By Bryan Culp
Heritage Resources director
We cap October with a story for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease and raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure.
Did you know that Ernie Bodai, MD, a Permanente surgeon and director of the Breast Cancer Survivorship Clinic at Kaiser Permanente, Sacramento, California, was the driving force behind the creation of the U.S. Postal Service’s Breast Cancer Research Stamp?
Since 1998, post offices in big cities and small towns across America have sold 950 million of these first-class postage stamps. Letter-writers and patrons like you and me have raised $85 million for breast cancer research through the purchase of this special postage stamp. More in a moment about the stamp and its genesis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in the U.S. alone over 210,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and 40,000 women die every year from the disease. It is the leading cause of death from cancer among Hispanic women, and the second leading cause of death from cancer among white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.
Good news about breast cancer rates
If there’s any good news in these rather jarring and unsettling facts it is that the incident rate has been declining since 1999 and the death rate since 1990. Early detection, mammography screening, and improved therapies have helped to lower mortality rates.
New knowledge through research offers a brighter tomorrow in the fight against breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute reports that advances in cancer genomics and cell biology are leading to the development of less toxic therapies that are tailored to an individual’s genetic profile.
Analysis of “gene expression,” the process by which a gene gets turned on in a cell to make RNA and proteins, has led to the identification of five subtypes of breast cancer, each subtype possessing distinct biological features and each responding differently to clinical therapies. Also, new knowledge of the immune system led to the development of several promising breast cancer treatment vaccines that are currently under clinical evaluation.
A stamp is born
That people like you and me could help fund breast cancer research of this magnitude through the simple purchase of a postage stamp was a novel idea.
The Breast Cancer Research Stamp, now in its fifteenth year, sells for 55 cents; that’s 10 cents over the current rate of first-class postage. By law, the net amount raised from the sale of the stamp is earmarked for breast cancer research at the National Institutes of Health and the Medical Research Program at the Department of Defense.
The three-year journey from day of conception to the first day of issue began in December 1995. “I was stamping holiday cards and preparing for a lecture on the history of breast cancer surgery,” said Bodai, “when suddenly it occurred to me, ‘Why not have a stamp to raise money for breast cancer research?’
“A quick analysis of the United States Postal Service in 1996 revealed that 180 billion pieces of mail were handled, one third of which were first-class items utilizing a 32 cent stamp. If half of those stamps were sold at 33 cents, $300 million would be generated annually, nearly equaling the entire National Cancer Institute’s budget for breast cancer research.”
Bodai contacted Postmaster General Marvin Runyon who tersely rejected the idea on the grounds that the U.S. Postal Service was not a fundraising organization. Bodai then solicited members of Congress proposing legislation to authorize the stamp. He received no replies.
Surgeon cuts through red tape
So he brushed-up on how Congress works and off he went to Washington. He lobbied the 48 women in the House of Representatives and 11 women in the Senate. He started a grass roots campaign and earned endorsements from prestigious organizations including the American College of Surgeons and the American Medical Association. He won over legislative champions Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. Victor Fazio (D-CA) who sponsored and shepherded bills to authorize the postage stamp.
In July of 1997, the ‘‘Stamp Out Breast Cancer Act’’ passed the House (422-3), and a similar version passed unanimously in the Senate. President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law (PL 105-41) in August 1997.
With the passage of the law the U.S. Postal Service needed a stamp. Art director Ethel Kessler and illustrator Whitney Sherman were commissioned for its design.
Sherman says of her work, “After many sketches, one idea was taken to final review, the image of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt.” Sherman found in the Artemis of classical depiction, bow in hand and with a quiver slung over her shoulder, “a figure larger than any single nationality, race or age.
“After developing the line work of Artemis reaching back for her arrow, I realized she was mimicking the stance taken when doing a breast self-examination.” This was an unexpected “visual bonus.”
Kessler, a breast cancer survivor, added the cheerful, vibrant colors and the slogan “Fund the Fight. Find a Cure” to evoke hopefulness and spirit for battle. The stamp debuted in July of 1998 in Los Angeles.
The winter holidays are upon us and soon we’ll be mailing cards to family and friends. When you drop by the post office for that cache of stamps, consider the Breast Cancer Research Stamp. For just a few cents more you too can “fund the fight to find a cure.”
By Lincoln Cushing
Next month, Kaiser Permanente leaders and staff will gather for the 35th year to celebrate the diversity of its work force, its selected vendors and its membership. “Diversity Excellence: A 21st Century Game Changer” will be in Long Beach on November 1 and 2.
KP’s embracing of diversity goes back to its beginnings in the World War II shipyards, and its ranks have included many disabled individuals who made significant contributions despite their handicaps. Harold T. Willson, a wheelchair-bound KP financial analyst, was one such person.
