by Jill Ragar Esfeld
The Angels Among Us Award honors individuals and families that stand out in their efforts to support Catholic education in our archdiocese.
Tom and Sandy Long have been involved with CEF from its beginning, so much so that many say they are its beginning.
The Longs were PTO board members at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park when Blake Mulvany retired as the school’s president in 1996.
“Some of the [St. Thomas Aquinas] families said we ought to have a party for him,” recalled Sandy. “I got involved, and we planned the party at the Overland Park Convention Center.”
The retirement party was such a huge success that guests wanted to do it again the following year.
The Longs volunteered to help organize the next year’s event.
Because Mulvany had a vision to help archdiocese schools in underserved areas, the group decided to make the event a fundraiser for that cause.
“Blake had this vision that these kids needed to be helped,” said Sandy. “So that was the whole thrust: How do we make money for scholarships to help these kids that can’t afford Catholic education?”
And they called the event Gaudeamus (“Let us rejoice” in Latin).
“The first year, we made somewhere around $30,000,” said Sandy, “and I think there were 300 people there.”
The rest is history.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann embraced the concept of Gaudeamus and established the Catholic Education Foundation with Michael Morrisey as executive director.
“Michael called me and asked if I would stay on,” said Sandy. “I was there for the kids. So that’s when I became a member of the board they set up.”
The Longs served on the committee that organizes Gaudeamus for 11 years. They chaired that committee for seven years, and Sandy served on the CEF board of directors for eight years.
“Tom was always there to support and do whatever needed to be done,” said Sandy. “We had so many good people who wanted to be involved.
“It was a community effort.”
“Tom and Sandy have given many years to CEF and serving on the Gaudeamus committee,” said Laurel Sharpe, director of events. “We wanted to honor them for all their time and energy that they put into the organization.”
The Longs, members of Church of Nativity in Leawood, have been married for 47 years.
They have three adult children and 13 grandchildren.
Tom started a logistics management software company in 1975.
“When I came from the hospital with our third child,” recalled Sandy, “I started doing billing in the basement of the first house we lived in.
“Then we struggled through and built the company until we sold it in 2006.”
The Longs have always been generous with the blessings of their success. Providing a Catholic education to those in need is particularly dear to their hearts.
“Especially in today’s world,” said Sandy, “children need that grounding of the faith and a vision of what is really important.
“And they can’t get that in public schools.”
Though public schools provide basic education, the Longs believe children need a faith community to go along with that.
“The kids in Catholic school have a place to belong,” said Sandy. “Those teachers really do sustain and support them.
“Not that teachers in public schools don’t care, but I think there is an extra element to Catholic teachers.
“They’re not there for the money. They’re there because they love their faith and they love what they do and they want to share that with those kids.”
Sandy retired from the CEF board in 2014, but she and Tom are still active supporters of the foundation.
“We both firmly believe in the value of a Catholic education and are very proud to be associated with such a worthy organization,” she said.