$6.7M gift establishes Irene and Ernest Wadel Fund for Multiple Sclerosis Research

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Dr. Darin Okuda (left), Associate Professor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics, discusses participation in clinical trial research for multiple sclerosis with a patient.

By Erin Prather Stafford

Irene Hamel and Ernest Wadel were generous and passionate supporters of medical causes, especially those that affected the health and quality of life of their family and friends. A recent donation of more than $6.7 million from the Irene Hamel Wadel Management Trust to Southwestern Medical Foundation established the Irene and Ernest Wadel Fund for Multiple Sclerosis Research, which supports UT Southwestern Medical Center’s efforts to understand, prevent, and treat multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease that Mrs. Wadel’s third husband, Robert Atha Jr., courageously fought until the end of his life. 

“Irene believed you did whatever was necessary to help those you care about, and she also recognized the importance of giving back to the community,” said John Klein, a partner at Jackson Walker L.L.P. and Co-Trustee of the Irene Hamel Wadel Management Trust. “Both she and her second husband, Ernest, took an immense interest in the Medical Center and how its research and clinical care impacts lives.”

The Clinical Center for Multiple Sclerosis at UT Southwestern, part of the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute, emphasizes a comprehensive approach to the Medical Center’s core missions of patient care, research, and medical education through its multidisciplinary team, which includes neurologists, neuro-ophthalmologists, neuropsychologists, neuroradiologists, urologists, nurses, counselors, physical and occupational therapists, rehabilitation specialists, social workers, and others. The 6,000-square-foot clinic, the largest MS facility of its kind in North Texas, is designated as a comprehensive care center by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

“This very generous gift from the Irene Hamel Wadel Management Trust will significantly enhance the support available to physicians and scientists at UT Southwestern as they move forward with pioneering clinical care and research,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern. “Irene and Ernest Wadel’s meaningful gift provides new hope to untold thousands, now and in the future.” 

MS is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the insulating membranes, or myelin, that surround nerves within the central nervous system. Clinicians and scientists in the Clinical Center for Multiple Sclerosis study the causes of autoimmune diseases in children and adults. The MS Center is actively developing new diagnostic tools and innovative therapeutic approaches to prevent and treat these diseases.

Born in New York, Mrs. Wadel moved to Dallas in 1936 with her first husband, Howard Jordan. Together they opened the Howard Jordan Store in the Highland Park Village Shopping Center. Mrs. Wadel ran the business while her husband served in World War II and again after his early death from a heart attack. She then sold the business to Sanger Brothers Department Store.

Several years later, Mrs. Wadel met and married Ernest Wadel, a Dallas businessman. The couple became patrons of multiple civic causes, including the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Opera, and Dallas Museum of Art. Mr. Wadel passed away in 1986. 

In 1991, she married Mr. Robert Atha Jr. A jeweler, Mr. Atha worked at Neiman Marcus until his health declined. The couple made several gifts to UT Southwestern, which established the Irene Wadel and Robert Atha, Jr. Professorship of Internal Medicine, in Honor of John W. Burnside, M.D. (currently held by Dr. Steven Leach, Professor of Internal Medicine) for teaching; the Irene Wadel and Robert I. Atha, Jr. Distinguished Chair in Neurology, in Honor of Elliot Frohman, M.D., Ph.D., for multiple sclerosis research; and the Irene Wadel and Robert I. Atha, Jr. Professorship in Ophthalmology, in Honor of R. Wayne Bowman, M.D. (currently held by Dr. Bowman, Professor of Ophthalmology) for refractive and cataract surgery. 

To leave a lasting legacy, Mrs. Wadel became a member of the Southwestern Medical Foundation Heritage Society by remembering UT Southwestern in her will. Mrs. Wadel passed away in 2000, and this final gift will be designated for MS research.

“We want to contribute to the advancement of medical research and teaching at UT Southwestern and ultimately help conquer some of these horrible illnesses,” said Mrs. Wadel in an interview before her death.

Kathleen Gibson, President and CEO of Southwestern Medical Foundation, said, “Irene and Ernest Wadel’s legacy is making a profound impact in improving treatment for patients suffering from multiple sclerosis. We are deeply grateful they knew the quality of work at UT Southwestern, and saw that they could ignite further progress by supporting a leader in neuroscience research.”

Added Mr. Klein, “Knowing what this gift can accomplish … it would have made Irene break into a wonderful smile.” 

Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.


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