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Grief, grace, and giving

Kathy Scheffler (center) joined scholarship recipients Allison Bradee and Greg Carlson on a surgical mission trip to Honduras last summer. Here, they reunite at the Medical School's scholarship luncheon in October. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Scheffler)

Couple’s gift enables medical students to learn, serve abroad

Russ Scheffler enjoyed medical students. For the two-and-a- half years he lived with cancer of the appendix, he befriended, quizzed, and “tormented” several of them, recalls his wife, Kathy. He recognized the teaching value of his illness, and welcomed the presence of aspiring physicians in the room.

“He liked all the attention, he liked that interaction,” Kathy Scheffler says. When his University of Minnesota surgeon, Todd Tuttle, M.D., mentioned plans to bring a student on an upcoming medical mission trip to Honduras, Russ offered to pay for the student’s trip. That was news to Kathy, but she loved the idea.

A blended gift with global impact

Although that trip was canceled because of a logistical snafu, the seed had been planted for a legacy that would soon have global impact. “During that process, my husband’s health kept declining. I think he was feeling like, ‘How do I give something back?’” Scheffler says.

The couple spoke with Tuttle about creating a scholarship fund that would allow him to bring two second-year medical students abroad each year on surgical mission trips. They spent the summer of 2011 setting up a blended gift — an outright gift and a planned contribution.

The Scheffler International Medical Mission Trip Award began with a $5,000-per-year donation that grew through a life-insurance policy and memorial gifts upon Russ’s passing. At press time, more than $32,000 had been donated to the fund — including $500 in proceeds from a garage sale organized by the 11-year-old daughter of close family friends.

“Russ always looked for that unique need that he felt wasn’t being met,” Scheffler says. “This was right up his alley.”

A ‘passion for international medicine’

Tuttle says he is glad to see more opportunities for surgeons who want to volunteer abroad. “I also wanted to use these experiences to help train surgeons — maybe inspire someone to make international medicine more of a career.”

This summer, he elected to bring the first two Scheffler scholarship recipients to Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (NPH), an orphanage and clinic outside Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital. “We wanted somebody with a passion for international medicine,” Tuttle says, and Allison Bradee and Greg Carlson fit the bill.

Bradee, who majored in Spanish and has volunteered in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, says she won’t soon forget the gratitude of the Honduran patients she met. Many could not afford to pay upfront for medical care and simply wouldn’t have been treated without the NPH team.

The weeklong trip was incredibly rewarding, says Carlson, who had previously volunteered in Peru and Tanzania. So was the opportunity to meet Kathy Scheffler, who was committed to seeing firsthand the vision for the scholarship fulfilled. At one particularly emotional point toward the trip’s end, she shared her husband’s story with Carlson and Bradee.

“It’s really inspiring to me that she was able to go and do this,” Carlson says. “It made me feel like I can’t let her down.”

The trip affirmed Carlson’s resolve to incorporate international volunteerism into his medical practice someday.

“I wasn’t doing it as a résumé-builder; this is something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life.”

By Susan Maas

To learn more about creating a planned gift at the University of Minnesota, contact Jay Kautt, J.D., at 612-626-0510 or

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