Friends establish scholarship to honor the life of Trish Nelson

Close friends Ruthie Below Dell and Trish Buescher Nelson graduated with UF bachelor’s degrees in occupational therapy in 1979.

Close friends Ruthie Below Dell and Trish Buescher Nelson graduated with UF bachelor’s degrees in occupational therapy in 1979.

When Ruthie Below Dell met occupational therapy classmate Trish Buescher Nelson she knew she’d found a kindred spirit.

“We were very similar people — very happy, half-full types — and we ended up becoming very good friends,” Ruthie said.

As undergraduates Ruthie would join Trish for lunches at Trish’s sorority house, Chi Omega, and on weekends they would spend time at Ruthie’s parents’ house in Gainesville or Trish’s parents’ home in Clearwater. That friendship and their shared love of the occupational therapy profession continued for more than 30 years after their graduation in 1979, and until Trish died suddenly in August 2012.

“I remember driving home from Trish’s funeral and I was just so frankly angry because my best buddy had been cut down,” Ruthie said. “She was so full of life. She died on a Friday after working. And I started thinking ‘How can I honor this friend of mine who was so committed to her career?’”

In her career Trish had focused on treating elderly patients in home health and hospital settings. Ruthie, an occupational therapist at UF Health Rehab, has spent her career specializing in hand and upper extremity therapy. Ruthie decided she wanted to help occupational therapy students cultivate the same devotion she and Trish had felt for their profession.

Last year, Ruthie and her husband, Paul Dell, and Janet and Mike Carroll established the Trish Buescher Nelson Hands to Love Endowment. With their gifts, as well as donations from a network of Trish’s friends and co-workers, the endowment became fully funded this year. The endowment provides an annual scholarship to a UF occupational therapy student who wants to pursue a third internship in any specialty, in addition to the two internships the program requires. The recipient will also volunteer for Hands to Love Camp, the weekend camp for children with congenital limb differences, founded in 2001 by Ruthie and Paul, the chief of hand surgery at UF Health.

Chi Omega sisters gather for a reunion in June 2012. From left Karn Hunt, Betsy Leonard Booth, Trish Nelson, Janet Carroll and Terry Treadwell.

Chi Omega sisters gather for a reunion in June 2012. From left Karn Hunt, Betsy Leonard Booth, Trish Nelson, Janet Carroll and Terry Treadwell.

Janet Carroll, a 1980 graduate of the UF College of Nursing, had been close friends with Trish since meeting her at a Chi Omega rush party the summer before Janet started college.

“When Trish’s daughters went off to college I would write them a note and say ‘I hope you find your Trish when you go to school,’” Janet said. “Not many people have a friend like that for 30 years. Trish and I always said we were going to live in a nursing home in Gainesville so we could go to Gator games and we would be around young people.”

A devoted wife and mother of three daughters, Trish was the kind of person who would see patients on her day off, help strangers in Walmart and think of everyone ahead herself, Janet said. Giving to the endowment fund recognizes Trish’s work and her legacy of caring for others.

“I was excited when Ruthie contacted me about creating an endowment to honor Trish,” Janet said. “I, too, was struggling with a way to honor my friend’s life and her life’s work. I am so glad my husband and I could help make this possible. Trish loved being an occupational therapist. She loved it with a passion and if we can help out someone else, another future Trish, it’s worth it.”