Heartfelt giving crosses generations and barriers

Dr. Barbara Caldwell (at far right, going clockwise), Trail Pierce, Tyreece Brice, Bobby Caldwell, and Ragen Dotson

When we look back on our past, certain moments seem to capture with almost supernatural clarity the people who have shaped our lives and the values they embraced.

Dr. Barbara Caldwell was 10 years old when one of those moments left an image in her mind that remains in sharp resolution today.

It is 1969, and the body of Bill Terry Jr., a black Vietnam War hero, has come home to Birmingham, AL; however, the owners of Elmwood Cemetery have refused his final request to lie in the historic but whites-only cemetery. Barbara is one of many Birmingham residents who watch – some with sympathy, others with bitterness – as African-American families take to the streets in protest. It is a scene that a local Catholic pastor describes as a “march for truth and right.”

In the midst of it all, Barbara spots a tiny Italian-American woman, marching as though it never occurred to her to feel out of place. 

Rosalie Molino Johnson

Barbara’s mother, Rosalie Molino Johnson

She is Rosalie Molino Johnson, Barbara Caldwell’s mother. “With my mother it was always give, give, give,” says Barbara, now a Saint Leo University economics professor and chair of the Department of Accounting, Economics, and Finance. “She would have been a great social activist.”

In a world segregated along multiple lines, Rosalie found it easy to cross the divides and very hard not to love. A lifelong Catholic, she immersed herself in the charitable work of the Sisters of Mercy of Verona, whose Birmingham mission fed and clothed some of the poorest of the city’s poor. 

The love wasn’t always well received. Barbara can still recall neighbors who criticized her family’s northern background and social justice sensibilities, but she also remembers a childhood defined by her mother’s “spirit of giving.”

In 1970, not long after Bill Terry Jr. was finally laid to rest in Elmwood Cemetery, Barbara’s family left Birmingham for the Tampa Bay area. Her parents would spend the rest of their lives in Florida, first in Brandon and finally in Lutz, where her mother continued to reach out to those who struggled on the barest margins of society.  

“Later in life, Mom got wind of a farmworkers mission in Dade City,” Barbara remembers. “She would drive all over Tampa to find discount groceries, fill bags and bags of food, tell her friends to collect clothes, and then make monthly treks to the mission.”

Even then, Barbara says, Rosalie would still write a check. 

For someone so focused on giving, Rosalie’s own background was not one of privilege. On the contrary, she was no stranger to personal misfortune and loss. She had been an ambitious student in her youth – a voracious reader with an insatiable appetite for knowledge. The eldest of five children in a family of modest means, she watched her dreams of college disappear under the weight of the Great Depression. 

“She loved learning. She would read every book she could get her hands on. But when she graduated from high school, the opportunity for college simply wasn’t there. Money was tight, and the expectations for women at that time were very different,” explains Barbara. 

Throughout her life, Rosalie quietly wondered what her potential might have been.

So when Rosalie Molino Johnson passed away in 2016 at the age of 95, Barbara decided to honor her mother in a way that forever celebrates the person she was – and acknowledges the person she might have dreamed of becoming.

Barbara and Bobby Caldwell

Barbara and Bobby Caldwell

The new Rosalie M. Johnson Endowed Scholarship, established at Saint Leo University by Barbara and her husband, Bobby, will provide an annual tuition award for an economically disadvantaged student, with preference given to a Pasco County resident from a migrant worker family.  

“My strongest memories of my mother are all lessons in giving. I decided the best way I could honor her was by sharing those lessons with future generations,” explains Barbara.

Saint Leo’s students might add that a “spirit of giving” has always been a part of Barbara’s relationship to the university. 

In addition to creating the scholarship, Barbara and Bobby Caldwell have made Saint Leo a priority for their annual giving. As “big fans” of Saint Leo basketball, the Caldwells regularly support both the men’s and women’s basketball teams with a financial gift. Their generosity has consistently placed them among the university’s 1889 Society, a select group of alumni, faculty, staff, and friends whose total giving equals $1,000 or more each year. 

“Giving back is how we express gratitude for what we have … and how we show the importance of not only caring about ourselves, but also caring about others.”

Join Barbara Caldwell in making Saint Leo great by making a gift today. Every donation, no matter how big or small, makes a difference.


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