Daffodils, fried chicken and an interest in neurology laid the foundation for philanthropy.
By LIZ ELKAS
I could not have known, two decades ago, that a bunch of golden daffodils snipped from my garden one morning in March would blossom into a lifelong friendship, but I am so grateful it did.
My intended recipient had asked to meet a staff member from the Dean’s Office to express appreciation for our faculty members. The gentleman had traveled by ambulance—not because of an emergency, but because he needed that level of transport—from Rushville, Indiana, to his doctor’s appointment at Long Hospital (now IU School of Medicine’s Long Hall).
As I waited, the back door of the ambulance swung open, revealing a man with a full shock of salt and pepper hair, propped up on a gurney, clearly exhausted, but with a very wide smile. His outstretched arm slowly motioned me to his side. We introduced ourselves and I offered him the bouquet. Mr. Kenneth Earnest was unable to grasp the flowers, so I placed them beside him on the gurney. I thanked him for his kind words about our physicians and off he went to his appointment.
Later that spring, Mr. Earnest and his wife made a gift to express appreciation for our faculty’s research. I made a road trip to Rushville to thank them in person. At the screen door, I was greeted by a petite woman with a warm and gracious smile—the kind that makes you feel you’ve known one another for years. It was Ken’s wife, Selma. She thanked me for the beautiful “jonquils,” as she called them. Just the way the word rolled from her lips, I could see the flowers in a field, dancing in the spring breeze.
Over the years, the Earnests took a keen interest in our clinical research and, in particular, the work of John C. Kincaid, MD, professor of neurology. Every spring, Dr. Kincaid and I would visit with Mrs. Earnest at the Kopper Kettle Inn in Morristown, her favorite lunch spot, noted for their fried chicken.
When Ken passed away and Selma stopped driving, the venue for our feast and friendship became her dining room. Our hostess made it a special time. Selma insisted we dine by candlelight, even on the sunniest of days. And yes, during these spring visits, the table was graced by freshly picked “jonquils.”
We talked about family, travel and IU men’s basketball. Dr. Kincaid shared research updates and his excitement about the young medical students and neurology residents being trained at IU. Selma was so impressed with the educational program that she began annually supporting an outstanding neurology resident, who would also join us for the lunches. She truly enjoyed meeting the young people and asking them lots of questions. She was a perpetual learner.
Before Selma passed away, at 98, she set aside resources to permanently establish the Kenneth L. and Selma G. Earnest Chair in Neurology. To this day, this prestigious faculty endowment is held by Dr. Kincaid, who is humbled by the honor and says it helps advance his neurological research and teaching. Recognizing the need for more outstanding young physicians, Selma also endowed a scholarship fund, bearing her and Ken’s names. Each year, it helps with the cost of tuition for several Hoosier students.
And to think it all started with daffodils.
Upon reflection, though, there was no more fitting flower. Daffodils symbolize rebirth and new beginnings. Each year, the legacy of the Earnests is renewed through the people and the mission they continue to nurture. It makes IU School of Medicine a stronger, more vibrant institution. And for that, I will always be grateful for Selma and Ken.