It was an easy decision for Pat O’Donnell to choose which charity to support this weekend for the NFL’s “My Cause My Cleats” initiative.
The Bears bettor will use his platform to raise awareness for the Jake Gittlen Cancer Research Foundation, a nonprofit that has raised nearly $30 million since it was founded 51 years ago by his wife Shelby’s maternal grandfather.
Warren Gittlen and his father, Jake, shared a passion for golf. So after Jake died of lung cancer in 1970, Warren—a former Penn State golf team captain—founded the Jake Gittlen Memorial Golf Tournament in his father’s honor.
The first event raised $2,500, which was donated to Dr. John Kreider, a pioneering researcher at the Penn State College of Medicine. The annual fundraiser was eventually held for 49 years, becoming the longest-running amateur golf tournament in the United States.
The funds raised over the years continued to Dr. Kreider, whose studies on human papillomavirus (HPV) contributed to the development of the HPV vaccine Gardasil in 2006.
In the mid-1990s, Warren Gittlen helped found the Jake Gittlen Laboratories for Cancer Research at the Penn State Cancer Institute in Hershey, Pennsylvania. To this day, the facility houses researchers seeking cures for various types of cancer.
Warren Gittlen passed away on April 14, 2018 at the age of 84. But his legacy lives on – and it’s one that O’Donnell honors with pride.
“It just shows how one man wanted to change the world, and he did it,” O’Donnell said. “He found a cure for HPV and we hope it will change other people’s lives and find a cure for other cancers.”
O’Donnell was stunned when he visited the Jake Gittlen Laboratories for Cancer Research two years ago.
“I’d heard about the lab and heard about the doctors a billion times, but I never really understood it until I got in there,” O’Donnell said. “It was much bigger than I expected, with a lot more lab technicians and scientists. Seeing them all in these rooms, [spending] boring hours just trying to find a cure, it was shocking to me, just the time and effort people put into it.”
The shoes O’Donnell will wear during Sunday’s pre-game warmups when the Bears host the Cardinals feature a silhouette of Jake Gittlen with a golf club, a teddy bear given away by the foundation at a children’s hospital, and a Penn State logo. On the back of one shoe is the head of a golf club and on the other is a Hershey’s chocolate bar. (Remember, the facility is located in Hershey, Pennsylvania.)