By Mark Ambrogi
Tom Sheehan knows the intense pain of losing a child to cancer.
His son, Tim, had bone cancer and suffered with it for nearly two years before dying at age 12 on Oct. 23, 1973.
“Obviously I loved him, and I wanted to remember him. It’s always been in my mind to have him remembered,” Sheehan said.
The Thomas P. and Sondra D. (Soni) Sheehan Charitable Foundation is a supporting organization of the Legacy Fund, an affiliate of Central Indiana Community Foundation. The Sheehans, who live in Noblesville, started the foundation in 2011 with $6 million. Sheehan founded Carmel Financial Corporation. He sold the majority of business to his daughter, Tracey Sheehan, a few years ago. Tracey, a Noblesville resident, serves as president and CEO of the Carmel-based business.
Tracey, whose mother Jacqueline lives in Noblesville, said the foundation development came from her father wanting to do something more to memorialize her older brother.
“If we can improve the lives of kids that are going through medical issues, it’s another way to honor Tim,” Tracey said. “It’s any type of service that helps a family deal with children with a medical need.”
Sheehan, 81, said it might be something simple like helping them financially through a rough stretch.
“We want to be the giver of last resort,” Sheehan said “If we vet you and there are other resources you haven’t tried, we’ll direct you there. We want to help the neediest. So we’re not giving it to somebody who has nine people lined up to give them money. We’re going to save it for somebody who needs it.”
Sheehan knows what mounting medical bills are like. He was not a wealthy man when Tim got cancer. Nonetheless, he managed to get Tim to Memorial Sloan Kettering, one of the top cancer centers nationally.
“By the time that happened, his lungs were full of cancer, and it was just too late,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan wants to help others in those types of situations.
“We’ve had a problem getting applications,” Sheehan said. “We’ve had a problem giving the money away. We’re not looking for donations.”
The purpose of the foundation is to improve the lives of children facing debilitating medical challenges. It provides support for medical treatment, prostheses and mobility devices that children living with physical deformities and medical issues need to overcome their obstacles.
“We felt there were a lot of kids that needed help,” Tom said. “We thought we’d be inundated and we could do all these things, and it just didn’t happen. We went to Riley, and we didn’t get any applications.”
Several years ago, the Timothy John Memorial Foundation was set up to provide funds for schools and scholarships.
“Soni and dad gave anonymously for years,” Tracey said. “They would read about somebody in the newspaper that might need something or might need a mobility device or some type of transportation. They would make contact with the family and work it out independently. Their mindset has been helping people in the community for decades.”
The Sheehans received the Legacy Fund’s 2013 Living Legacy Award, for individuals or families that have had a major impact on quality of life in Hamilton County. They provide time and financial support to the Noblesville Boys and Girls Club, Riverview Health, St. Vincent de Paul in Noblesville, and the Good Samaritan Network of Hamilton County.
Their good deeds extend to the Naples, Florida area, where they spend their winters.
“I work with the kids in a charter school in Florida, and you can really see the need there,” said Soni, who married Tom in 1984. “We helped a little boy in Immokalee, who was born without ears. We don’t help with his medical expenses, but we pay his insurance.”
Sheehan, who grew up in a poor family in Chicago, sold encyclopedias door-to-door for Collier’s magazine. Sheehan said his family received support so he always wanted to give back. In 1967, he incorporated Universal Distributors and started his own company, selling encyclopedias door-to-door. In 1988, the name was changed to Carmel Financial Corp., and it strictly became a finance company.
Sheehan Foundation applications can be found at bit.ly/2ddWa6J.
Tracey said the grant request application is available on the site.
“They ask if there is a social worker or any other contact that can verify the need,” Tracey said.
Legacy Fund representatives conduct the vetting of the applications to see if it meets the foundation’s mission statement.
“They bring it to the board and then we go through process of board approval,” Tracey said.
Tom Sheehan said they would prefer to help those in Hamilton County or the Indianapolis area.
“But we’ll help anybody,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan said many of those they’ve helped have sent touching letters.
“Talk about gratification, it makes you feel good,” Tom said of helping.