Science was the star of the show Saturday night at the 40th anniversary Hutch Holiday Gala, the largest, annual fundraising event for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Nearly 800 people gathered at the Sheraton Seattle to show their support for Fred Hutch and its lifesaving scientific research, bringing in more than $6.6 million during the course of the evening and surpassing $100 million in gross proceeds since the event’s humble beginnings as a small, fundraising dinner party in 1975.
“As we reflect back on 40 years of remarkable progress at Fred Hutch, we remain firmly focused on the future,” said Dr. Gary Gilliland, Hutch president and director, in his remarks. “It all started with the pivotal work of Don and Dottie Thomas, the ‘father’ and ‘mother’ of bone marrow transplantation. The life-changing work that followed has led to breakthroughs in stem cell sciences, incredible innovations in immunotherapy and a belief that we can cure the worst cancers.”
Gilliland’s speech was just one of the many ways the sold-out, black-tie event paid homage to the research center’s scientists and their game-changing innovations.
Bartenders in lab coats and goggles served pre-dinner cocktails against a backdrop of boiling beakers and smoking labware while guests sipped chilled soup from test tubes and strolled the lobby perusing historical black-and-white blow-ups of more than a dozen major Hutch players, including Drs. Fred Appelbaum, Rainer Storb and Beverly Torok-Storb, Mark Groudine, Denise Galloway, Phil Greenberg, Hal Weintraub and the aforementioned Don and Dottie Thomas.
As musical guest stars Huey Lewis and the News might put it, when it comes to cancer research, it’s definitely “Hip to be Square.”
Patients – those who have survived cancer and those who have been lost to the disease or the debilitating side effects of its treatment – were also a huge focus of the evening.
“Every Fred Hutch researcher, physician and caregiver works selflessly, tirelessly – each driven by the one patient we couldn’t cure; or the loved one who lived; the mother, the father, the daughter – each fighting for their life,” Gilliland said. “It’s the patients – those who have survived cancer and those who haven’t – who send us back to our labs with renewed motivation and a real sense of urgency.”
Childhood leukemia survivor Lindsey Pinckney, who received two bone marrow transplants via the Hutch at ages 8 and 12, the first as part of a clinical trial, drove all the way from Spokane with her husband, Steve, in order to attend. A member of the Arnold Guild, an all-volunteer group that assists with Gala planning, Pinckney works as a pharmacist with Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital where she sometimes comes in contact with children undergoing cancer treatment.
“Occasionally, I’ll tell them my story,” she said. “Looking back, it wasn’t a negative experience. It was what needed to be done and we couldn’t have had better care anywhere else.”
At 31, Pinckney said she definitely considers herself cured and now tries to focus on giving back.
“It’s definitely why I’m here,” she said. “I want to support cancer research. I’m very passionate about finding a cure and I think that there’s no better place to give the money to or volunteer time to than the Hutch.”
Pinckney was not alone in her desire to support Fred Hutch and its groundbreaking scientific research.
Following cocktails and a Northwest-inspired dinner, the audience took part in a boisterous and fun-filled auction, emceed by comedian Chris Cashman and auctioneer Fred Northup, Jr.
Top bid for the evening went to a pair of red carpet movie premiere packages with actor Tom Hanks in New York City which brought in a total of $80,000. Other highlights included an Aspen getaway for four which brought in $20,000 for the Hutch; a Costa Rica vacation for two that attracted $12,000; a Walla Walla wine-tasting adventure (complete with transportation via private jet) that raised $14,500, and golf and lunch with Seahawks placekicker Steven Hauschka that went for $17,000.
Forty bottles of a special, Fred Hutch 40th anniversary wine created by winemaker Chris Sparkman, CTI BioPharma president and CEO Dr. James Bianco and artist Preston Singletary went for $1,000 each, bringing in an additional $40,000 for much-needed research.
A special surprise donation – two acoustic guitars signed backstage by the members of the band Huey Lewis and the News – quickly produced another $16,000 for the Hutch.
A compelling video followed the auction, highlighting the stories of three cancer patients: Laura DiLella who received a bone marrow transplant in 1984; Kent Klingman, who received a stem cell transplant in 1997 and Trevor Biggs, a follicular non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patient and early CAR T-cell immunotherapy trial participant.
“These powerful stories remind us what we’re all here for and what we’re working toward,” said Gilliland, during the video. “Right now, people are out there with cancer, and too many are dying as we sit here because we cannot get the therapies out fast enough. We owe it to these patients.”
Gilliland, a world-class geneticist who took the helm in January 2015, then talked about Fred Hutch’s mantra, "Cures Start Here."
“We are on the cusp,” he said. “We are curing more patients; we are curing them more safely; and we are living in a decade in which we will create new cures for many, if not all, cancer patients. The pace of this groundbreaking science is constrained only by resources. We have the science. We know what to do. We just need the resources to make it happen.”
Many in attendance were there to honor loved ones lost to cancer as well as family and friends who’d survived the disease and its treatment.
Chris Bailey, 53, of Seattle, said a big reason he wanted to help the Hutch was because his father was a 10-year colon cancer survivor.
“We’re big sponsors and supporters of cancer research,” Bailey said. “I’m very interested in the overall genealogy of colon cancer and our ability to, at some point, prevent it. Obviously, that’s what the Hutch is focused on – prevention and treatment. Hopefully someday, we won’t have to worry about it.”
Gwen and Thom Kroon, who attended with their two daughters, said medical research was a crucial part of their family’s philanthropy. Thom’s mother was a 35-year cancer survivor and the family is so intent on helping eradicate the disease even their 7-year-old grandson has contributed to the cancer research center.
“His parents wanted him to give 10 percent of his savings to something,” said Gwen. “And he decided to give it all to the Hutch. He told us, ‘I don’t think anyone should have cancer. I’m giving it all to Fred Hutch.’”
Gifts both large and small were abundant and welcome throughout the evening.
Leonard and Norma Klorfine donated $2.5 million as a way to acknowledge the “unsung heroes” of medical research: the doctors and scientists who quietly unravel biological mysteries in order to save untold lives.
Their gift established the Leonard and Norma Klorfine Endowed Chair for Clinical Research and their accompanying audience challenge to “Help the Hutch” fund additional chairs resulted in a lively and competitive fundraising free-for-all that brought in more than $3.3 million from individuals, foundations and companies towards the establishment of two $1.5 million Fred Hutch 40th Anniversary Endowed Chairs.
At evening’s end, Hutch president Gilliland took the stage with immunotherapy recipient Biggs and with Samantha and Jacque Klingman, daughters of survivor Kent Klingman, to reveal the total brought in from the auction, its ticket and raffle sales, the accompanying challenge gifts and "Help the Hutch."
With a nod toward the “amazing generosity of so many in the room tonight,” Gilliland announced that gross proceeds of more than $6.6 million were brought in to “fuel visionary Fred Hutch scientists.” The announcement was quickly drowned out by loud cheers, clapping and the song “Footloose,” the perfect segue to an evening of dancing.
Many were clearly thrilled by the support for the research center, including Srilata Remala, whose grandmother died of cancer before the 31-year-old global health advocate was even born.
“People don’t realize the number of innovations that have come out of Fred Hutch,” she said, referencing bone marrow transplants, the Hickman line and other research. “Fred Hutch really has done some amazing things.”
Interested in helping fund research at Fred Hutch? See more about this event on our Facebook page.
Diane Mapes is a staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. She has written extensively about health issues for NBC News, TODAY, CNN, MSN, Seattle Magazine and other publications. A breast cancer survivor, she also writes the breast cancer blog doublewhammied.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.