Bonnie Burdett was a young mother of two when she lost her husband to myeloid leukemia in 1994 after a 10-year struggle.
Turning tragedy into opportunity, Burdett and her late husband’s colleagues remembered him by doing something that engineer, inventor and active dad Ben Eckenhoff did every day – cycle through the hills of Palo Alto, Woodside and Portola Valley.
On the second Saturday in September for the past 19 years, Eckenhoff’s colleagues, friends and family have donned their helmets and hopped on their bikes for the Ben Ride, a noncompetitive cycling event that raised money for cancer research at Stanford University.
And Eckenhoff was there in spirit. When his son was old enough fit into Eckenhoff’s cycling shoes, he dusted off his dad’s bike and took his place on the route.
The inaugural Ben Ride was small, raising less than $5,000. But as the years progressed, corporate sponsors and individuals poured their support into The Ben Eckenhoff Memorial Foundation. After tabulating 2013 donations, the foundation topped the $1 million mark and decided to make September’s ride its last. Fundraising for its endowment fund for leukemia research will continue.
Each year the fund distributes approximately 5 percent of its assets to research projects.
“We didn’t really set out with a $1 million goal – we set out to fund research and find a cure,” Burdett said.
Through the years, the foundation has supported clinical trials and early-stage research at Stanford, small steps toward a cure for those diagnosed with blood cancers, including myeloid leukemia. A prolific inventor with nearly 100 patents to his name, Eckenhoff would appreciate the investment in new research projects, Burdett said.
For the past six years, the foundation has supported the work of Ravi Majeti, M.D., assistant professor of medicine in the Hematology Division at the Stanford School of Medicine. Although Majeti was eager to develop blood-cancer treatments that are less toxic than chemotherapy and bone-morrow transplants when he arrived at Stanford, many funding sources required years of data to qualify his project for support. Majeti’s work fulfilled the vision of the Eckenhoff Memorial Foundation, however, and Burdett took a chance on him.
“Bonnie’s foundation has helped certain aspects of the project that we can’t get funding for from different organizations,” said Majeti, noting the ability to hire a full-time researcher in the lab and secure a $600,000 grant from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society thanks to the foundation’s financial support.
Majeti’s Eckenhoff Foundation-funded research shows promise. Later this spring, he is scheduled to test in clinical trials a monoclonal antibody that may target molecules that carry cancer. Such steps give Burdett hope that new drugs to combat leukemia are on the horizon.
“Effectively, it’s 30 years too late for Ben,” she said. “Even though that’s the case, if we could prevent even one dad from dying and help one family not go through this loss, we’ve made a difference.”
Burdett hopes that Eckenhoff’s legacy continues in perpetuity via support of the foundation. Many of Eckenhoff’s friends and colleagues said they will continue to honor his memory with an unofficial ride the second Saturday in September.
For more information, visit benride.org.