A Gift to Expand the Reach of Sight-Saving Care

At times in our lives, we are fortunate to be on the receiving end of another person’s exceptional character, kindness or generosity. Linda and Louis Slangen were treated to many such special moments with friends Barbara and Mal Mixon. They decided to memorialize their good fortune with a gift to Cleveland Clinic in their friends’ honor. But not just any gift. “We want to honor Barb and Mal by supporting one of the Mixons’ passion projects—vision care for all in need,” said Lou.

To appreciate the purpose and emotion behind the Slangens’ investment in Cleveland Clinic Cole Eye Institute, it helps to know the two couples and their families. 

Lou Slangen emigrated to the U.S. from the Netherlands following a university exchange program. He attended the highly ranked Nyenrode Business Universiteit near Amsterdam. Lou met Linda in Manhattan, but both were rooted in family and farming. “We are both children of parents who experienced the Depression and World War II,” Lou offered. He likes to say his family—now numbering 17—began with “two kids: a city girl from New Jersey and a farm boy from Holland.” 

Lou met Mal Mixon, chairman and CEO of Invacare, in the fall of 1987 when he interviewed for a position at the Cleveland-based manufacturer of healthcare products. It was essentially a startup that Lou, along with the Invacare team, would help Mal build into a $1.7 billion global company with 6,200 associates in 80 countries.

Honoring a Decades-Long, Old-Fashioned Friendship

Lou felt an immediate connection with Mal, agreeing—after speaking with Linda—to resign from his hard-earned position with the behemoth Dutch company, Philips, and join Invacare, which was then offering two product lines (manual wheelchairs and walkers).

Mal was struck by Lou’s trust and faith in him; Lou was spellbound by Mal’s authenticity. The two men bonded quickly due to important commonalities … their humble upbringings; their elite academic experiences (Mal attended Harvard University) and their devotion to their marital partners and families.

“The Mixons were always happy being Mixons. There was no pretense. They lived their lives in a manner and with the things that made them happy,” Lou said. “Barb always made me feel at home when we were together,” Linda shared. “We both saw our homes and families as our number one priorities.”

The two added that Mal and Barbara always took an interest in helping those less fortunate by supporting many charitable causes. “I can’t list all of Mal’s many endeavors,” Lou admitted. But “during his 13-year leadership as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Cleveland Clinic, he and his team took a world-renowned institution up to another level.” Mal Mixon served Cleveland Clinic Foundation from 1997 through 2009. He died in 2020 at the age of 80.

Reflecting on Mal’s life, Lou wrote, “He never changed. Whether I was walking with him through the factory or when I met President George H. W. Bush with him, he was always the same Mal, and that was the way the people in our company saw him. Mal was happiest when he was at his ranch drinking coffee out of a tin cup. His charming grace was that the boy from Oklahoma never left him.” Through countless examples, Mal taught Lou many leadership and life lessons. “He never had to show he was the smartest person in the room.” Linda agreed, saying, “We always felt at ease with both of them.”

Appreciating the Opportunity to Make a Meaningful Difference

In 2011—in recognition of sight-saving care Mal received at Cleveland Clinic—the Mixons made a $3 million gift to the Cole Eye Institute to establish the Barbara and A. Malachi Mixon III Institute Chair in Ophthalmology. Daniel F. Martin, MD, Chair of the Cole Eye Institute, is honored to hold the chair. As chair holder, Dr. Martin has continued his research to better understand eye diseases and pioneer new treatments.

Later, Lou, Linda and one of their grandchildren all were treated at the Cole Eye Institute. The Slangens’ granddaughter Daphne was born prematurely at 24 weeks, weighing 1 pound, 6 ounces. “Today, Daphne is a feisty, healthy 6-year-old and she is a miracle gift to our family,” Lou said. “I remember calling Mal and saying, ‘Hey, I just drove by the Cole Eye Institute. Wouldn’t that be a good place for our granddaughter to get a second opinion about her eye condition?’ Two minutes later, there’s an email from Mal” arranging an appointment.

“We feel that we should give back,” Lou emphasized. “We have had incredible blessings, and we think pointing back to Barbara and Mal, who have had such an impact on our lives, is just right. It’s why we want to give … to honor those two people.

“We would hope for two things … number one is that more people with problems have access to world class care … and the second part is that through their research and innovation, which Mal was always very big on … that they move the bar further and further for vision care. There are still so many fields to explore for treatment of vision loss.”

“It’s a special legacy,” Linda notes. “It’s very important, I think, to look to the future.”

In learning about the gift, Barbara Mixon shared, “Mal and I have known Linda and Lou Slangen for about 40 years, first through business, then as friends. They are the epitome of ethics, love and generosity. Their gift commitment to the Cole Eye Institute is just one example of their character. Mal would be very touched by this honor, as am I.”

“Lou and Linda have become dear friends and we are grateful for their gift, which is extra special because it is in memory of Mal,” said Dr Martin. Their gift is aligned exactly with what Mal wanted, and that was to build a premier eye program to provide the best eye care in the world.”