Willson, disabled in a 1948 mining accident, successfully lobbied leaders of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) to make the high-speed train system accessible to the disabled.
BART, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, was under construction in the early 1960s when Willson learned that the plans did not call for disabled access. He raised his objections and insisted on alterations.
Willson’s quiet persistence made BART leaders stop and listen. This relentlessness was characteristic of Willson’s approach to life. His story is one of triumph over tragedy.
Slate slide crushed young miner
Willson was 21 years old when his entire life changed. The son of a mining engineer, he turned to mine work for income, as many young men do in West Virginia. His father had died two years earlier, and he was supporting the family and saving for college.
He describes his last day of going down 500 feet to work at the mine owned by the New River Coal Company in Summerlee:
“On Friday, the 13th day of February, 1948, I went to work the ‘hoot owl’ shift, and early the next morning just after my lunchtime, at 3:30 a.m., I was caught in a slate fall. I was badly crushed, ribs and back were broken with severe spinal damage.”
Willson was fortunate to be a member of Local 6048 of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). Soon after his accident he was sent to the Kabat-Kaiser Institute in Oakland, California, for rehabilitation (the facility was later located in Vallejo).
Kaiser rehabilitation center opened to miners
Just a few months earlier, legendary UMWA leader John L. Lewis and the UMWA Welfare and Retirement Fund had partnered with Henry J. Kaiser and the Kabat-Kaiser Institute to provide top-quality medical care and rehabilitation for injured miners.
Vocational institutions in the rural mining communities in the East were badly underfunded, and the California facilities offered a perfect venue for the union’s commitment to social welfare.
Willson was among the first group of miners to take the long trip west in three railroad cars, eventually followed by hundreds more. In an early instance of KP’s community benefit practices, the Permanente Health Plan continued to provide care even when the miners’ fund ran out of money.i
At Kabat-Kaiser Willson participated in physical therapy, played wheelchair basketball, and fell in love with his nurse and future wife. He got a job at the Bank of America, earned a bachelor of science in business administration, and then took a position as a senior financial analyst with the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, retiring in 1977.
Willson put his persuasive powers to work
While employed by KP, Willson was a powerful advocate for urban design and construction that would accommodate disabled people. As volunteer consultant to BART, he put in long hours over a 10-year period to ensure its accessibility for the disabled and elderly. He insisted that adequate transportation was often the deciding factor for disabled independence.
A feature article on his work in the 1973 issue of Accent on Living described it this way: “The original concept [of BART] in 1962 did not include the provisions for people with severely restricted mobility.
“At that time, Willson initiated a campaign to secure the present facilities, starting with endorsements from the elderly, the handicapped and the general public. The project was not “sold” with fanfare and publicity but by person- to-person contact.”
A.E. Wolf, General Superintendent of Transportation for BART, was won over by Willson’s approach. He noted: “His suggestion was novel for rapid transit, no one had tried it; it posed all kinds of problems; cost was significant. Our staff, including myself, was hardly enthusiastic.
“But, he did not threaten, nor picket, nor sulk, nor lose patience. Instead he was professional, pleasant, firm and persistent. As a result, he won support of each of our board members while maintaining a friendly relationship with our staff. This helped his cause immensely.”
KP backed Willson’s advocacy
In keeping with its policy to support efforts to improve opportunities for the disabled, as well as other minority groups, Kaiser Permanente gave Willson the freedom to pursue his accessibility campaign.
“It is appropriate here to commend Kaiser [Permanente leaders] . . . because of their interest, encouragement and public service philosophy,” Wolf also noted. “The willingness to arrange time for an employee to participate in this community project was necessary for its success.” ii
Willson agreed: “. . . Since our Medical Care Program is one of the largest providers of health services . . . we should assume the leadership role in promoting and participating in activities and programs that will create a barrier-free environment for the handicapped and elderly.”
Willson’s specific recommendations included large elevators at every stop, accessible restrooms, wide parking spaces, narrow gaps between trains and platforms, and loudspeaker announcements.
His broader vision was perhaps best articulated in a statement he made before the American Public Transportation Association in 1976: “We must exert every effort to . . . create a barrier-free transportation environment for those that are handicapped and for the non-handicapped destined to become disabled such as yourselves.”
ii Comments by A.E.Wolf, General Superintendent of Transportation, Bay Area Rapid Transit District, to Workshop number 3, Transportation Environment, 1972 National Easter Seal Convention, Chicago, Illinois, November 9, 1972.
By Ginny McPartland
“We came from everywhere” was the theme that inspired the selection of wartime shipyard worker portraits for the newly installed Kaiser Permanente Richmond public art display on Macdonald Avenue, the main street of Richmond, California.
