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Gary and Kathy Kortz

‘Cancer Affects Everybody’: Longtime CU Cancer Center Benefactors Support Rising Stars

Gary and Kathy Kortz donate to a program for up-and-coming researchers from underrepresented communities.

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Written by Mark Harden on April 17, 2024

Gary and Kathy Kortz, partners in marriage for nearly three decades, have also been partners in giving generously of their time and philanthropy for many years to support the University of Colorado Cancer Center and cancer research in general.

It’s personal for them.

I have been treated at the CU Cancer Center, but fortunately for something that was benign,” Gary says. “Kathy has been treated there. My uncle has been treated there. My father has been treated there. Many friends have been treated there. That brings home the message that cancer affects everybody. And having an institution of such quality and accessibility at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus is important for the community. The CU Cancer Center is an invaluable resource.”

“Our dear friend was treated for lung cancer at the cancer center, from her diagnosis through all of her treatments,” Kathy says. “She participated in a couple of research studies, and those delayed the progression of her cancer. She and her husband had nothing but wonderful things to say about the caring and kindness and consummate professionalism of the doctors and nurses and everybody at the cancer center and their enthusiasm to find a cure, to continue research.”

Now, the Kortzes are providing major backing for the CU Cancer Center’s Rising Stars initiative to support up-and-coming researchers doing groundbreaking work in the cancer center’s four research programs, particularly researchers from traditionally underrepresented communities.

Kathy says she and her husband “were really struck by the idea of continuing this pipeline of passionate, qualified, younger candidates to go into cancer research, and to make sure that the pipeline doesn’t dry up. We wanted to make sure that they have the resources they need to do their best job to find better treatments, and hopefully — maybe not in our lifetime, but in the next lifetime — a complete cure.”

“When it comes to cancer research, philanthropy and grants are what makes the process go,” Gary adds. “Sometimes, for want of what might seem like small amounts of money, really good ideas may never get off the ground. You know you’re not going to hit a home run with everything you try as a cancer researcher or every experiment that you run. But you have to have the resources to try.”

> More information on ways to support the CU Cancer Center.

Rising stars

The first of the Rising Star positions was filled in 2022 when Channing Tate, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor of internal medicine in the University of Colorado School of Medicine, was named the Rising Star in Cancer Prevention and Control.

“This opportunity is helping me become a better investigator to build and launch my research career,” Tate said. “My dream is that the research we do, the tools we create, become the gold standard for how this work is done at a national level.”

Kortz 3 new CROP

The Rising Star positions support early-career researchers doing groundbreaking work, with funding directed toward ensuring that the CU Cancer Center is competitive with larger cancer centers in recruiting and is able to retain top future cancer leaders in Colorado. “Top talent is required to lessen the burden of cancer for all people,” says Cathy Bradley, PhD, MPA, deputy director of the CU Cancer Center and holder of the Paul A. Bunn, Jr., Endowed Chair in Cancer Research.

The Kortzes have pledged $2 million to create the Kathy and Gary Kortz Rising Star Chair to support a faculty position in the CU Cancer Center focused on cancer research and care, with the intent that the holder of the chair will be a middle-career clinical scientist. The funds will be available for salary support, research expenditures, participation in conferences, support for curriculum development, and other

In addition, the couple has launched the Kathy and Gary Kortz Rising Star Support Fund to provide support for Rising Star faculty at the CU Cancer Center.

A history of giving

The Kortzes have supported the CU Cancer Center for years through donations for unrestricted research, including annual gifts for over a dozen years. Gary has been involved in the cancer center’s advisory committee, meeting regularly with its director, Richard Schulick, MD, MBA. The couple also has hosted fundraising events for cancer research, and both have volunteered in support of the CU Cancer Center for several decades.

Kathy says her treatment at the CU Cancer Center was for what she calls “kindergarten cancer — it was Stage 1 breast cancer. If you catch it early enough, thank God, you can wipe it out. And the people who took me through my treatments, my radiation and chemo, and afterward, were absolutely phenomenal — caring, compassionate, professional.”

In Gary’s case, his prostate was the issue that brought him to the cancer center. “I had off-the-charts PSA numbers and a very large prostate. My father had been treated for prostate cancer, so there was some concern. But I worked with the doctors, they did the tests, and it was not cancerous.”

Gary says he appreciates the CU Cancer Center’s multidisciplinary approach to care. “It is truly a one-stop shop. You get the benefit of a team’s ability to manage all of the things going on, engaging all of the medical resources you need to help you.”

Adds Kathy: “The communication among the researchers and the doctors and the staff at the cancer center is just amazing. If you see someone
that morning and someone else that afternoon, they already know what the results were from that morning.”

Asked what she would tell a friend, family member, or business associate about the CU Cancer Center if they were seeking treatment, Kathy had a quick answer: “Go. Just go. Just do it. You will not regret it in any way, shape, or form.”

All photos courtesy of Gary and Kathy Kortz.