Blog Main Tom Bonorden Gary Kerr Editorial
August 15, 2018

Supporting Medical Research on the Golf Course

Benaroya Research Institute will celebrate eight years of partnership with the Boeing Classic at this year’s tournament on August 20-26. As one of the biggest events of the PGA Champion’s Tour, the tournament is BRI’s largest fundraising event and provides crucial funding for autoimmune disease research. But what’s the connection between autoimmune disease and golf? It’s a story that involves two volunteers and one fateful round of golf.

When Gary Kerr and Tom Bonorden first met over a weekend round of golf more than ten years ago, it was obvious that the two shared a love for the sport. But by the end of their 18 holes together, Tom and Gary sensed they had a lot more in common.

It was a round that would lead to a lasting impact on the Boeing Classic and BRI. Since 2007, either Gary or Tom has held the position of co-chair of the Boeing Classic’s 850 volunteers—this is the first year that they’ve shared the position. Their hard work and dedication is driven by a shared personal passion to help BRI eliminate autoimmune diseases.

“Type 1 diabetes is rampant in my family,” Tom says, speaking about an illness that many are not even aware is an autoimmune disease, perhaps because of the sheer range and different types of autoimmune diseases. There are more than 110 known autoimmune diseases that affect one in every 15 Americans, including psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and type 1 diabetes.

“My parents, grandparents, all my siblings—except me—my aunts and uncles, all suffered from type 1 diabetes,” Tom continues. A number of Tom’s family members, including Tom’s mother and father, died from complications associated with the disease. “Given that perspective,” Tom says, “I feel that volunteering to help BRI is a good way to spend my time. So that people after us won’t have to experience the same thing.” 

Gary’s experience with autoimmune disease cuts just as deep. In 2014, Gary’s wife, Sandy, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).  Then last year, in 2017, Gary himself was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. “The hours I spend helping to raise money for BRI,” Gary says, “is the best way to spend my time because I know it’s going to directly benefit medical research conducted at BRI.”

Featured Tom Bonorden Gary Kerr Tom Wight Lab

Gary and Tom say that many of the volunteers and colleagues they work with are inspired by this same mission. “To make the Boeing Classic such a successful tournament, there are more than 850 volunteers who do everything from staffing the practice facility to keeping score on the golf course,” Tom says.

“Every day in committee meetings, or on the golf course,” he adds, “we are with people dealing with and living with autoimmune diseases.” Gary believes that volunteers “are inspired by the feeling that they and their families will one day benefit from our efforts today. That’s why we are here.”

If you’re looking to support autoimmune disease research and help families like Gary’s and Tom’s, the Boeing Classic is truly a grand slam: it’s BRI’s largest annual fundraiser, and the groundbreaking discoveries made by BRI’s researchers wouldn’t be possible without contributions from tournament attendees.

Immuno-what? Hear the latest from BRI

Keep up to date on our latest research, new clinical trials and exciting publications.