19 Oct 2022

Supporting HudsonAlpha research is personal for the Bendicksons

Marc and Sheryl Bendickson have always worked as a team. When he took over the helm of the information technology company Dynetics in 1988, Sheryl was right beside him, helping organize business functions while also managing their home and three children.

When Sheryl was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the early 2000s, the couple decided to team up on their giving and chose to invest in the development of treatments and technologies to improve the lives of people living with the progressive disease.

A Slow Progression

Nothing kept Sheryl down. But when she developed a tremor in her leg, the couple became concerned. They consulted with doctors who diagnosed Sheryl with mild Parkinson’s. “It was slow-onset,” Marc says. “So, she was able to continue doing all of her activities with the church and the company.” And she did it with grace. “She never complained about it. I don’t think I would have handled it as well,” Marc adds.

Sheryl also helped Marc with his hobby—creating a museum of devices that help move information quickly, starting with the telegraph to the cell phone, and everything in between. Together, the couple worked to restore the future Museum of Information Explosion and went on buying trips all over the country, collecting items to fill it. (They hope to open it next year.)

But Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder. And while Sheryl’s symptoms were mild, they knew, in time, her abilities would become limited. “That’s when we became very interested in the research HudsonAlpha was doing,” Marc says.

Investing Becomes Personal

HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology was founded by Jim Hudson in 2005, shortly after Sheryl was diagnosed. By then, the Bendicksons, who had been friends with Jim’s parents, were well aware of Jim and his early ventures in the Human Genome Project. “I was very interested. I followed his progress when he established his first company and then sold that and then started HudsonAlpha,” he says. “He’s a bright guy. I knew he’d do well.”

In 2014, when they learned that one of HudsonAlpha’s resident associate companies, Serina Therapeutics, was investigating novel therapeutics for Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, they decided to invest in the company.

That led the Bendicksons to philanthropically support additional Parkinson’s research at HudsonAlpha—a donation that would span five years. Marc also accepted a seat on HudsonAlpha’s Foundation Board where he heard about the nonprofit organization’s latest research. “I became amazed at Dr. Myers’ brilliance and all the research he’s conducting,” he says.

Rick Myers is HudsonAlpha’s Chief Scientific Officer and President Emeritus. Researchers in the Myers Lab are working to understand how changes in the genome contribute to various traits, including human diseases and behaviors. A major focus of the lab is investigating how the human genome is involved in brain disorders and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s. One area of the lab’s research involves looking for markers in a person’s blood that could be an early indicator for Parkinson’s and similar diseases. This knowledge could lead to earlier diagnoses and more targeted treatments.

“We thought about it and prayed about it and decided that because this was something related to Sheryl’s sickness, we wanted to support it,” Marc says. So, they earmarked another generous contribution to HudsonAlpha to help fund that research.

A Lasting Legacy

Sheryl remained active more than a decade after her diagnosis. But about three years ago, her symptoms worsened. She began having difficulty speaking and getting around. “Finally, this last year, it accelerated to where she couldn’t walk without assistance,” Marc says. It’s been frustrating for Sheryl; heartbreaking for Marc. “We were a great team,” he says. “It’s been hard for me this past year to lose a partnership that was so fulfilling and fun.”

Early in the morning on June 1, 2022, Sheryl’s battle with Parkinson’s came to an end. “She fought hard,” Marc says. But the Bendicksons’ generous support of Parkinson’s research at HudsonAlpha ensures her memory lives on. Their journey has also influenced others, including Caroline Bendickson, one of the couple’s seven grandchildren. A rising sophomore at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, Caroline recently took a part-time job at HudsonAlpha. She is studying plant genomics, an area of science she became fascinated with thanks in part to her grandparents’ involvement with HudsonAlpha.