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East Texan gives $13 mil to Baylor nursing school

Nov. 11, 1999

By CHRIS ALLEN

Staff writer

Louise Herrington Ornelas loves Baylor University. It shows. In fact, this co-founder of TCA Cable Inc. and resident of Tyler loves Baylor so much she is donating $13 million to the Baylor School of Nursing.

In a press conference held at the Baylor School of Nursing campus in Dallas Wednesday, President Robert B. Sloan Jr. announced the endowment, the third-largest gift from an individual in Baylor's 154-year history.

'This very substantial gift from Mrs. Ornelas ensures that the Baylor School of Nursing, already known for its quality, will be able to further expand its influence in nursing education and prepare future generations of health care professionals,' Sloan said. 'We are profoundly grateful to Mrs. Ornelas for demonstrating in such a tangible way her support for the Baylor School of Nursing and its students and faculty.'

In recognition of her gift, Sloan also announced, with a wink to Ornelas, the re-naming of the nursing school to the Louise Herrington School of Nursing.

Although not a graduate of Baylor University, Ornelas was named an Alumna Honoris Causu in 1992. Three of her five children graduated from Baylor, and three grandchildren -- Michelle Rogers Drewett ('92), Andrea Rogers Lazenby ('94) and Richard Rogers Jr. ('97) -- are also Baylor graduates, with Andrea and Richard going on to graduate from the school of nursing.

Ornelas, whose sister was also a nurse, has a fondness in her heart for the profession.

'I almost was a nurse; I dreamed of being a nurse,' she told the crowd of mostly nursing students, faculty and staff. 'I really feel like I am kind of a nurse.'

She herself enrolled in nursing school at one point, before a bout with kidney stones left her so far behind in her classes she was forced to withdraw from school, though she remained active in nursing and volunteered in the nursing auxiliary for 35 years.

But Ornelas won't have to dream of that elusive diploma any longer. Sloan and Chancellor Herbert Reynolds took the opportunity to award her a rare honorary bachelor of science degree in nursing.

'Through all your years of volunteering you have completed a curriculum,' Reynolds said as he removed the diploma from its tube encasing.

'This is the first time we know of that Baylor has ever awarded an honorary bachelor's degree. It is very unique, but you are a very unique person.'

Ornelas stood silently biting her lower lip as Dr. Phyllis Karns, dean of the nursing school, proceeded to place a nursing pin on Ornelas' outfit, managing only the words, 'I'm speechless.'

Karns also used the press conference as an opportunity to announce the recent U.S. News and World Report rankings of graduate nursing programs, which ranked Baylor 53 of 237 programs in the nation, and fourth in the state of Texas.

Karns said the $13 million gift will help the nursing school meet the nationwide shortage of nurses.

Joel Allison, chief operating officer of Baylor Health Care System, echoed these sentiments.

'Your generosity will help us be able to meet our goal of providing quality, professional care with quality, professional caretakers,' he told Ornelas. 'We are so excited that you are our partner, and the school of nursing is our partner. On behalf of the health care team and on behalf of the patients we serve, thank you very much.'

Reynolds, who many credit for securing the donation, said the gift is a tribute to the faculty, staff and students of Baylor University.

'It takes the entire Baylor community to make this opportunity possible,' Reynolds said. 'It is the faculty who are there and the graduates who were there that create such a favorable impression on our institution.

'That impression builds a love for Baylor, and out of that love comes the kind of people like Mrs. Ornelas. It is easy to talk to someone about how they can help the university when they have that kind of love,' Reynolds said.