Northwestern Plays Host to Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation’s 77th Anniversary Celebration
February 6, 2024
Northwestern Oklahoma State University played host to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF) as members celebrated their 77th anniversary of the organization on Jan. 30 in the Student Center Ranger Room.
“Over this anniversary year, we’re going to touch all 77 Oklahoma counties to say ‘thank you’ to Oklahomans for daring to dream in 1946 and for supporting that dream ever since,” OMRF President Andrew Weyrich, Ph.D, said.
The foundation’s stop in Alva is a part of its “77 for 77” campaign that harkens back to the organization’s roots. On Aug. 28, 1946, the Oklahoma Secretary of State granted OMRF’s charter. Shortly thereafter, the new foundation launched its initial campaign with a mission that holds true 77 years later: “That more may live longer.” Organizers divided the state into 25 districts to raise awareness and funds. Through this effort, more than 7,500 Oklahomans raised $2 million in gifts and pledges, enough to begin building and staffing OMRF’s headquarters. Today, adjusted for inflation, that initial fund drive would be worth more than $25 million.
“To the best of our knowledge, OMRF is the only one of the more than 80 independent research institutes across the U.S. created from a statewide campaign,” Weyrich said.
OMRF President Andrew Weyrich speaks to the attendees of the OMRF '77 for 77' Luncheon at Northwestern.
Today, OMRF employs nearly 500 staff members who study cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disorders and diseases of aging. Their discoveries have yielded diagnostic tests and three life-saving drugs available in hospitals and clinics worldwide. In the foundation’s Rheumatology and Multiple Sclerosis centers, clinicians care for more than 3,000 patients from across the state with autoimmune conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and MS.
The 1940s campaign to launch OMRF is a blueprint for 77 for 77, which kicked off on Aug. 28, 2023, at the foundation’s Oklahoma City headquarters. As in the 1940s, OMRF has divided the state into districts with local chairs. District chairs for the Alva area are Jodie Bradford-Stevison, executive director of the Alva Chamber of Commerce, and Todd Holder, co-owner of Holder Drug in Alva and vice president of Alva State Bank & Trust.
Northwestern President Dr. Bo Hannaford (left) and Shane Hansen, chair of Northwestern's Health and Sports Science Department, stop for a photo before joining their colleagues at the OMRF luncheon on the Northwestern-Alva Campus Jan. 30.
Around 30 local patrons, doctors, first responders, Northwestern administration, faculty and staff were all in attendance for the catered luncheon provided by Northwestern dining services.
Bradford-Stevison welcomed everyone before a presentation by Weyrich, followed by Chrissy Ledesma, OMRF Senior Accountant and Alva native, who offered her testimonial about her Multiple Sclerosis (MS) care from Dr. Gabriel Pardo in the OMRF Multiple Sclerosis Center for Excellence.
"I'm working shoulder-to-shoulder with people making progress on the very disease I have," Ledesma said. "It gives me a real sense of ownership to be so involved."
Bob Axtell, Ph.D., associate professor in OMRF Arthritis & Clinical Immunology Research, finished the presentations discussing his work alongside Pardo in OMRF’s ongoing MS research.
Local businessman Todd Holder addresses the crowd in his capacity as OMRF local co-chair.
Holder offered closing remarks.
“My mother introduced me to OMRF when I was a kid,” Holder said. “Whenever someone would die, she would fill out a donation card to OMRF and include a check as a memorial to that person. It wasn’t until much later that I understood the significance of contributions like my mom’s and the role they play in advancing medical knowledge and treatment right here in Oklahoma.”
Bradford-Stevison, who represents northwest Oklahoma on the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce Executives, said it’s meaningful to know that medical breakthroughs are occurring in her home state and not simply on the East and West coasts.
“OMRF’s founders understood that, too, and I want to do my part to ensure that OMRF continues to thrive,” she said.
Featured speakers at the OMRF '77 for 77' luncheon in Alva on Jan. 30 included Jodie Bradford-Stevison (far left), executive director of the Alva Chamber of Commerce and local OMRF co-chair; Bob Axtell, Ph.D., researcher for OMRF; Chrissy Ledesma, OMRF Senior Accountant and Alva native; Todd Holder, co-owner of Holder Drug in Alva, vice president of Alva State Bank & Trust, and local OMRF co-chair; and OMRF President Andrew Weyrich, Ph.D.
OMRF has deep connections in Alva and the surrounding communities. Two local residents have served on OMRF’s Board of Directors, most recently R. Deane Wymer of Fairview, who served for 12 years until his death in 2018. Additionally, six local students served summer internships through OMRF’s Fleming Scholars Program. In 1957, Cherokee High School began collecting donations for OMRF at halftime of its football games. Three years later, Alva High School did likewise.
Statewide chairs for the 77 for 77 campaign are former First Ladies Kim Henry and Cathy Keating and former Governors Brad Henry and Frank Keating.
Kim Henry, a former teacher who served on OMRF’s Board for 19 years and joined its National Advisory Council in 2022, is shepherding a component of 77 for 77 designed to introduce younger Oklahomans to OMRF. Underwritten by Sarkeys Foundation, the foundation created a hands-on science experiment kit for seventh-grade science classes. OMRF piloted the program in Marlow Public Schools and Putnam City Schools last fall. It is now expanding to schools in 25 focus cities.
“This is a win-win for Oklahoma students,” Kim Henry said. “We’ll inject critical support into our schools and open new avenues of learning for thousands of Oklahoma students.”
Cathy Keating served on OMRF’s Board for two years and joined its National Advisory Council in 2011.
“OMRF is one of Oklahoma’s crown jewels, and every Oklahoman should take pride in the work done here,” she said. “I hope that over the next year, thousands more Oklahomans will recognize the world-class medical research taking place right here in their home state.
For information about OMRF’s 77 for 77 campaign, visit omrf.org/77.
CONTACT FOR RELEASE:
Sean J. Doherty, University Relations Specialist