It was the first year Karen Cannon had children attending Colorado Academy when she heard about Horizons at CA. And from the very start, she was “thrilled about their mission.”
“I have a soft spot for kids who need a little extra help,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to be able to provide an opportunity for somebody who can make something happen in their life, because there were several people in my life who did that for me.”
Through the years, Karen served on the Horizons Board, offered strategic planning guidance, and connected Horizons with foundations that would help with financial support.
Ultimately, her contribution was intensely personal. As a result of generous donations made in memory of her husband, Jim, the Cannon family was the first ever recipient of the “Horizons Hero” honor.
“A hero is someone who helps other people, a hero is also someone who overcomes a lot of adversity, a hero is someone who is brave when the chips are down, and a hero is someone who is there for you when you need a hand,” Karen says. “It’s a great honor to be a hero for someone else. Jim would be thrilled to be called a hero.”
‘Change the course of a life’
For Karen, the best part of Horizons is its consistency—following a student from Pre-Kindergarten through high school.
“There are many programs that help children, but not for so many years,” she says. “The consistency of year after year, serving the same students with the same teachers is the most impactful aspect of the program.”
In the Horizons children who come to CA for the summer program and the school-year weekend Super Saturdays, Karen sees a little of herself. As a young gymnast, she had P.E. teachers and coaches who helped her win national titles and earn an athletic scholarship to the University of Denver.
“It changed the course of my life,” she says. “So I really know how a little bit of attention can change the course of a life.”
‘My best friend’
In January of 2019, Karen’s husband Jim was diagnosed with Type I diabetes, but to Karen, it seemed as if there was more to her husband’s illness than the initial diagnosis indicated. Moving from specialist to specialist, she advocated for him, looking for the answer to the dramatic changes she was observing in his health and behavior. Finally, she was referred to a neurologist.
“He had an MRI, and the doctor came in and told us that he had glioblastoma, a very aggressive brain cancer,” Karen remembers. “And it was huge, so he was at high risk of having a seizure, and operating was dicey at best.”
Undaunted, she sought a highly regarded neurosurgeon in Denver, and Jim underwent a 10-hour operation to remove the tumor. After the surgery, the family felt optimistic, “hopeful that Jim would be one of those people who lived a long time, at least a couple of years,” Karen says. Initially confined to a wheelchair, he recovered to the point where he could walk again, then hike, play tennis, and even ride a bike. But the improvement did not last, and in late 2019, tests showed the cancer had spread. Jim Cannon, the man his wife calls “my best friend,” died on March 8, 2020.
“From diagnosis to his death was nine-and-a-half months,” Karen says. “And it was a very difficult nine-and-a-half-months.”
‘To inspire donations to Horizons’
After Jim’s death, Karen talked with her daughters, Sophie ’17 and Phoebe ’20, and Jim’s sister about how to best memorialize a man she describes as “generous beyond imagination—the most generous man I ever met. He would give you the shirt off his back. And he was a wonderful father and a wonderful husband.”
And then, she says, the idea just hit her.
“After Jim died, I didn’t want the house filled with 200 bouquets of flowers,” she says. “We went through a variety of choices, and we ultimately decided—and felt like Jim would be very happy—to inspire donations to Horizons.
The Cannon family and their friends made more than 40 donations to Horizons at CA in memory of Jim. Their contributions sponsored eight Horizons students for one full year of programming.
In December, on behalf of her family, Karen accepted the inaugural “Horizons Hero” Award.
“The entire Cannon family—including the extended family—has been incredibly supportive of Horizons at Colorado Academy for many years and in many different ways,” says Horizons Executive Director Daniela Meltzer. “To continue to honor Jim’s legacy and impact by contributing to our program in his memory helped us be there for our Horizons students, especially during these difficult times, as we operate during a pandemic. Philanthropic families, like the Cannon family, form the backbone of our donor base, and for that, we are eternally grateful.”
Ask Karen whether she believes Jim’s legacy will live on through Horizons, and she pauses for a moment to consider the question. “Horizons has been here a long time, and it’s built its own strong legacy,” she says. “The people involved with Horizons are wonderful, the students are enthusiastic, and we’re pleased to contribute in any way to make sure more children can see a world they haven’t seen before. To me, education is everything.”