Jane Welgos Sidwell ’69: Serving others at a sacred time
Early in her high school years, Jane Welgos Sidwell ’69 and some schoolmates from Decorah, Iowa, made a field trip to a home for unwed mothers and their children. Jane played the piano to entertain the group. During those few hours Sidwell realized that her future lay in helping others.That impulse led to decades of leadership in the fields of hospice and palliative care—serving the spiritual, psychological, social, and physical needs of people who are seriously ill or approaching the end of life.
“It is an intense privilege to be able to provide comfort to people leaving this life and to their loved ones,” Sidwell said. “Like birth, it is a sacred time. Hospice helps people live it to the fullest.”
It was a calling she came to in mid-career and almost by accident.
After graduating from Cornell, she obtained a master’s degree in social work from Washington University in St. Louis and began a career that took her to Illinois, Minnesota, and Texas.
By 1989 she was in human resource management for a behavioral health agency in Houston, and she was miserable: “I was managing employees instead of caring for patients.” She and her husband, Lloyd, CEO of a family services organization, had two college-aged children, but they both knew she needed a major change. She left her job and began studies for a nursing degree, intending to specialize in midwifery.
As part of her training, Sidwell worked in a hospice unit. “I was hooked,” she said. “All my experience came together because I was caring for the mind, body, and soul. I was ecstatic doing this work.”
In the years since that revelation, Sidwell has been a hospice nurse, clinician, educator, and leader. She led the effort to establish palliative care services at a Houston medical center, trained hospice nurses, made presentations at professional gatherings, and served as president of the National Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association.
Sidwell credits Cornell for instilling the confidence and honing the skills her career demanded. She majored in psychology and sociology, was president of the Religious Life Council, absorbed the lessons taught by humanities professors, and even enjoyed the mandatory chapel convocations, where she shook hands with visiting poet W.H. Auden and listened to the experiences of the Black Panther Party. “Exposure to new ideas shaped the way my career developed,” Sidwell recalled.
Sidwell’s connection to Cornell remained strong. Her daughter, Kara Klatt Moore ’98, and son-in-law, Thomas Moore ’96, are graduates. Sidwell serves on the Alumni Board of Directors.
As her 50th reunion approached, she and Lloyd, a graduate of the University of Iowa, began thinking about their legacy. After learning about Cornell’s innovative approaches to student health, they established the Jane Welgos Sidwell and Lloyd H. Sidwell Mental Well-Being Endowment at the college to support all aspects of the mental well-being of students.
Now retired and living in Beaufort, South Carolina, Sidwell continues to help others. She has served on many groups promoting local causes, including tourism, the library, and historical preservation. Most important, she is helping guide a local nonprofit agency as it establishes a 10-bed hospice facility—with room for expansion, Sidwell noted.
“After all,” she said, “Isn’t that what Cornell taught us—to make a difference?”
Dan Kellams ’58 is a member of the Cornell College Alumni Association Board of Directors. His career spanned nearly 50 years in public relations in New York City, where he worked as a corporate and agency executive and, later, as a freelance writer and editor. He has written two books set in his hometown of Marion, Iowa.