Health Forward CFO retires after 13 years: ‘blessed to be part of the growth of this amazing foundation’


Farewells are difficult so I choose not to think of it in those terms, more of a “see you soon.” 

The foundation was just a little over four years old when I started as the CFO and still considered in its formative years. 

Over the last 13 years, I have witnessed such tremendous growth, maturity, and continuous evolution to where we are today — a billion-dollar foundation nearly ready to embark on a bold, new, and emerging path with a leadership voice that will drive change for health equity in our region. 

I have been blessed to be part of the growth of this amazing foundation and will always be appreciative that I got to conclude my 45-year career with such outstanding associates and colleagues. The one thing that has not changed over my tenure is Health Forward’s ability to attract outstanding people as we grew. I mean that sincerely to all my colleagues both new and old. My only regret is this pandemic has robbed me of the privilege to have those daily office moments I so much enjoyed.

Our board of directors and CAC members have been outstanding throughout my tenure. The commitment we ask of our board is heavy, yet they unselfishly give their time and talents in pursuit of our mission. 

I have had four board committees to support over the years (Finance & Investment, Audit, Admin & Logistics, and Permanent Home) as well as the Treasurer function. That many board committees allowed me to get to know so many of our board members over the years and every one of them was a pleasure to work with. I always felt well supported and acknowledged for the work I did, which was very much appreciated.   

Over the last 13 years, I have witnessed such tremendous growth, maturity, and continuous evolution to where we are today.

To the board chairs of the committees and treasurers who I worked most closely with, thank you for your mentorship and the friendship we developed. I hope to stay in touch in the future.  At the risk of missing someone especially in my early years, the committee chairs and board treasurers that come to mind that I would like to express gratitude to are: Tim Duncan, Pat Contreres,  Chuck Foudree, Jim Pryde, Peg VanWagoner, Ken Stremming, Tom Carignan, Jim Dockins, Spence Heddens, Roy Robinson, Stephenie Smith, Kent Hawkins, Wayne Powell, Juan Rangel, Al Mauro, Terry Thompson, Bishop Steve Jones, David Ross, Betty Drees, Kimberly Young, Shielahn Davis-Wyatt, Marie McCarther and the late Landon Rowland, and Dan Couch.  It was such a privilege to have worked with you.

Fond memories

There are so many memories that bring a smile to my face as I type this, and I am sure many more will come to mind later.  

I remember really wanting this job after then-CEO Steve Roling called me about my interest and availability. At that time, I had just started a career change to become a full-time professor at Missouri Western State University and I had a small CPA practice that I also managed. 

Life was good, so why did I jump at the chance to be part of this great foundation? Simply because I knew both Steve Roling as CEO and Rhonda Holman as COO would create the type of organizational culture that I would enjoy and thrive in.      

All three of us were steeped in Mr. Kauffman’s business values and philosophies — Steve and Rhonda at Mr. Kauffman’s foundation and me at his pharmaceutical company. Andres, Adriana, and Karen were also already on board from the Kauffman Foundation. I thought how blessed I would be to get the opportunity to live that culture again, but this time, with an organization whose mission was to serve those in our community who need and deserve access to quality health care. Great mission to be proud of, great people to work with, what could be better for the last phase of my career journey? 

I remember being interviewed by every person in the foundation (in groups) before an offer was extended. It felt like the entire Health Forward “family” had to size you up and collectively agree that you were the right fit. The feeling of family was instantaneous from the first day I started and has remained, even as the foundation has grown and evolved.

When I started, most of Health Forward’s departments were one-person shops that not only included finance and accounting but also communications, advocacy, evaluations, and grants administration. I quickly learned that although my job title said CFO, my roles included accountant, bookkeeper, and data entry clerk. I recount those early formative years as they were in such contrast to the Fortune 500 corporate world where I had spent the majority of my career. At Health Forward we all supported each other, which has continued with our growth. 

The growth and sophistication of our business processes and application of new technology to better serve our community has been astonishing. It occurred in every facet of the organization, spurred by exceptional and talented new associates, but speaking for finance only, the pandemic forced rapid execution of new systems, technology, and operational financial policy revisions to allow remote work and electronic payments to our community partners. 

I have had the pleasure of working with three stellar CEOs in my tenure. Each CEO has been absolutely the right person at the right time in Health Forward’s growth and evolution. 

