Medical Center bridgeway at night

$1.25 million gift creates neuroscience fellowships at KU Medical Center

Siblings George and Mabel Woodyard
Siblings George and Mabel Woodyard

A $1.25 million gift to KU Endowment has created the Mabel A. Woodyard Fellowships in Neurodegenerative Disorders at the University of Kansas Medical Center. 

The fellowships were established with funds from the estate of the late Mabel Woodyard through the Douglas County Community Foundation. 

Born in 1921, Woodyard grew up on a farm near Charleston, Ill., the fourth of nine children. Following high school, she completed a secretarial course and began her career. In 1950, she became executive secretary and personal assistant to Nina Pulliam, wife and business partner of Eugene Pulliam, editor and publisher of the Indianapolis Star, the Arizona Republic and Gazette, and other newspapers. Her career with the Pulliams spanned nearly five decades. 

By encouraging trainees to engage in an area of neuroscience discovery early in their careers, we advance the field for generations to come.

She died in 2008 from progressive supranuclear palsy, a neurodegenerative disorder that results in movement deficits similar to Parkinson’s disease. Woodyard’s association with KU arose through her brother, George Woodyard, who died in 2010. George was a KU professor of Spanish from 1966 to 2005 and held a variety of administrative positions at the university, including serving as KU’s first dean of international studies.

George Woodyard’s wife, Eleanor, said the neurosciences fellowship fund and the university were important to her husband. “And, knowing what Mabel went through with a progressive neurological disease, he hoped that her estate would help researchers find a cure so others wouldn’t have to suffer as she did,” she said.

Peter Smith, Ph.D., directs KU’s Institute for Neurological Discoveries, which administers the Woodyard awards. “These awards were created to fulfill Dr. George Woodyard’s desire to mold the next generation of neuroscientists,” said Smith. “By encouraging trainees to engage in an area of neuroscience discovery early in their careers, we advance the field for generations to come.”

The inaugural recipients are Lezi E, a doctoral student in the departments of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences and Neurology; and Michelle Healy Stoffel, a medical and doctoral student in the Department of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Therapeutics.

Lezi E was born in China and raised in Japan. Lezi graduated from Peking University in China with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Wanting to do more to help people in need, she came to the United States to study rehabilitation science at KU Medical Center. 

“I am very honored to receive the Mabel A. Woodyard fellowship,” she said. “This honor inspires me to work even harder toward finding ways to prevent and treat neurodegenerative diseases. I have had a long-standing interest in neurodegeneration, but this award is certain to strengthen my commitment to a research career in this very important area.”

Michelle Healy Stoffel’s interest in geriatric neurology was sparked while working at a family-owned pharmacy in her hometown of Muscatine, Iowa. 

“The Mabel A. Woodyard Fellowship will help me gain the experience and knowledge necessary to reach my full potential as a clinician scientist specializing in movement disorders in the elderly,” Stoffel said. “I am honored and privileged to be selected as a recipient of this prestigious award.”

The gift counts toward Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, the university’s $1.2 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign. Far Above is managed by KU Endowment, the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU.

Michelle Keller

Assistant Vice President, Communications and Donor Relations 785-832-7336

Michelle Strickland

Media Relations 785-832-7363