Truly, the Kaiser Richmond Shipyard workers did come from seemingly everywhere – from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Chicago, California, and many more places. They were white, black, Hispanic, Native American, Middle Eastern and Asian. They came to build ships to supply the war effort, and many of them stayed, remarkably influencing the demographics of today’s San Francisco Bay Area.
With the Macdonald Avenue art installation, KP Richmond seized the rare opportunity to add to the abundance of public art springing up in Richmond of late and to highlight the connection the health plan has to the community. Kaiser Permanente’s first patients were shipyard workers, and the health plan has been caring for its Richmond members continuously since 1942.
The project started as a condition of approval for the development of a KP parking lot on Macdonald Avenue at 8th street. The city of Richmond, deeply committed to beautifying the community, asked for a façade that would blend in with the improvements already made on the city’s main street and obscure the view of a surface parking lot.
The condition turned into an inspired effort to help tell the story of Richmond’s role in the Second World War. Local artist Ron Holthuysen of Scientific Art Studio was selected to design the installation, which is made up of ceramic tiles carrying photographic images. Holthuysen also created the “Memories of Macdonald,” historical photographic stands that were placed along Macdonald Avenue in 2006.
Images for the new display were picked from the hundreds of Richmond Shipyard photos archived in the Henry J. Kaiser Collection in the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley and from the Richmond Public Library. The pictures that represent modern-day Kaiser Permanente were selected from KP Richmond’s collection of photos of members and community activities.
KP Richmond will host a dedication of the new public display this Tuesday (Oct. 16) from 4 to 5 p.m. at Macdonald and 8th Street (in the parking lot). The community is invited to participate and to take a tour led by artist Ron Holthuysen.
By Ginny McPartland
This Saturday, October 13, Kaiser Permanente will celebrate its beginnings as the workers’ medical care plan in the World War II Kaiser West Coast Shipyards. We’ll gather with thousands of Bay Area residents, many living in Richmond, to reminisce about the days when Richmond hosted Henry J. Kaiser’s monumental shipbuilding operation.
The small waterfront city was transformed during the war by the arrival of thousands of people from around the country who came to work in the shipyards. Transplanted workers from the South, the Mid-West and the Northeast brought their faith, their lifestyles, and their music and art to the Bay Area. Their contributions changed the demographics and cultural landscape remarkably.
The sixth annual Richmond Home Front Festival by the Bay showcases the rich culture of Bay Area life that is largely the legacy of World War II. The festival takes place at several sites on and near the former Kaiser Shipyards. The main events will be in the Craneway Pavilion, the former Ford Assembly Plant and wartime tank and jeep depot at the south end of Harbour Way (1414 South Harbour Way).
New Rosie park visitors center open
New this year is the amazing and beautiful National Park Service Visitors Education Center, which has historical exhibits and films that tell the story of Richmond and the home front. The center, operated by the Rosie the Riveter national park staff, is the renovated and remodeled brick oil house where the fuel to power the nearby vehicle assembly plant was stored. Tours of the center are free.
Also new this year is a chance to take a free tour of the USS Potomac, the rescued and restored presidential yacht of wartime President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). The yacht, model AG-25, served as the U.S. Coast Guard Electra until 1936 when Roosevelt claimed it as his “Floating White House.” The yacht is permanently docked at Jack London Square in Oakland, California. Festival-goers can take a free 1940s shuttle bus ride from the Craneway to the dock of the former Shipyard 3, which is off Canal Boulevard, to see the Potomac.
The SS Red Oak Victory, operated by the Richmond Museum of History and also docked at Shipyard 3, will be open for tours. The Red Oak, one of the ships built in Kaiser’s Richmond Shipyards, has been restored by the museum and is often the site of film showings and other events. World War II memorabilia and books are available for purchase in the museum gift shop.
USO dance Friday night
The night before the festival, Friday, October 12, Lena Horne will be honored in a 1940s USO dance featuring Junius Courtney’s Big Band. The dance will be from 7 to 10 p.m. in the Craneway Pavilion, 1414 South Harbour Way, Richmond. Admission is $20 per person in advance, $25 at the door. Advance tickets available until 5 p.m. Thursday.
Other festival events include: Duck (Amphibious Truck) Tours of Marina Bay to view the historic shipyards, the YMCA Home Front 5K & 10K Fun Run beginning at 9 a.m., kids rides, music, a karaoke stage, and lots of food and beverages to purchase. The festival begins at 11 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m.
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KP will celebrate Richmond again at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 16, when we dedicate our addition to Macdonald Avenue art and cultural displays. KP Richmond Medical Center has created an outdoor public art display that features shipyard workers of World War II and honors today’s Richmond citizens. The art installation is on Macdonald Avenue at Eighth Street.