In his President’s Report at the Dec. 18 Board of Trustees meeting, Dr. David M. Mathews announced a gift of $250,000 from Kelly Rose to fund the Karen K. Rose Simulation Lab in Southwestern Michigan College’s new $9.6 million Nursing and Health Education Building under construction on the Dowagiac campus.
“We’re very, very grateful,” Board of Trustees Chairman Thomas F. Jerdon said. “It’s our biggest gift so far and will have a huge impact. Being that Karen is an SMC nursing graduate, it has special meaning to both of them. We could see their connection to SMC at Commencement. He was a great Commencement speaker, he’s making the world a better place by giving back to the community and was a pioneer in his own industry.”
Jerdon said an article in The Southwester about Rose’s remarks Dec. 9, 2015, when business students lined up afterward to meet him, gave him the idea to invite Rose to speak.
When he met Rose, “He knew more about me than I knew about him because Karen went to nursing school with my oldest sister. They used to study together.”
Both Kelly and Karen are SMC alumni. They met in the commons through a mutual friend, him the aspiring teacher/coach and Edwardsburg farm boy, and her, the Dowagiac city girl who worked for a year after high school to afford the $900 Dodge Dart she would drive to clinicals at Lee Memorial Hospital in Dowagiac, Lake View Hospital in Paw Paw and Cass County Medical Care Facility near Cassopolis.
“I saw her for the very first time in this building,” Kelly recalled as speaker for SMC’s 387-member Class of 2016. “I saw her across the room and told my buddies, ‘I’m going to marry that woman.’”
“When we got married,” he also informed SMC students, “I told Karen that within 10 years I was going to buy a Corvette and take her to Hawaii. We did. I learned as I went. If we make sure mistakes don’t bury us, we learn more from dry holes than gushers.”
The couple talked about donating to the college after attending its 49th graduation.
“The campus looks so different. We need to do that. We love the school,” they conversed, but left it there for the time being.
Then Kelly surprised Karen for her birthday on Oct. 24 with the once-in-a-lifetime gift.
On her 65th birthday, driving back from a restaurant in Naples, Fla., Kelly insisted Karen load a video depicting golf course damage.
“I want to see it tonight,” he said cryptically. “He was getting so nervous,” perplexing her since she expected to be viewing trees toppled across an emerald expanse.
Instead, the virtual reality “fly-through” tour of the state-of-the-art facility that is the largest project undertaken in SMC’s more than 50-year history popped up.
“I was so thrilled and in shock, I just started crying,” Karen, of Bristol, Ind., said. “I had read different articles over the last five years about simulators and how wonderful they are for teaching. I thought that would have been nice” to have when she studied nursing at SMC in what was then a new building. “He couldn’t have given me a better gift!”
The former Karen Mead finished nursing school in 1972 while planning their small August wedding and whirlwind Wisconsin Dells honeymoon.
A 1970 Union High School graduate, she grew up on First Avenue with brothers Dale and Lyle Jr., attended McKinley Elementary School, Central Junior High and DUHS.
Her father, Lyle Mead Sr., operated a service station on North Front Street, fixing vehicles with his one good hand. Initially, his hoist was outside, making winter work challenging.
She had thought about becoming a hairdresser and toured Vogue Beauty School in Indiana, but had also started at Lee Memorial as a teen-age candy striper.
After graduation, she found a nursing job at Elkhart General Hospital. She was a nurse for more than 10 years, and “paid the bills for a while” as her husband built several RV businesses.
Kelly’s entry into the recreational vehicle industry was trimming travel trailers in Elkhart.
It’s been 40 years since, in 1977, he co-founded Automotive Sound and Accessories (ASA Electronics), which he owned half of until 1990.
Kelly, who served two years as chairman of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, was honored as the 1994 Indiana Manufacturing Entrepreneur of the Year.
He was inducted into the Recreational Vehicle/Motor Home Hall of Fame in 2002.