Dr. Dick Balenseifen, athletic director for Putnam City schools, presents checks representing two years of fundraisers to Katherine Jackson, OMRF’s donor relations coordinator, on June 17, 2024.
OMRF scientist Audrey Cleuren, Ph.D., explains the finer points of extracting DNA from strawberries to fifth-graders Henrietta Robinson, left, and Zunaira Guffer, during the foundation’s annual Junior Scientist Days event on March 26, 2024. The annual event is one way OMRF thanks the district for its nearly 50 years of support

Putnam City Schools officials recently presented the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation with $106,000 to support cancer research at the Oklahoma City nonprofit.
The donation represents the past two years of fundraisers benefitting OMRF. Since 1975, the district’s contributions to OMRF have totaled nearly $4 million.
The district’s annual cancer drive just wrapped up its 49th year. It included philanthropy weeks at all three high schools, carnivals, bake sales, schoolwide donation challenges and a district-wide Cancer Classic 5K and Fun Run.
“Putnam City Schools is proud of our long-standing partnership with OMRF,” said Dr. Fred Rhodes, the district’s superintendent. “What started with one teacher in the 1970s has grown to our entire community and our 27 schools coming together each year to raise funds for medical research in a variety of fun and memorable ways. I am even more proud of the growth into a two-way partnership with our students benefiting from Junior Scientist Day and the Fleming Scholars Program.”
Putnam City High School teacher Lois Thomas started the drive in 1975 in response to the cancer-related deaths of four colleagues and the diagnosis of the district’s superintendent. Thomas organized a change drive like the ones she had participated in as a child to combat polio. “She really did think, ‘If everybody gave pennies, look how much money that would be,’” said her daughter, Carolyn Churchill.
Since then, the millions of dollars raised by students, teachers and staff have paid for research and supplies while also establishing an endowed chair in cancer research at OMRF.

To thank the district for its support, OMRF has hosted the Putnam City Junior Scientist Program since 1979. Through this program, middle school and high school teachers choose students to spend a day learning about biomedical science in OMRF labs.
Separately, 30 students from the Putnam City district have served summer internships in OMRF labs through the foundation’s Sir Alexander Fleming Scholar Program. Currently, Victoria Nwankwo, a 2024 PC North grad, is studying and working with OMRF physician-scientist Hal Scofield, M.D.
With long-time support from Putnam City, cancer research at OMRF has led to an experimental drug now undergoing clinical trials at the OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center and 12 other sites around the U.S. to treat patients with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. The drug also has shown promise in diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), a fast-growing pediatric cancer that starts in the brain stem.

“As OMRF celebrates 77 years, I’m grateful for the work that has been done, the lessons that have been learned, and the lives that have been saved through our work together,” Rhodes said.
OMRF scientist Linda Thompson, Ph.D., who holds the Putnam City Schools Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research, said she feels honored by the district’s support. “You couldn’t ask for more generous, more dedicated partners than the students, teachers and administrators of Putnam City Schools. Their commitment to cancer research is making a difference.”