The Conversation: Karen Wolfson

Advisory Board and Executive Committee of The Women’s Board of Wolfson Children’s Hospital

Photograph by laird

You have served on The Women’s Board of Wolfson Children’s for decades, including being president of the board. Can you tell us a bit about what this important board’s current (and/or historic) activities and functions might be?

The Women’s Board, with more than 400 members, will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022. Formed in 1973 by Ellen Cavert, our mission remains the same today as when the first 41 members were brought together: The Women’s Board creates awareness of Wolfson Children’s Hospital and raises funds to ensure the best health care for every child who is served by Wolfson. To date, more than $34 million has been given to Wolfson. I’m proud that my mother-in-law, Hazel Wolfson, was one of Ellen’s friends and a founding member.

The board has raised funds for practically every area of the hospital. Starting with the 1977 gift of $70,000, we’ve raised funds for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) four times. Our current fundraising project of raising $4 million by December 2022 supports an endowment for the new NICU scheduled to open 2/22/2022 in the new Critical Care Tower. We have to be ambitious to reach this goal primarily by raising funds through the new Winter Design Show and our Florida Forum Speaker Series. 

We lost Ellen this past August 4 at age 101, but her faith, spirit, and commitment to the needs of babies and children remain. Ellen has always been a huge part of my life since I became a member in 1986. She and her husband, Tillman, were my counsel and encouragement, especially while I was president in 2006-07. Her words and wisdom still seem to temper each day for me.

Wolfson Children’s Hospital is named after your husband’s grandfather, the late Morris Wolfson or “Pop.” What does this legacy mean to your family?

Our family feels enormously blessed to have a legacy like this. My husband, Don, was a baby when his grandfather died, but Pop’s humility and commitment to serving others were entrenched in Don’s father, uncles, and aunts. Pop, a Lithuanian immigrant who came to this country in the steerage of a ship, felt enormous gratitude when he became an American citizen. He had a dream to pay back the good fortune of being in this country by establishing a children’s health clinic where all children could be admitted and treated without regard to creed, religion, race, or financial position.  It was to be a place free of prejudice.

You have to remember that this was 1946 when people weren’t thinking about prejudice or philanthropy. Our entire family, including Pop’s great grandchildren—who are our children—are serving and giving to Wolfson Children’s. It’s a deep honor that is extremely humbling.   

Your first career was teaching, focused on reading skills. Do you bring this experience into your volunteerism?

My love for children and families is the basis of my love for teaching and serving others. Yes, I do use my teaching experience in working with other volunteers, patients, and their families. I taught mass media for several years, and my limited marketing knowledge and writing skills have been used a lot in promoting Wolfson Children’s and The Women’s Board events and patient stories. Also, being an educator teaches one to reach out to others for help, and so many incredible people want to be a part of helping children.

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Author: Arbus

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