Families establish Institute’s first named research funds to study neurological disorders, ALS

Named funds combine donors’ passions with scientists’ work

Huntsville, Ala. — Two Huntsville families are furthering specific areas of research at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in honor and in memory of family members, some of whom struggled with very diseases HudsonAlpha is studying.

Named funds at HudsonAlpha can be designated to support any of the areas that the Institute is researching, combining the passion of donors with the work of scientists.

Family motivated by brother-in-law’s struggle with ALS

The family of Arvid Wakefield established the Annihilate ALS Fund in memory of their brother-in-law.

“Defeating ALS has become very personal to our family,” said Brian Hinson, who along with his wife Jane has established the Annihilate ALS fund at HudsonAlpha.

Hinson’s brother-in-law, Arvid Wakefield, who was married to Hinson’s sister Dawn Wakefield, was diagnosed with ALS in October of 2010 at the young age of 43.  He died from the debilitating disease April 11, 2014.

Hinson described watching his brother-in-law — a father of three — progress from a strong, athletic man to spending most of his time in a wheelchair and depending on others for many of his daily needs.

“Our family witnessed the horrendous disease ALS Arvid’s life,” said Hinson. “During this time, we painfully realized that 75 years had passed since Lou Gehrig put a visible face and name to a disease that has no treatment or cure and an average life expectancy of five years or less after diagnosis.”

“Although too late to save Arvid’s life, we refused to allow another day to go by without finding an organization to support that would rigorously lead the research for a treatment and a cure. To our amazement, that search quickly led us to Dr. Rick Myers and the entire research team at HudsonAlpha. They, along with their global partners, accept the enormous responsibility of stewardship and accountability, using all of their resources to improve human lives around the world.  As a result of our family’s journey, our confidence resides in HudsonAlpha.  We feel that their leadership in the biotechnology field holds the key to eradicating ALS and similar diseases.”

Daughters’ fund honors parents civic involvement

Sisters Johanna Cleary and Susan Sommers have established the James R. and Voncille J. Cleary Fund for Neurological Research in honor of their parents who actively contributed to the growth of Huntsville as a great place to do business and raise a family.

“Mom was interested in following HudsonAlpha since its inception,” said Johanna Cleary of her mother Voncille Cleary.

In fact, Voncille has attended numerous HudsonAlpha public education classes and is a big fan of Vice President for Educational Outreach Neil Lamb, who leads the Biotech 101 and 201 series.

“HudsonAlpha’s three-prong priority system really appealed to us,” said Johanna. “First, the very promising research, secondly the economic impact, which has great potential for moving Huntsville its next stage, and the education focus has transformative power. We like the vision of what’s going on there.”

The Clearys came to Huntsville in the 1950s for its options and opportunity, Johanna said. James Cleary practiced law here for 56 years, establishing the Army legal office at Redstone Arsenal and worked in private law practice throughout his career.

In addition to law, James was a founding partner of WAFG, which later became WAAY, founder of The Huntsville News, which he later sold to The Huntsville Times, and a founding director of Security Federal Savings and Loan. He also developed residential and commercial property in northwest and southeast Huntsville through his company Economy Homes and served on the Madison County Airport Authority from 1968-1986.

Voncille Cleary was a registered dietitian, the first accredited one to be hired by Huntsville Hospital. She also helped raise funds for the purchase of the first public library bookmobile and has been active with other civic organizations.

“Our parents’ generation was a group that really did the heavy lifting to make Huntsville and North Alabama what it is now,” Cleary said. “Both of them felt that we ought to pull our load and that we have an obligation to give back.  They were very appreciative of the opportunity that Huntsville provided to them and tried to do their part to help Huntsville continue on that path.”

The sisters chose to direct their fund to neurological disease as an area where they feel they can make a difference and that is close their hearts. “Our family has been directly affected by neurological disease,” said Johanna. “If we could help work toward a solution, we certainly wanted to do that.

“From our conversation with researchers here at HudsonAlpha, it’s clear that what they are doing can come up with solutions and make treatments better for people.”

The minimum to establish a named fund at HudsonAlpha is a $25,000 gift to one of HudsonAlpha’s application areas. Individuals and families establishing a named fund will be recognized in the HudsonAlpha annual report, website and donor wall at the Institute. Donors will receive annual updates about developments in the application area they are supporting.