OMRF’s 241 fundraiser returns after a two-year hiatus.
The wind – and music – came sweeping across the patio of OMRF’s Research Tower. But even Oklahoma’s gale-force gusts couldn’t dull the mood of the reunion-like atmosphere when the foundation’s annual 241 benefit returned in October after a two-year pandemic hiatus.
Country music legend and 14-time Grammy Award-winner Emmylou Harris headlined the ninth annual music, wine and food festival with her band, the Red Dirt Boys. And the guest list included a second icon: legendary Oklahoma singer and songwriter Wanda Jackson.
Even Harris appeared awestruck that her audience included the octogenarian Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee. “It’s such an honor to play in front of you. The boys” – her band – “won’t believe it,” she told Jackson before taking the stage. During the show, Harris recognized Jackson, who received a standing ovation from the capacity crowd.
With LaRue and Bill Stoller, CEO of Express Employment Professionals, as honorary co-chairs and The Chickasaw Nation as lead sponsor, the event raised $674,000 for OMRF. In the decade since its birth, 241 has generated almost $6 million to support research on diseases ranging from multiple sclerosis to brain cancer.
Meg Salyer, who led sponsorship efforts with Judy Hatfield, joked that when she signed up in 2019 to spearhead a fundraiser originally scheduled for 2020, she didn’t realize she was making a three-year commitment. Nevertheless, the decision to see it through was easy. “Having everyone back together was so special,” says Salyer. “The impact of this institution is without question, and when you’re together among other OMRF supporters, it just feels like we’re all family.”
To Hatfield, an OMRF Board member, watching OMRF President Dr. Andrew Weyrich dance with his son, Sam, served as the perfect cap to the event. Sam was born with a rare genetic disorder, and Harris, who has an animal rescue, dedicated her tune “Big Black Dog” to him and his service dog, a black Labrador the Weyrich family calls Baby G.
“That filled my heart with joy,” Hatfield says. “They didn’t think Sam would see his second birthday, yet here he is, 22 years later. So, to see the sparkle in Dr. Weyrich’s eyes when he’s around Sam, it’s just absolutely bigger than life.”
The benefit is scheduled to return in 2023. And while the headliner is not yet set, one thing is certain: 241 will again blow everyone away.