says. “It wasn’t something we expected to get something back out of.”

Mary Virginia’s mother had always wanted to be a nurse. What better way to honor her than by giving to the School of Nursing at the university where Mary Virginia’s grandparents had met, her parents had met, and she and Claud had met? “If mother had been alive and had a place to choose she probably would have chosen the University of Texas,” Mary Virginia said.

So she and Claud chose it for her, creating the Florence Nightingale Memorial Scholarship in her name. Florence Nightingale? Yes, Mary Virginia’s grandparents had named their daughter after the founder of modern nursing. Despite her name and her aspirations, Florence Nightingale Moses Mason never got the chance to become a nurse. But Mary Virginia did, working as both a nurse practitioner and nurse educator before retiring in 2004.

Mary Virginia studied nursing at UT before transferring to San Antonio’s Incarnate Word College, where she earned a bachelor of science in nursing in 1966. She later returned to UT, earning a master’s in nursing in 1980. She and Claud had met on a blind date in 1963. She was a UT sophomore, and he was a senior. They wed in 1964, the same year Claud received his BBA. He now owns a financial-planning firm in Victoria and an insurance agency in Yoakum.

The Jacobses live in Victoria; Trina in nearby Hallettsville. By the time their paths converged at Citizens Medical Center, Mary Virginia had already retired. But, as she discovered during Claud’s hospital stay, old habits die hard. “I can’t ever stop being a nursing instructor,” she said. “You look at how people do things and you check it.”

None of Claud’s nurses escaped her scrutiny, and some performed better than others. Trina was a standout from the beginning. She walked into the room with confidence, and she washed her hands even before Mary Virginia could ask. She spoke to Claud before treating him, explaining what she would do. And her technical skills were spot-on.

“I turned to Claud and I said, ‘That girl knows what she’s doing,'” Mary Virginia recalled. Trina was so good that Mary Virginia already suspected she might be a UT graduate. Attending the School of Nursing was part of a longtime dream for both women. “I always knew I was going to be a nurse,” Mary Virginia said. “I can remember at 6 years old asking for a nurse’s kit for my birthday. Not a doctor’s kit — a nurse’s kit.”

Trina had the same dream. Her mother had been a nurse, and she knew she would be, too. “There’s no way I could have been happy with anything else,” she said. Her favorite thing about nursing? “Knowing you can help people at their most vulnerable times.”

A year after Claud’s hospital stay, the Jacobses and Trina met over lunch to reminisce. “You did a pretty good job,” Claud told Trina. “I’m still here.” The three discussed the importance of education. Claud, as he had during his hospital stay and during that long-ago luncheon, encouraged Trina to earn a master’s degree. “Education is the most important thing you can have in life,” he said.

Trina got the chance to tell the Jacobses — again — the difference their scholarship had made. “It helped me pay for my education because I paid for everything myself — and still am,” she said. “It helped ease that burden.”

Claud’s experience with Trina reinforced something he already knew. “I’m a firm believer that the more you give, the more you get back,” he said. “All the time.”

This story originally appeared on the Giving to UT website.