Masons pledge a record-breaking $65M for cancer research
When the Minnesota Masons made their first gift to the University of Minnesota in 1955, cancer was a death sentence. So to provide a place for people with cancer to receive palliative care, the Masons gave $1 million to build the Masonic Memorial Hospital.
Now, five decades later, new therapies are constantly being developed at the University to help people live with cancer. The Masons have had a major role in this success, contributing millions more over the years to build state-of-the-art facilities and fund leading-edge research and care at the University.
Still, the Masons believe more is possible.
“Our desire is to be a catalyst in finding a cure or cures for cancer, to eliminate cancer as a scourge of mankind,” says Eric Neetenbeek, president and CEO of Minnesota Masonic Charities, the philanthropic arm of Minnesota Masonry.
That’s why Minnesota Masonic Charities in April pledged $65 million to the University of Minnesota Cancer Center over 15 years. It is the largest gift the University has ever received.
It’s also a new milestone in the Masons’ 53-year history of supporting cancer research and care at the University, bringing their total giving to $100 million. In recognition of this support, the University of Minnesota Cancer Center is now called the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota.
“The Masons’ legacy of supporting cancer research and care at the University of Minnesota has transformed our ability to find cures and better ways of preventing, diagnosing, and treating cancer,” says University President Robert Bruininks, Ph.D.
The right time and place
Masonic Cancer Center director Douglas Yee, M.D., says the Masons’ $65 million gift will take cancer research at the University to the next level.
“This is the right time and place to really make an impact,” Yee says. “Our members are making new discoveries almost daily, and with this gift, we will be able to significantly expand our scope in cancer research and treatment.”
The Masons’ latest gift will allow Masonic Cancer Center physicians and scientists to expand their studies in many areas, including cancer survivorship. And it will help launch important studies of promising new treatments and prevention strategies for several types of cancer.
With a decline in federal grants, Yee says, researchers today need to have solid preliminary data to compete for federal dollars. The Masons’ support gives University cancer researchers an edge by allowing them the time they need to gather those data.
Historically, the Masons, who make up the world’s oldest and largest fraternity, have directed many of their University gifts to bricks and mortar. Their first gift built the Masonic Memorial Hospital, which admitted its first patient in 1958 and still stands today as a cancer clinic and general research building.
They also contributed $5 million to construct the Masonic Cancer Research Building, which houses the newly renamed Masonic Cancer Center, one of just 41 comprehensive cancer centers recognized by the National Cancer Institute. This designation is awarded to institutions that make ongoing, significant advances in cancer research, treatment, and education.
With their latest pledge, the Masons have expanded the scope of their giving. The $65 million will be used to fund University research focused on better cancer treatments or a cure, Neetenbeek says.
Masonic support over the years is evident throughout the campus’s East Bank. Today oncology clinical trials are being conducted in the old Masonic hospital, now known as the Masonic Cancer Clinic, and basic scientists are making important discoveries in the research building that bears the Masons’ name.
Yee credits members of the Masonic organization in the early 1950s for realizing that people with cancer needed specialized care and following through on that vision.
“That idea was way ahead of the curve,” he says. “Most other places didn’t come to that realization until the ’70s.”
As deputy director of the Masonic Cancer Center and longtime chief of the Department of Medicine’s Division of Hematology, Oncology, and Transplantation, Philip McGlave, M.D., has seen firsthand the impact of the Masons’ giving.
“The good they have done can’t be measured in dollars,” he says. “It is measured in the development of young physicians and investigators entering the cancer field, bricks and mortar to house cancer patients and cancer researchers, and improvement in the length and quality of life for people with cancer.”