Over 40 years ago, an amazing English and journalism teacher in Putnam City had a thought. How could we make a difference in the fight against cancer? Thanks to President Nixon’s signing of the National Cancer Act just four years earlier, cancer had been on the minds of many Americans, and research was needed to end it. Research costs money, so with her determination and leadership, Mrs. Lois Thomas started a drive that has heretofore included change collections, carnivals, car washes, bake sales, and now the Putnam City Cancer Classic 5K. According to the Putnam City Schools Centennial book, that first year brought in over $23,000. As a student and teacher, I have seen a few cancer carnivals in my day, and I loved them for superficial reasons. As I’ve gotten older I have come to appreciate the real magnitude of what Mrs. Thomas’ energetic spirit gave our district.
The Putnam City family has seen its fair share of beloved people experiencing this painful and heartbreaking disease. Mrs. Thomas herself was inspired in part by stories from around the district of colleagues who had been stricken, including our beloved Mr. Mayfield. One of the more poignant intersections of cancer and Putnam City came when 22 year veteran math teacher Debbie Ocker had the courage to allow her students to share the experiences of her disease before ultimately succumbing to it in 2010. That year’s cancer fund drive certainly had a personal touch for Putnam City High School, where students and faculty alike purchased shirts with the “Ocker’s Army” slogan on them.
Thanks to Mrs. Thomas’ vision, Putnam City has raised over $3.4 million for cancer research, all of which is donated to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. According to OMRF “the drive has aided in numerous breakthroughs, including research by Linda Thompson, Ph.D., leading to the world’s first genetic-based risk assessment test for breast cancer”. Dr. Thompson holds the Putnam City Schools Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research at OMRF! I am so impressed by how this district continues to distinguish itself in unique ways.
Though the fight against cancer is a tough one and the road’s end is not always visible, I hope that Putnam City will continue to stand with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation in this exciting effort to eradicate all forms of cancer. I know that would make Mrs. Thomas very proud.