I mentioned Steve earlier, but Dr. Bridget McCandless was brilliant and thoughtful. She was a physician who started a free health clinic, a founding board member, and was also a grantee. In addition, Bridget was an extremely hard worker, a wonderful person with the right priorities regarding family. 

To Qiana, I wish you nothing but success in this next chapter of leading the foundation. Qiana has the passion, drive, work ethic, vision, and communication ability that is built to achieve extraordinary results. I always got the sense in talking strategically to Qiana that she already sees the end in mind, and will lead the foundation there for the betterment of the community we serve. My only regret is that the pandemic limited our time in the  office together.

Thank you, Health Forward colleagues

Next is the question of what I will miss the most? It is every one of my colleagues. You made coming to the office so enjoyable. We worked hard but we also had fun. I hope we can stay connected on occasion and recount all the good memories and fun we had together.  

The one thing that has not changed over my tenure is Health Forward’s ability to attract outstanding people as we grew.

I will miss walking into Karen, Mel, and Cori’s office to throw a ball around and trade barbs and insults, while astounding them with my useless trivia. My “work break” in their office would usually end with Mel stating she’s “never been so insulted.” 

For a different environment than the one above, I will miss walking into Adriana and Brenda’s shared office, where I would experience their niceness and friendly chatter like old friends. Brenda and Adriana have been long-term foundation associates with me as well.

Keonna and Alicia’s office would be my destination if I wanted to discuss the Chiefs or the Yankees. Keonna provides Chiefs insight like no other, while Alicia is a true Yankees fan! 

After that, I would head across the hall and check in with Andres, Brad, and Leigh. Surprisingly, Andres always surpassed my knowledge of Royals history, and he probably knows more useless trivia than I do. I will take a moment now to thank Andres for always supporting my chairmanship of the Health Forward-sanctioned Royals bandwagon committee, despite the continuing efforts of Karen, Mel, Jane, and Jennifer to oust me from my position. 

Rick claiming chairmanship of the Health Forward-sanctioned Royals bandwagon committee

If I felt like annoying someone during the day, I would head to Jennifer’s office and compare the superiority of the MU and the Chiefs to KU and the Broncos. Once kicked out of Jennifer’s office, Ross was next door for a political debate, which was always fun and, I am sure, enlightening to Ross. 

Jane’s office is where I would go to discuss new GAAP pronouncements and then share data collection techniques and statistical analysis. That is why I was an honorary member of the evaluation team. I never understood why she needed consultants when she had me.

With Graciela, I had a standing weekly counseling session. Graciela did family counseling prior to coming to the foundation. I was seeking help with a personality defect stemming from the enjoyment I get from needling my fellow associates and trying to stir things up just to get a reaction. Her counseling never proved effective. Perhaps that is the reason Graciela changed to foundation work? 

I was known to always work late, probably due to my daily office visits. Donna and Shannon’s office was my “go to” office where I would raid their candy bowl each evening in order to keep up my energy to complete my work for the day. 

Don’t want to forget about Jason. I will definitely miss his unique and fun ice breaker games before meetings. 

To our contractor family of Teresa, Hollis, and Natasha. It has been more than a pleasure to work with you. Thank you for all you do for our associates. You are so good at what you do and are such valuable members of the team.

Then there is Christena, who I will certainly miss. Christena is one of the best hires I have ever made in my 45-year career. Thank you for all your contributions to our “best in class” accounting operations and in the process, making me look good too (I think). My only regret is not hiring you sooner, which allowed time for my enjoyable “office visits” the past five years. To Kim, you are so solid in your work in accounting and a pleasure to have known. The more I have gotten to know you, the more I appreciate you. Christie is lucky to have both of you in accounting as she starts her career with Health Forward as the new chief financial administration and investment officer. With Melanie on the office operations side and Karen, Keonna, and Alicia soon to be joining from grants administration, Christie has a solid and experienced team.

To Angie and McClain, I only wish we could have worked together longer, especially when the office reopens. You both fit the profile of exceptional Health Forward associates. We would have had fun together on the leadership team, while also accomplishing amazing results. 

In closing, I am reminded of something a former mentor of mine (who is now deceased) said to me early in my career. He said “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

Thank you all for being such an important part of my 45-year career journey. I will never forget the fond feelings I have for each of you in my Health Forward career chapter. Best to all of you and your future successes.