It would be easy to mistake Thomas P. Sheehan as a rags-to-riches character from a Horatio Alger, Jr. novel come to life. After all, Sheehan was born in Chicago into humble circumstances. And while Sheehan’s early career focused on selling encyclopedias door-to-door, it wasn’t long before he recognized that offering his customers credit could increase sales. So he used his own capital to offer consumer financing. It was the beginning of became Carmel Financial Corporation, a company with approximately 60 employees.
The comparison doesn’t end there: Alger’s characters were known for their acts of kindness, and Sheehan is no different. After a lifetime focused on building his fortune, now he’s focused on giving it away. “Today, my passion is our charitable trust,” says Thomas, better known as Tom. “I always knew that, if and when I had money, I would try to help other people.”
His is a philanthropic journey that began with a $5 check, sent in response to newspaper story about people in need. Personal loss only added to his passion, and it grew into the cornerstone of long-term philanthropy for his family – and beyond.
Heartfelt and hard-earned, the Sheehans, including Tom, wife, Sondra “Soni”, and daughter, Tracey, give their time and financial support to a variety of organizations and individuals. They’re philanthropically involved with St. Vincent de Paul in Noblesville, IN, the Good Samaritan Network of Hamilton County, the Sparrow Club, the Noblesville Boys and Girls Club, and many other organizations. Their most personal philanthropic work, though, is often done to help individuals - children and families facing critical health conditions.
In 1973, Tom’s son, Timothy Sheehan, died as the result of osteogenic sarcoma. The devastation Tom felt, along with the support he received during his son’s illness, led him to helping families facing childhood illness as means of honoring his son’s life.
“Seeing the trials Tim went through and the amount of courage that he had to face his challenges, that can’t help but burn an enormous place in your heart,” says Tracey. “That was the true genesis for wanting to do something for children with their foundation. When needs aren’t fulfilled, they want to step up and be the people who provide for the need.”
Through the Thomas P. and Sondra D. Sheehan Charitable Foundation, a supporting organization of Legacy Fund, Tom and Soni focus on improving the lives of under-insured children. They provide financial support for medical treatments, prostheses, mobility devices, caregivers, education and more that children living with physical deformities and medical issues need to overcome obstacles.
Their enthusiasm for helping children extends to volunteer efforts. Tom helped St. Vincent de Paul organize a campaign that financed a needed building expansion. Soni works alongside teachers in a charter school in Florida, where the Sheehans spend part of the year, helping first and second grade students build literacy skills. Much like Tom, many of her students face challenging circumstances. For them, Soni’s smile is one of the most remarkable things about the time she spends with them.
Tom’s daughter Tracey Sheehan carries on her family’s community commitment, both through the Sheehan’s foundation and corporate philanthropy. Tracey is now President of Carmel Financial, which contributes annually to Good Samaritan Network’s food drive; last year the company’s employees gave 104,000 non-perishable food items to help. She also plans to lead the Sheehan Foundation in the future.
“It’s a great blessing and something that I’m truly looking forward to doing,” Tracey says about the opportunity to contribute to the Foundation’s work.
Their generosity is what led Legacy Fund, a CICF affiliate, to recognize the Sheehans with the 2013 Living Legacy Award at the fund’s Celebration of Philanthropy event on November 14. The Sheehans are the fifth recipients of the award, which seeks to honor people who impact the quality of life in Hamilton County. For a family committed to honoring the legacy of a son and brother, the award has special meaning.
“We continue to do this work to honor Tim,” says Tom. “That will be a continuing focus as long as we live.”
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