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Ritzville family donates $1 million for cancer research at WSU

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 14, 2017, 8:52 p.m.

A donation from a Ritzville couple will support cancer research at Washington State University in the name of their daughter, Tamara A. Hennings, who died from cancer in 2012 at age 54.
A donation from a Ritzville couple will support cancer research at Washington State University in the name of their daughter, Tamara A. Hennings, who died from cancer in 2012 at age 54.

After losing their daughter to cancer, a Ritzville couple have donated $1 million to Washington State University’s College of Medicine to support cancer research and establish a professorship.

Willard and Patricia Hennings worked with the Inland Northwest Community Foundation to make the gift after their daughter, Tamara, died in 2012.

“I can’t say enough of how grateful we are,” said John Roll, the college’s director of research.

Tamara Hennings briefly attended WSU before transferring to George Washington University, according to her obituary. She loved to travel and met her future husband on a ski vacation in Europe. The couple lived in Belgium, France and California.

The gift came out of conversations between the Hennings family and the foundation as the couple planned their estate, said PJ Watters, the foundation’s director of gift planning.

Through those conversations, a passion for supporting cancer research emerged. The foundation helped them complete the paperwork and documents needed to set up the gift.

“We do the legal and financial stuff,” Watters said. “Now her legacy is going to help people in perpetuity.”

The foundation initially will distribute half the funds to establish the Tamara A. Hennings Research Professorship. The rest of the fund will be invested and managed by the foundation to support cancer research.

Roll said specific plans for the funds are still being finalized and will be announced next spring. The college has a handful of researchers who are doing work on cancer, looking at, for example, how lung cancer cells form on a molecular level and how mutations in sections of DNA called telomeres relate to cancer growth.

“The money will also help our cancer researchers and future researchers we hope to hire,” Roll said.

Nancy Fike, the college’s senior director of development, said the donation will include a lab named for Tamara Hennings with a plaque explaining her story.

“We’re blessed to have donors like this who can help us grow our research and make a difference like this,” Fike said. “The Cougar Nation is a very generous nation.”