The Mary Ranken Jordan Service to Children Award 2023 Recipients: Shannon and Bill Willhite

A simple introduction to Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital grew into a lasting passion. Thanks to their generosity and commitment to the children, families and staff at the hospital, Shannon and Bill Willhite are being honored with the 2023 Mary Ranken Jordan Service to Children Award.

Given with heartfelt gratitude on behalf of children, the Mary Ranken Jordan Service to Children Award honors those who selflessly serve Ranken Jordan, the St. Louis community, and by their example, encourage others to do the same.

The award also recognizes individuals and organizations demonstrating a commitment to the ideals and vision established in 1941 by the hospital’s founder, Mary Ranken Jordan.

A Growing Passion for Service

When a friend invited Bill and Shannon Willhite to a Ranken Jordan gala more than 15 years ago, a seed was planted.

At the gala, the Willhites were moved by the patient stories they heard and the passionate dedication from Nick Holekamp, MD, Ranken Jordan’s Chief Medical Officer, who spoke at the event.

“We knew right then that we wanted to get involved with Ranken Jordan,” Shannon says.

Shannon’s connection to Ranken Jordan is even deeper. As a social worker, she had worked with children who were patients at Ranken Jordan’s original location before the new facility opened in 2004.

“It’s amazing how Ranken Jordan has evolved since then, yet the mission remains the same,” Shannon says. “Ranken Jordan provides services no one else can.”

A Heart for Giving — Together

The Willhites jumped in wholeheartedly to contribute to that mission. Shannon began volunteering as a concierge at Ranken Jordan while Bill, Founder and Managing Partner of WILSquare Capital, utilized his business experience in service to the board. He was the chair from 2016-2019 and helped lead the hospital through its expansion that opened in 2018. After he completed his chair term, he remained on the board serving on various committees.

Bill is proud of the progress made by the board while he served with them, including building the hospital’s senior management team. “We didn’t have a Chief Nursing Officer or a Chief Development Officer when I started on the board. We also fortunately hired an infectious disease doctor just nine months before the pandemic hit. Changes in leadership have had a direct impact on the hospital. The board put the right people in the right places. Today, Ranken Jordan has transitioned from a small, quaint organization to a professional organization with transparency.”

Volunteering at Ranken Jordan has been a fulfilling journey for Shannon. “My favorite part is seeing kids get out of their rooms to play, and then watching them get to go home with everyone cheering for them,” she says.

The Willhite’s combined, well-rounded perspective of Ranken Jordan has uniquely benefited the hospital.

“Shannon lived the mission as a volunteer with patient involvement while I experienced the business side serving on the board,” Bill says. “Giving time to Ranken Jordan has been meaningful for us. Shannon and I did this together, and together, we also decided to give to support Ranken Jordan.”

Donor generosity allows Ranken Jordan to give children the “extras”— not always covered by insurance—that create normalcy and improve patient outcomes. This is especially important since many children have extended stays at Ranken Jordan.

For example, when the Willhites learned that Ranken Jordan needed to upgrade its nurse call light system to better care for the growing number of children at the hospital, they didn’t hesitate to help. They generously donated the funds necessary for a more sophisticated nurse call light system, which was installed in fall 2020.

Inspired to Make a Difference

The staff, patients and volunteers inspire Shannon and Bill.

“Being on the board, I had a front row seat to how stressful the nursing job is and how hard it is to recruit and retain nurses,” Bill says. “Through our gifts, we want to show the staff someone cares and is making an investment in them.”

In the past year, the Willhites have made generous gifts to Ranken Jordan. One gift helped to purchase a simulation baby. This sophisticated equipment allows staff to replicate real-life airway and breathing incidents and to train caregivers on how to respond to these situations. This is especially critical when caring for children with a tracheotomy and/or ventilator.

“This is an important, lifelong skill caregivers will have,” Shannon says. “We’re grateful to be able to help staff, patients and families. Ranken Jordan is somewhere you can make a tangible difference.”

They also helped set up a specialized formula room in the kitchen. Many of Ranken Jordan’s patients are on a feeding tube with over forty distinct kinds of formula used to meet their unique needs. By creating a separate formula room, the kitchen staff can prepare the various formulas daily in a clean, sterile environment without interruptions. Previously the entire kitchen would have to be closed while formulas were being made. This is an example of listening to staff needs and concerns and responding with a gift that helps offer even better service to patients.

When visiting Ranken Jordan, the Willhites have met many patient families. “Meeting them makes it real and reminds us why we give,” Bill says. “Ranken Jordan is something you just have to see. Kids there are going through more than most of us ever will, yet they experience so many moments of joy at Ranken Jordan.”

The Willhites carry special empathy for families at Ranken Jordan. Their now-adult son spent his first month of life in a neonatal intensive care unit.

“Family is the most important thing to us, and when families have children in the hospital, it hits home,” Bill says. “We know how valuable family services are at Ranken Jordan.”

Planting More Seeds as Lifelong Ambassadors

In recent years, the demands on the Willhites’ time have changed. Bill recognized that he could not commit the time to the board that he wanted to, and he decided to step down in 2021.

“The other board members are so inspiring, it made it hard to leave,” Bill says. “But I was confident that I was leaving with the board in good hands.”

With a heartfelt commitment to Ranken Jordan, the Willhites remain involved. Bill is now an emeritus board member and has recruited others to the board. And together, Bill and Shannon are committed donors and vocal ambassadors for Ranken Jordan.

“To be able to offer the level of care kids truly need, Ranken Jordan needs support far beyond what they are paid through Medicaid,” Bill explains. “The hospital needs funding for all the important programs that get patients outside their rooms as part of Care Beyond the Bedside®. We feel obliged to show support of the staff, volunteers and board members who dedicate themselves to the kids at Ranken Jordan every day. The passion and commitment from people at Ranken Jordan is incredible. Without that, our gifts wouldn’t mean much.”

Shannon agrees. “Ranken Jordan has touched our lives in so many ways. We believe in what Ranken Jordan is doing and know our giving helps kids and families. Seeing kids having fun makes it such a happy place. “

Passing on the Generosity Gene

The Willhites are passing on the generosity gene to their three children. They have all participated in events and volunteer opportunities with Ranken Jordan including the hospital’s BEYOND Gala.

“We’re so grateful and humbled to receive the Mary Ranken Jordan Service to Children Award,” Shannon says. “It was special to see our kids’ response when they heard we were receiving the award. They know how important Ranken Jordan is to us and hopefully will follow in our footsteps in giving.”

Just as they were once introduced to Ranken Jordan at the invitation of a friend, the Willhites do the same. Over the years they have sponsored several tables at the BEYOND Gala and invited friends in recognition of how much they value Ranken Jordan, Bill says. “Seeing our friends come to the gala and give is so meaningful. We hope our example inspires others to give.”