When I became president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, my wife, Amy, gave me a gift. It was a framed map of Oklahoma, our new home.
If I had any doubt about the purpose of the map, Amy dispelled it with a second present: a box of blue push pins.
As soon as I joined OMRF from the University of Utah, I started traveling around the state, speaking to different audiences and visiting with long-time friends and supporters of OMRF. Following each trip, I’d insert a pin into the map, marking a community about which I could now say, “Been there.”
In the months that followed, blue pins sprouted up on the map. At first, they clustered around Oklahoma City. But over time, they spread across the state to Woodward, Enid, Tulsa, McAlester, Ada, Durant, Ardmore and Duncan.
Around this time, I did some quick math. In 2023, OMRF would turn 77 years old. And my newfound familiarity with Oklahoma geography had taught me the state had a total of 77 counties. The symmetry was just too perfect to ignore.
With that, our 77 for 77 campaign was born. We’ll officially launch it at OMRF tomorrow, Aug. 28, the 77th anniversary of our birth. And we’re fortunate to have four state leaders co-chairing the effort: former First Lady Cathy and Gov. Frank Keating, and former First Lady Kim and Gov. Brad Henry.
In the year that follows, our team will crisscross the state, touching each of Oklahoma’s counties and hosting events aimed at reconnecting with the communities that built the foundation. And in doing so, we’ll draw from OMRF’s roots.
For our initial fundraising campaign, organizers divided the state into 25 districts, with local captains appointed to lead each. The widespread effort yielded tremendous dividends, with 7,500 Oklahomans donating more than $2 million. By 1949, with the bold promise “That more may live longer,” construction of the new foundation had begun.
Following the blueprint of OMRF’s founding campaign, 77 for 77 will divide the state into 25 districts. Each of those districts will have local chairs, who will host events to which they’ll invite OMRF donors in that district, along with local legislators, educators and other community stakeholders.
For us, revisiting this origin story is key. Even though there are now approximately 80 other independent research institutes around the U.S., as far as we know, OMRF is the only one that formed from a statewide campaign. And 77 years later, we’re still here because of the many Oklahomans who have continued to support our mission.
That support has transformed us from an idea into one of the nation’s leading biomedical research institutes, home to more than 50 research laboratories and a pair of clinics. We count almost 200 active research grants, collaborating with institutions like Harvard, Duke, Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic.
Discoveries at OMRF have yielded breathtaking advances, including three life-saving medications currently used in hospitals and clinics around the world. Insights from our labs have transformed the understanding and treatment of conditions ranging from lupus to HIV/AIDS to cardiovascular diseases.
When we come to your community in the coming year, we’ll share some of the latest exciting developments from our labs and clinics. You’ll also have the chance to visit an OMRF laboratory through an immersive virtual reality experience. And as part of the initiative, we’re creating a hands-on science experiment to distribute to middle school classrooms across the state, which will open new avenues of learning for untold numbers of Oklahoma students.
Like our founding campaign, 77 for 77 aims to plant many new seeds for the foundation. Ultimately, we’ll measure its success by metrics like new supporters and connections made, figures that will one day translate to more discoveries in OMRF’s labs, more life-changing advances for patients.
These kinds of outcomes, though, can take years. In the meantime, I’ll focus on another goal: adding a little blue push pin to all 77 counties on my map.
Dr. Andrew Weyrich is president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. For more information about OMRF’s 77 for 77 campaign, visit omrf.org/77.