Laird Center: 25 years of research
BY MIKE WARREN
MARSHFIELD – The dedication of the Laird Center 25 years ago this Sept. 12 was more of a tribute to the man who lent his name to the facility than a celebration of Marshfield Clinic’s newest medical research building. What made the event so unforgettably special for those who were there, including this reporter, was the endless list of national figures in Marshfield that day, including former Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Senator and Wisconsin Governor Gaylord Nelson, and former President Gerald Ford, who delivered the ceremony’s keynote address.
“From the outset, Marshfield’s favorite son was a highly effective member of the House Committee on Appropriations,” Ford said of Melvin Laird, the nine-term Congressman from north-central Wisconsin’s seventh district. “As the senior member on the Republican side on the HEW (Health, Education, Welfare) sub-committee, he won the respect, the confidence of the members on both sides of the political aisle,” Ford added. The 38th president also said he envisioned a facility such as the Laird Center throughout Mel’s congressional career, and right up until the time at which he joined the Nixon Administration as Secretary of Defense in 1969. “Having served with John Fogerty and Mel on the House Committee on Appropriations, I think it’s no exaggeration to call the period from 1953 through 1969 the Fogerty/Laird years,” Ford said. “Certainly their influences on NIH (National Institutes of Health) were absolutely pivotal as they oversaw a vast expansion of American health care research programs and facilities. At least five Secretaries of HEW know of Mel’s constructive impact on rural health care delivery systems. These former secretaries know because Mel brought them here to Marshfield to see for themselves, firsthand, the Clinic’s tremendous programs for a major geographical area here in the great state of Wisconsin,” the Michigan native added. Ford’s comments came not long after the former President had taken a private tour of the new Laird Center. “The center is a magnificent tribute in brick and mortar. But it’s far more than just that. It’s also a dynamic institution whose greater benefits will accrue to generations yet unborn.”
“The importance of the new Laird Center cannot be understated,” said then-Marshfield Clinic President Dr. William Hocking. “Marshfield Clinic’s research and education mandate makes it imperative that our scientific investigators have the facilities, staff and equipment to accomplish their objectives,” Dr. Hocking added. He also said a substantial majority of Marshfield research initiatives address the health and safety problems of the very populations served by the Clinic.
The original 50,000-square-foot Laird Center became the new home of the National Farm Medicine Center, first established in 1981. The Laird building also houses the Dr. George E. Magnin Medical Library, the Center for Clinical Epidemiology & Population Health, the Center for Precision Medicine Research, Research & Development Lab, Research Computing and Analytics, Research Support Services & Compliance and the Froehlke Auditorium, named after former Secretary of the Army Robert F. Froehlke, also a childhood friend and Marshfield classmate of Mel Laird. Froehlke also took a leadership role in raising $13.5 million for Laird Center construction and sustaining endowment. Adding to Laird’s further impact, $5 million came from donors who never heard of Marshfield, WI – but believed so much in Mel Laird, they gave anyway. The building is literally a museum, with Laird artifacts down every hallway. There is also a replica of Laird’s Reader’s Digest office and historical and personal memorabilia donated by the Marshfield native, including his Purple Heart, Presidential Medal of Freedom and one of only four famous John F. Kennedy rockers – given to Laird by the ex-President.
The original Laird Center has grown exponentially since the doors first opened 25 years ago. A second Laird Center – more than twice the size of the original – was added in 2008. The 118-thousand-square-foot, $43 million addition houses a laboratory, Marshfield Clinic’s Personalized Medicine Research Project, and many other operations, related mainly to the Clinic’s human genome research that first began in the original Laird Center. And while facilities, staffs and budgets have all changed over the past quarter-century, Dr. Sanjay Shukla, PhD, Director of the Center for Precision Medicine Research, says the primary goals of the additions have not. “Certainly, the Laird Center has lived up to its potential over the years in bringing most of the full-time researchers into a shared state-of-the-art research building, prompting more multidisciplinary collaborative research projects across different research centers and with clinicians, specifically the pathologists,” Dr. Shukla said, when asked if the Laird Center has lived up to its potential of creating an environment that cultivates scientific discoveries and collaboration in order to bring a healthier tomorrow for all of us. “Sharing the research space, equipment, and expertise with the clinical labs as and when needed, and easier access to clinical samples, has helped both the research and the patient care. Availability of well-equipped conference rooms for small and large meetings in the same building has been a huge bonus,” Shukla added.