J.P. Cullen, chairman emeritus of the Janesville construction company, is celebrating his birthday this week with a $250,000 grant from the JP Cullen Foundation to the Department of Neurosurgery for research on how to help the brain recover from illness and injury.
The JP Cullen Excellence in Research Award symbolizes a bond between Cullen and Dr. Robert Dempsey, the department’s chairman. Mark Cullen, company chairman, said they met a decade ago, when his father was experiencing episodes of dizziness. Longtime friend, the late George Steil Sr., suggested that Cullen consult with Dempsey. Imaging showed a large brain tumor, which Dempsey removed during a long and successful surgery.
“Dr. Dempsey really took my father under his wing and treated him with the respect that is due to a World War II Infantry combat veteran,’’ Mark Cullen says. After that, the friendship grew, with the Cullens inviting Dempsey and his wife, Diane, to watch Badger games with them. Camp Randall Stadium is familiar turf, as the Cullen company helped renovate it, as they have campus buildings from Bascom Hall to the Education building and to the old University Hospital.
The Cullen family learned that Dempsey, too, is a builder. In 20 years, he’s expanded the department to include 28 neurosurgeons and to pursue research in brain tumors, stroke, trauma, spinal disorders, pain and central nervous-system disorders. Dempsey’s research is dedicated to decreasing the burden of stroke and premature vascular cognitive decline. His work particularly emphasizes genes and cell biology which could enhance the healing and repair of such injured brains. Dempsey also coordinates the National Institutes of Health’s Stroke Network research in the Upper Midwest, as well as working internationally to educate neurosurgeons.
“We have done well by hard work, dedication to our goals and hiring excellent people, but we must also do better by providing them the opportunity to carry on the work which is our legacy,” Dempsey says. “This gift will help the UW continue its leadership in brain research.”
Mark Cullen says those values mirror those of the Cullen family: “We were raised that you have to earn your future by working diligently and hard. Nothing can be taken for granted.”