Natives of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, brothers Marvin and Richard Dickerson and their wives, Mary V. and Linda, established the Dickerson Family Fund to support Alzheimer’s disease research conducted by junior faculty.
The fund was originally to be established through an estate gift, but the families later became inspired to make additional contributions sooner so they could to see the impact of those gifts during their lives.
Although they couldn’t have known it at the time, the decision allowed Linda and Mary V. to begin to see the difference the family’s giving could make before each died in 2017.
The Dickersons’ interest in Alzheimer’s is intensely personal: Richard Dickerson has the disease, as did Mary V.
The family was motivated to give in part because of the world-renowned Alzheimer’s research of Suzanne Craft, PhD, director of Wake Forest Baptist’s Alzheimer’s Disease Core Center, which is one of 31 research centers in the country to be funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health. The designation was awarded in 2016 and came with an NIA grant of approximately $8.7 million.
“We got interested in what’s going on here and thought we’d like to get Mary V. treated, and we’d like to invest in the work that’s going on,” says Marvin.
“Mary V. had always been a teacher, and I had so much experience with students in the research lab, so education was important to us. Given that experience, I started thinking we ought to do something with my IRA.”
Marvin talked with Richard and Linda about naming Wake Forest Baptist as beneficiary of his IRA and suggested the option of turning their combined donations into the Dickerson Family Fund, which they established in 2015. Later, they decided to enhance that gift with immediate contributions to help make an impact sooner.
Craft welcomed the gift and its intended use, to support young faculty researchers in Alzheimer’s. She said the contributions address two issues that face junior faculty members—lack of support for emerging research from the National Institutes of Health and other federal sources, and a need for seed money for high-risk, high-yield projects.
“There is so much celebration in the department today for what you have done,” Craft told the family when news of the gift was announced. “The news has gone through the entire Medical Center—junior faculty support for memory disorders!”
She says gifts like the Dickersons’ can help keep young researchers from abandoning Alzheimer’s for other fields. “The gift helps leverage other funding to support unproven but very important ideas and innovations,” Craft says. That impact will live as a legacy of Linda, Mary V., their husbands and the decisions they made together during their lives.