In the effort to birth a new medical school, to mold what would become Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine, William D. Johnston and Ronda Stryker led by example with humility and transformational generosity.
Their $100 million gift in 2011 – the foundational funding for the medical school – has given way to an institution that just last week celebrated the graduation of 48 new doctors from its inaugural MD class.
So, on Saturday, May 19, as the couple served as hosts of the medical school’s 3rd Annual Imagine Gala, WMed leaders, family and friends of Johnston and Stryker, and others from the community gave them a fitting thank you – the naming of the W.E. Upjohn M.D. Campus Auditorium in their honor and $3 million in gifts that will strengthen the medical school’s general endowment and buoy pipeline programs for second graders and high schoolers from Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.
“It’s important to understand that, while the recognition of Bill and Ronda is foremost in our minds, the result of this fundraising – building the endowment – is what will do the most to cement their legacy by creating the financial strength for WMed to continue its trajectory along the path leading to national prominence,” said William U. Parfet who, along with the couple’s daughter, Annie Johnston Henn, was pivotal in the fundraising effort unveiled at Saturday’s gala.
This year’s gala attracted its largest-ever crowd as almost 400 people gathered at the W.E. Upjohn M.D. Campus for the black-tie event. The gala is a fundraiser for Early Introduction to Health Careers I and II, the medical school’s pipeline programs for second- and 10th graders from Kalamazoo Public Schools and Battle Creek Public Schools.
The pipeline programs are designed to champion the biomedical science and healthcare career aspirations of underrepresented and disadvantaged youth in Southwest Michigan. The EIH I and II programs provide a platform for WMed students to design and teach interactive learning experiences to help elementary and high school students develop leadership, team-building and problem-solving skills.
On Saturday, Johnston and Stryker said they were humbled by the fundraising effort that was led by Parfet and their daughter, and honored that the auditorium at the downtown campus will now bear their names.
“I can’t think of a better name for this event,” Johnston said of the Imagine Gala. “Without imagination we can’t get to the doing. We had to have that imagination for the medical school … That’s what we have to do, we have to look at the conditions we’re in in our country, in our state and in our community and imagine the ways we can change those conditions for the better and imagine an opportunity to change students’ lives, to open those vistas to make certain that we are not down the road in a condition where there are underrepresented people in any profession and we have the imagination to do that so then we can get to the serious work of getting it done. I’m just so absolutely proud and thrilled that at this medical school we have had people that have had the audacity to imagine to change the condition that we’re in and have then with those big ideas gathered that circle of philanthropy and made it bigger so that we can get it done.”
The auditorium is the largest and most recognizable space at the W.E. Upjohn M.D. Campus. Since the facility opened in 2014, the auditorium has been the site of numerous events, including the White Coat Ceremony for the inaugural MD Class of 2018, Congressional healthcare roundtable discussions and Stryker Corp. town hall meetings.
“The medical school is a visible reminder of my parents’ desire not only to honor my great-grandfather, Homer Stryker but also to ensure that Kalamazoo sustains its long-held prominence at the forefront of medicine and innovation,” Johnston Henn said. “Their continued commitment to this community is amazing.”
Parfet, the great-grandson of W.E. Upjohn, donated the 350,000 square-foot building that now houses the W.E. Upjohn M.D. Campus. He said Saturday that W.E. Upjohn would be immensely proud of how the generosity of Johnston and Stryker helped reinvigorate a plot of land that was acquired by W.E. Upjohn and served as the growth center for the Upjohn Company.
He said he was proud to work with Johnston Henn to help raise money that will benefit the medical school’s pipeline programs and endowment. He said the medical school has seen significant growth in its research efforts, among other areas, and strengthening the endowment will position WMed for national prominence and build a research engine for biomedical science that will create breakthroughs for understanding and treating disease.
Today, WMed has more than 140 employed faculty, 620 volunteer community faculty and more than 200 resident physicians. Additionally, the medical school now boasts four MD classes and will welcome its newest students – the Class of 2022 – in July. Also notable, every student in the inaugural Class of 2018 matched to a residency program in March during the Match and the students achieved a 98 percent first-time pass rate for the USMLE Step 1 exam, surpassing the national average of 96 percent.
“All of this has been made possible through Bill and Ronda,” Parfet said. “They have assisted at key times to keep the growth and development of this medical school on track and they have done so quietly, remaining in the background. This significant gift is our way of saying thank you and I hope it serves as a reflection of their commitment to the medical school.”