THE JOAN AND JOHN HERLITZ ENDOWED RESEARCH FUND
About the people and purpose behind the fund
Joan Herlitz’s spirit and sunny disposition can best be described by one of her favorite mottos, “Live, Love, Laugh.” She had a genuine passion for life and believed in living each and every day to its fullest. She greeted everyone with a smile and a hug. To know her was to love her. She enjoyed playing tennis, shopping, and, most of all, brightening other people’s days. Joan dedicated her life to being a wonderful mother, grandmother, friend, and wife. She had a great career as a “domestic executive,” as she liked to call herself, but was very happy to become semiretired once both of her sons, Kirk and Todd had gone off to college.
Her husband, John, had an inherent love for cars from a very young age. As early as age thirteen, he was sending car designs to Chrysler, his favorite car company. He was ecstatic when people at the design office actually sent feedback on his designs and gave him advice on the type of education that he would need to become a car designer. He kept drawing and dreamt of one day working at Chrysler.
John followed this dream and started his career at Chrysler beginning in 1964 after receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. In 1969, he married Joan Elizabeth Neinas.
His first goal at Chrysler was realized when one of his designs, the 1970 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda, went to production. This was followed up shortly after by his design of the 1971 Plymouth Roadrunner. These are now two of the most highly regarded and sought after muscle car designs of the era.
Extremely talented, personable, and driven, John worked his way up through the ranks of the company, eventually retiring as Senior Vice President of Design for Chrysler Corporation in January 2001.
It was at about this time that Joan and John were preparing to start the next chapter of their lives together that Joan was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to mistakenly attack the body’s own tissue and organs. Lupus can be mild or may cause serious complications. The disease did not affect Joan significantly on a daily basis, but it provided a few life-threatening episodes, the most recent of which occurred in the fall of 2004. Her treatments involved chemotherapy, hospitalization, and many types of medication. She fought this disease with everything that she had and it never beat her.
Her primary source of care had been with Dr. W. Joseph McCune, the Michael H. and Marcia S. Klein Professor of Rheumatic Diseases at the University of Michigan’s Department of Internal Medicine. Dr. McCune and his colleagues continue to research and study diseases such as lupus. Inspired by their work, John and Joan had set up a charitable fund in 2004 called the Herlitz Lupus Research Fund, which provided funding for Dr. McCune and his colleagues’ research. Joan was so excited about the potential of the fund that she even started a personal letter writing campaign all on her own to encourage friends and family to get involved. Through the generosity of John and Joan, as well as their friends and family, this fund has provided several thousands of dollars for lupus research, as well as other internal diseases.
In early 2008, after thirty-eight years of marriage, John and Joan Herlitz both passed away suddenly two months apart. Because of their passion to find a cure for lupus, Joan and John, had included the University of Michigan’s lupus program in their estate. Once realized, their sons, Kirk and Todd established the John and Joan Herlitz Endowment for Lupus Research to continue to support lupus research at the University of Michigan in order to continue the search for answers their mother had so eagerly wanted to help find.
Kirk explains, “We can only hope that the subsequent gift to U-M as a result of our parents’ premature passing will somehow provide comfort and, ultimately, a cure for Lupus sufferers. We would love to see something great happen as a result of this gift to somehow justify these circumstances. In addition to helping Lupus sufferers, we hope that this will also help to preserve our parents’ legacy and help their spirit of strength, generosity and their love of life to live on for many years to come.”
“We are very grateful to Joan and John Herlitz for creating the Joan and John Herlitz Lupus Research Fund and their generous support of lupus research at U-M,” explains Dr. Joseph McCune. “As we use their gift to intensify our work to discover the causes and cures of lupus, we also remember the privilege of getting to know Joan and John. Joan graciously faced a devastating illness that threatened to take away her mobility, enduring numerous therapies and maintaining her good humor, warmth, and the excellence of her tennis game throughout. John, a gentle and soft spoken man was a tremendous source of support for his wife. Despite his quiet demeanor, it was readily apparent that this was a decisive individual with powerful intellect and capacity for understanding complex issues. We see these attributes reflected in their children, Kirk and Todd Herlitz, who continue their parent’s support of the University of Michigan and the lupus program through the John and Joan Herlitz Endowment for Lupus Research. We share with Todd and Kirk the loss of this wonderful couple and remember them with great fondness.”
“Our Mother’s goal with her fundraising efforts was to find a cure for Lupus in her lifetime. Unfortunately, that was not possible. I am hoping that this gift to the University will help to find a cure in the lifetime of their grandchildren,” adds Todd Herlitz.
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*This article taken from the University of Michigan Internal Medicine website