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The Driskill Foundation

The Great Depression made a deep impression on Walter S. Driskill, who, as a teenager, sometimes went barefoot because his family couldn't afford to buy him shoes. This and other challenging experiences drove him to excel in all aspects of his life—as a college football player, a WWII Navy war hero, and an entrepreneur in the beer importing business.

Grateful for their success, Mr. Driskill and his wife created the Walter S. and Lucienne Driskill Foundation in 1986 to advance medical research as well as develop programs for abused and orphaned children. Although Mr. Driskill died of cancer in 1998 and Mrs. Driskill passed away last year, the board of directors ensures that the good works of the Foundation continue around the country—and at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The Division of Hematology/Oncology at the medical school recently received a $5 million commitment from the Foundation for the establishment of the Walter S. and Lucienne Driskill Immunotherapy Research Program and Fellowship Fund.

All closely connected to the Driskill family, the Foundation's three board members have dedicated themselves to furthering the Driskills' goals and interests. They quickly recognized Feinberg's leadership in the use of innovative immunotherapy (ImTx) agents to treat cancers such as melanoma, renal cell carcinoma, and lymphoma. After the board decided to support Feinberg's program, two of the board members learned that the Foundation's executive director, Ronald L. Barnard, already had an intimate knowledge of this therapy's cancer fighting power. Earlier this year, Mr. Barnard successfully completed ImTx treatment—under the care of Timothy M. Kuzel, MD, professor of medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology and the faculty director of the Clinical Research Office at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University—to fight an aggressive form of skin cancer that had spread to his lungs and elsewhere from his previous battle against melanoma.

Appreciating firsthand the life-saving ability of ImTx treatment to destroy very specific cancer targets, Mr. Barnard suggested the program as a cause worthy of consideration for the Driskill Foundation's philanthropic funding. He withheld one detail from the board: his health condition. Explains Mr. Barnard, a Chicago-based attorney who graduated from Northwestern's School of Law, "I wanted them to evaluate the merits of the program on their own."

The national reputation of Dr. Kuzel and his proposal to advance Feinberg's ImTx program had, on paper alone, inspired fellow board members Carmine Figlilio and Edward A. Kennedy to approve funding. Learning about Mr. Barnard's experience only solidified their decision. Remarks Mr. Figlilio, who resides in Boca Raton, Florida, "Ron is the proof in the pudding of how successful Northwestern's program is and how great it can be." Adds New York resident Mr. Kennedy, "The ImTx program had impressed us even before we knew of Ron's personal involvement. We are happy we will have a continuing relationship."

Thanks to the Foundation's generosity, Northwestern will strengthen its ImTx program to bring the latest treatment options to cancer patients. The gift will specifically support Dr. Kuzel's efforts to build a sophisticated ImTx monitoring and development facility, and to educate the next generation of scientists skilled in providing this promising yet complex therapy.

"Both Walter and Lucienne lived into their 80s and among their goals was the desire to help older individuals lead productive lives in relatively good health. This belief is at the core of the Driskill Foundation's gift to Northwestern," explains Mr. Barnard, who at 75, is Dr. Kuzel's oldest patient to receive this effective ImTx. "As an alumnus of Northwestern, I am confident that the quality of research and training at the medical school will produce some of the best solutions to present and future medical problems, conditions, and human diseases."