Small gifts add up to a big impact, donors say

Growing up in Roanoke, Va., Janet Childers Showalter (B.S. '58) often spent time with a neighbor whose rheumatoid arthritis led her to use a wheelchair. During one of their visits, the conversation turned to young Janet's aspirations for the future.

"She asked what I wanted to be when I grew up and suggested I think about physical therapy," Showalter remembered.

Showalter's mother, Violet, had trained to become a nurse, so pursuing a career in the medical field wasn't entirely a new idea, but money was tight for the family.

Remembering her friend, Showalter was determined to get her physical therapy degree. She began her studies at Mary Washington and finished at the Medical College of Virginia in 1958. Following in her mother's footsteps, Sarah Showalter Mays (B.S. '84) received her physical therapy degree from the College of Health Professions at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Late last year, Showalter and her husband, Lee, endowed the Lewis and Violet Childers Memorial Scholarship in Physical Therapy in tribute to her loving and supportive parents.

The Showalters' generous $150,000 gift will fund a scholarship in the VCU College of Health Professions for one or more physical therapy students with strong academic credentials who face a significant personal challenge, including financial need.

"There are so many people who are talented and want to pursue a career in physical therapy but aren't able to do so because of financial reasons," Showalter explained. "The economy is such that so many parents are losing jobs and students are graduating with such a debt. It's very difficult."

The Department of Physical Therapy, which consistently ranks in the top 15 percent of doctoral programs, leverages scholarships in maintaining a high-caliber student body.

"The generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Showalter allows us to continue to recruit talented and resourceful students into our program and maintain the outstanding reputation of our graduates," said Thomas P. Mayhew (Ph.D. '91), PT, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy.

The couple's generous support of VCU also extends to the Massey Cancer Center. Through a recent $100,000 donation, they are helping to advance cancer research.

"Cancer touches everyone in some way," Lee Showalter said. "We have so many friends and family, people who are near and dear to us, who happen to be touched by cancer. We want to advance the understanding of what's behind it and come up with a cure someday."

Their gift will help to further the center's research on chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

"We're working on developing new strategies for the treatment of blood cancers," said Dr. Steven Grant, associate director for translational research and Shirley Carter Olsson and Sture Gordon Olsson Endowed Chair in Oncology at the Massey Cancer Center. "It's extremely important for the mission of Massey to have philanthropic support. The Showalters' gift allows us to expand our work."

One of the messages the Showalters hope to convey through their generosity is that no gift is too small.;

"It doesn't have to be a large amount because every little bit helps," Janet Showalter said. "So many people think they don't have enough money to give, but it all adds up."

To learn more about supporting the College of Health Professions, contact Jessica Gurganus, senior director of development, at (804) 828-3269 or To learn more about the Massey Cancer Center, contact Molly Dean Bittner, campaign director, at (804) 827-0524 or