Longtime donor inspires students with his own success

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Even as a child, Cornelius “Pat” Cacho placed education above most things. Born into modest means in British Honduras (now Belize), he took every opportunity to learn and improve.

“Black Americans suffer from a terrible inferiority complex,” said Cornelius “Pat” Cacho. “We tried to make them feel that people should respect them.”

It paid off, and he’s been paying it ever since. Cacho has changed the lives of countless young people over the past 30 years, including dozens of Florida Gulf Coast University students. In recognition of his many contributions and tireless support, the FGCU recently awarded him the Honorary Doctor of Laws.

Cacho, 96, grew up the only child of parents who possessed few material possessions but fierce determination and unity of purpose when it came to ensuring their son received an education. They worked hard to pay the tuition necessary to send her to school. After graduating from high school, he became a messenger in the National Treasury Department and took correspondence courses to become an accountant.

A supervisor took an interest in the ambitious young man and arranged to send Cacho to England to study. There he earned his accounting certificate, fell in love with economics, and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the London School of Economics.

Upon his return to Belize, he was appointed Assistant Secretary for Natural Resources, a position in the country’s ministry responsible for natural resource assessment and management.

“I didn’t know anything about natural resources,” he says.

But he learned. Among his accomplishments, he made an agreement with a group of Mennonites to relocate from Mexico to create a community in Belize that still exists today. This work opened up many opportunities for him, including a six-month secondment to the World Bank through which he made many professional contacts. He spent four years in Trinidad and Tobago, working at the University of the West Indies as a fellow and lecturer in international economics. Then the World Bank offered him a job as operations officer. He spent the next 20 years in various positions within the organization in countries in Africa, Asia and Central America.

Upon retirement, he and his wife, Laura, chose to live in Naples. As they got to know their new community, they saw what he describes as “significant and disturbing gaps in the education and training of African American children and educational gaps in the black population in general”.

It helped the couple decide what to do next.

Photo shows FGCU donor Pat Cacho
The FGCU recently awarded the Honorary Doctor of Laws to Pat Cacho.

Cacho visited the Collier County Superintendent of Schools and offered his services. For 18 years, he tutored high school and college students, mostly black, whom he believed he could help. A cultural difference he perceives bothers him: “Black Americans suffer from a terrible inferiority complex. We tried to make them feel that people should respect them.

He also urged the students he has mentored to pursue careers in science, saying there is a great need for more people of color in STEM fields.

Cacho has donated his time, talent, and treasure to organizations such as Collier County Community Foundation, Cleveland Clinic, Greater Naples Leadership Council, Early Childhood Coalition of Southwest Florida, Model United Nations, FunTime Early Childhood Academy, and many others.

His wife devoted herself to similar pursuits until her death in 2007. Cacho has since married Leonie Samuels, a former teacher from Punta Gorda who shares his community interests.

The FGCU was fortunate to receive much of his attention and generosity. Cacho has served on the board of the FGCU Foundation, is a member of the President’s Society, and has supported the STEM Camp program, international programs, WGCU Public Media, the College of Education Literacy Festival, and the College Reach Out Program. It has also provided scholarships to more than two dozen students.

Among these is Kaelyn Julmeus, who graduated in May 2022 and has won 11 student awards in addition to her degree in biology. One of those awards was a Fulbright scholarship to teach English in Poland this fall. Much like his benefactor, Julmeus understands how valuable an education is and makes the most of the opportunities presented to him. The Honors College alum chose to be an undergraduate student for the summer so she could conduct research in the Peruvian Amazon for 3.5 weeks. Her plan upon returning home was to study for MCATs and then travel to Poland. After that, she hopes to go to medical school to become a surgical oncologist.

photo shows FGCU donor Pat Cacho
“I didn’t know if college was for me,” said Jean Sagesse, left, with Pat Cacho and Leonie Samuels. “Mr. Cacho gave me an exhibition in college.

She is grateful to Cacho – as well as Lee Health and Uncommon Friends – for which she received enough scholarships to graduate debt-free.

“I like his goal,” says Julmeus. “He thinks black students are underrepresented and don’t have access. He wants more black students to succeed.

Madelyn Isaacs, a retired founding faculty member who taught counseling at FGCU and has known Cacho for 30 years, says, “Pat is one of a kind. He never slows down. He is the model of what someone can do with passion for young people.

Jean Sagesse, senior in exercise science, is a good illustration of this. The Napoli resident’s future changed when he enrolled in a STEM camp and met Cacho.

“I didn’t know if college was for me,” says Sagesse. “I became aware through STEM camp, got interested in exercise science, and that made me decide to come to FGCU. Mr. Cacho gave me exposure in college.

Michele Yovanovich, former dean of students at FGCU and now vice president of student affairs at Florida SouthWestern State College, said, “He inspires me. He is not only an attorney, but he also financially supports programs for students of color. He walks the walk, not just talks the conversation.

Tags: fgcu, fgcu foundation, florida gulf coast university, philanthropy, scholarships


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